LIVE STREAM & PREVIEW: Sweden’s Championship Game – Carlstad Crusaders & Örebro Black Knights Meet For 3rd Year In a Row

It is a tale of two separate paths to a championship showdown. When Sweden’s Super Series championship game kicks off on Sunday, the two combatants will have taken highly divergent paths to arrive there.

This is the third year in a row that the five-time champion Carlstad Crusaders and the Örebro  Black Knights have faced each other in Sweden’s title game. Each time, the Crusaders waltzed into the final while Örebro had to claw its way in. And each time Carlstad has won. This year the Crusaders disposed of Uppsala 43-0 in their semifinal while the Black Knights battled to the very end to upset the Tyresö Royal Crowns 28-25.

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Carlstad head coach Malik Jackson Photo: Hans Cullberg

So, the story is the same this season. Almost. This year the Crusaders did something they have never done early in the year. They fired their head coach, who also happened to be the offensive coordinator. They elevated Malik Jackson from defensive coordinator to head coach and every since they have had a revolving door of offensive coordinators.

Nevertheless, the team has hummed along, almost without missing a beat. The current, and last, OC for the team, Dan Hawkins will oversee his seventh game for the club, the longest tenure at that post this year.

Since taking over, Jackson’s easy going personality has been just what the club needed. Through all the changes, Jackson has guided his team to a 13-1 overall record for the season, the only loss to the Tyreso Royal Crowns.

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Örebro head coach Randy Beverly Jr.

Randy Beverly was hired as the new head coach of the Black Knights only a few days before the start of the season and barely had time to say hello to his new players let alone get in much practice time before they had to face the Uppsala 86ers. They lost that game but learned valuable lessons which have gradually turned Orebro into the power running, defense first unit that they are today. Beverly’s defensive pedigree – his father Randy Beverly Sr. picked off Johnny Unitas in Super Bowl III in the end zone turning the game around – has stood him well.

Jackson’s team, although not the powerhouse offensive juggernaught of a year ago, is still formidable.

Anchored by 6’5″, 250 lb quarterback Anders Hermodsson, the offense boasts all kinds of weapons starting with running back Brett Koepp. The 6′, 245 lb Koepp has fought through injuries this season and seems to be peaking. Although he did not win the league rushing title again this season, he has played like it the last few games and in the semifinal he took the game over in the third quarter. Nevertheless he has not had the number of touches he has had but this game might be different.

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Harry Routledge Photo: Hans Cullberg

The receiving corps led by Harry Routledge, Jakob Dahre and Markus Stinger-Olesen have been solid all season. Routledge and Dahre have been Hermodsson’s main targets throughout the season but Stinger-Olesen led the team in receptions in the semifinal with seven, mainly in underneath patterns.

The Carlstad offensive line is a seasoned, solid crew and do a great job opening up holes for the running game while giving Hermodsson the time he needs.

The loss of linebacker Christian Kuylenstjerna on defense was a blow to Jackson’s squad but it has given Christen Monclair an opportunity which he has grabbed. The running back turned linebacker has filled in well at the middle linebacker spot and the defense has not missed a beat.

Jack Moro’s loss in the secondary was also tough but the arrival of corner Cliff Stokes has been a huge boost to the defense while Daniel Gunnarson has moved into Moro’s spot and filled in well. Stokes’s division 1 college pedigree is obvious. According to one opposition coach;

“Stokes understands depth, speed and spacing and with his talent has to be taken into account at all times.”

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Cliff Stokes Photo: Hans Cullberg

In the two games he has played he has returned two interceptions for touchdowns. Orebro quarterback Grant Welp needs to be aware of where he is at all times.

Carlstad’s defensive front shut down Uppsala’s ground game in the semifinal, holding the league’s leading rusher, Jonathan Wikstrom to just 21 yards rushing. They will need to be just as effective against one of the top rushing teams in the league in the Black Knights.

Despite beating Örebro earlier in June, Jackson is aware of how much the Black Knights have improved since then:

“We know we are facing a tough, physical team and our win against them means nothing in our preparations. We will have to play error-free football to have a chance to beat them. This will not be like previous years. This will be a battle.”

The Black Knights enter the game as clear underdogs, but they have been in that position almost all year, in particular in the semifinal against the Tyresö Royal Crowns.

Nevertheless, Beverly has his charges peaking. And believing. They continue to find ways to win.  Quarterback Grant Welp has grown into his role this season. Coming from a spread offense and then being asked to run a power running team, he has been impressive in adapting. The knock on him was his lack of running ability, but he changed everyone’s minds with his huge touchdown run against the Royal Crowns in the semis. He manages the game and takes advantage of every opportunity. He also has what one coach says is;

“… by far the best center in the league in Sebastian Nilsson. That guy can do a number on you and totally surprise you with his speed and physical play.”

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Sebastian Nilsson looks on as Jens Biteus gets airborne

The run game is, as everyone knows, the bread and butter of the Black Knights offense. The return of Veikka Lehtonen has elevated the game to another level. His explosiveness in addition to the punishing running of Anton Kallvik is difficult to plan for. Add Cesar Hebel and Jens Biteus to the mix and it is easy to see why Örebro is one of the two top rushing teams in Sweden. The other one, ironically, is Carlstad.

Although the receiving corps for the Black Knights has not received the accolades of the running backs, they have been steady all year. Joey Cafferky Jr. has been solid in a situation when the receivers have known they will not see many balls. Also, Johan Stål is dangerous catching the ball as he proved in the semifinal.

The Black Knights defense relies on the ability of the front four, particularly defensive ends Milos Lisanin (aka Lisko Malina) and Aleksi Nyström. In the semifinal against Tyreso, Lisanin was creating such havoc for the Royal Crowns offensive line that they had to double team him in the second half. With the defensive line playing the way they do, Örebro does not need to blitz their linebackers as much, freeing up Eric and Josh Murphy, and Mike Kafagas to stop the run and drop into coverage. This is one of the reasons the team led the league defending against the pass.

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Milos Lisanin harassing QB in semifinal. Photo: Alexander Nielsen

The secondary is led by veteran Johan Stål, playing in most probably his final football game. He is a crafty, seasoned defensive back. He understands the game and adapts quickly. As one coach puts it “if there is an edge to find, he will find it.” On the other side of the field,  Alexander Sundström has developed into a fine ball hawking corner.

Beverly understands the task at hand for his team:

“Carlstad is the most balanced and consistent team we have faced all year. And they are so explosive. They make plays and we have to reduce the number of plays they make if we are going to have a chance. They have three solid dimensions and they can beat you with all three.”

This is a game in which two great defenses and two totally different offenses will battle. Örebro is looking to unseat the five time champions while Carlstad is aiming for championship number six.

The stage is set. This will be a great one to watch. The game is being broadcast nationally in Sweden on TV4. It is also being streamed live.

Kick off: Sunday September 6, 12 noon (6 AM EDT).

Watch the game live here.

Photo credits: Hans Cullberg and Alexander Nielsen

Roger Kelly is an editor and a writer for AFI. A former PR Director the B.C. Lions of the Canadian Football League for 7 years, he now lives in Sweden writing about and scouting American Football throughout the world.