Serbian Bowl XI is coming up this Sunday and it has a twist as the Novi Sad Dukes are making their first trip to the title game in their history. The Dukes enjoyed a perfect season running the table in the Serbian league and upending defending champion and Serbian powerhouse SBB Vukovi Belgrade in the process.
Not that Vukovi has had a poor season winning all but one game and qualifying for the IFAF Europe Champions League Final Four for the second straight year.
Novi Sad Dukes head coach Doug Adkins, whose team had the most potent offense in 2015 scoring 274 points in seven games, has turned the club around entirely. They finished in third place in 2014, but went undefeated and finished in first this year, defeating Vukovi for the first time in seven years to boot. The game was not even close. They handed Serbia’s defending champions a decisive 38-14 loss after losing their own starting quarterback – Alexander Keane – in the first quarter.
Adkins turned to receiver/defensive back Will Powell who wasted no time adjusting and led the Dukes to the win and has won every game since. Powell led the Serbian league in touchdowns as he accounted for 28 (five passing, five receiving and 18 rushing). With Keane on the sidelines and Powell filling in at quarterback, Adkins brought in Kyle Theret, a four year starter from the University of Minnesota, at defensive back and receiver.
Both Powell and Keane have had the advantage of a superb offensive line led by Rados Zelenovic who Adkins says has enjoyed an outstanding year.
On defense he has the best defensive lineman in the country in his opinion in Nebojsa Mirkovic. His linebacking corps is anchored by super athletic Luka Vujnovic.
Coach Adkins is no stranger to winning. He led the Carlstad Crusaders to the Swedish championship in 2013.
The Vukovi find themselves in an unusual position this year, going into the Serbian championship game as underdogs. Neverthless, despite losing nine starters from last year’s team which went all the way to the IFAF Europe Champions League final before losing to Finland’s Helsinki Roosters, head coach Brian Mayper has them in familiar territory again- Serbia’s national championship game.
His quarterback, Myles Gates, who has had a great year, was hurt in a tournament game and did not play in the semifinal 43-6 win over Nis Imperatori. It is not certain whether he will be ready to play in the final. Early in the season he saw limited action as Mayper would rotate him with his Serbian quarterback. But he has grown into the role and become the key to running the Vukovi offense.
“We really want this one. We just played a bad game against Novi Sad when we lost to them. It was just one of those days. “
If Gates cannot play, wide receiver Tony Washington, who is playing in his third straight championship final with Vukovi, could be asked to step into the role. Washington has been a touchdown scoring machine himself accounting for 22 this season.
Last week, Dextrell Simmons filled in, playing both offense and defense. His versatility allows Mayper use him as a defensive back, receiver and even running back. Vukovi’s Serbian running back, Mihailo Josovic, is also catching attention.
Vukovi has played hard-nosed defense all year and is led by outside linebacker Marko Milovanovic, who is considered perhaps the best OLB in Serbia. Alongside him, linebacker Danijel Maksimovic is the top tackler on the team while strong safety Ivan Nedeljkovic leads the team in interceptions.
On paper, this game is a toss up. Although the Dukes ran roughshod over Vukovi in their only meeting this year, the defending champions from Belgrade will definitely be looking to redeem themselves and defend the title they have “owned” in recent years.
This will be a great game to watch.
Serbian Championship – Novi Sad Dukes v. Vukovi Belgrade
Kickoff: 4:30 PM Serbian time (10:30 AM EDT)