Mattias Gauthier the unexpected star as Sweden dominates Finland

Team Sweden head coach BD Kennedy promised he would play his whole national team roster during this year’s traditional Finnkampen, the annual rivalry match between Sweden and their Nordic neighbors in Finland. He proved to be a man of his word, but it seemed like he only needed one of those players to come out on top on Sunday.

Seizing the opportunities afforded to him in this unofficial tune-up for the European Championship final, second string receiver Mattias Gauthier may not need that qualifier for much longer. The Tyreso Royal Crowns’ pass catcher hauled in five receptions for 129 yards and three touchdowns against the helpless Finns, each one more spectacular than the last.

The standout performance from Gauthier was the cherry on top of a dominant day for the entire Swedish roster, as they were in control of the game from start to finish regardless of who Kennedy put on the field. The result was an effortless 35-7 win, a far cry from their come from behind victory in the European Championship semifinal in August.

Team Sweden QB Phil Juhlin racing for a 36-yard gain Photo: Jonas Domfors

The action began in earnest mid-way through the first quarter. Finland was forced to punt after a floundering series and former Montreal Alouette William James made them pay, coming unblocked to tackle the punter after a high snap and force a fumble. Finland recovered but Sweden took over in great field position and a few plays later, starting quarterback Philip Juhlin found Edvin Taborda with a step on his defender for the 19-yard opening score.

The Finns looked like they caught a break early in the second when linebacker Veikka Lentonen punched the ball out of Kasper Wedberg’s hands with the Swedes marching, but their recovery would mean nothing. Pressure from Benjamin Egbudiwe flushed quarterback Ambro Urjansson from the pocket on the next play and dominant Swedish pass rusher Malcolm Engstrom chased him down for the strip sack, with Hugo Dyrendahl hopping on top to get his team back the ball. Backup Ture Nilsson answered the bell with a quick hitch to Mattias Gauthier, who spun out of the would-be tacklers grasp and squirted into the endzone for a 15-yard score on his very first catch.

Urjansson answered back with a 49-yard bomb to Tino Ndongo on the next drive, setting up first and goal with a chance to turn the tide. The swarming Swedish defense held firm however and the quarterback’s fourth down pass fell incomplete to end Finland best chance for a first half score.

Both defenses buckled down with Sweden up 14-0 and the third quarter devolved into a string of three-and-outs and turnovers on downs until Gauthier again made his presence felt in the dying seconds. Catching a short post from third stringer Viktor Ekberg and keeping his feet with one tackler hanging off him, he broke free and was off to the races, weaving past the final defenders for a 56-yard statement touchdown.

Photo: Jonas Domfors

Gauthier only had more to give on his next series, hauling in another huge 32-yard catch only saved from being a touchdown by a tackle from the turf monster. Wedberg exacted Sweden’s revenge on the grass on the next play, bouncing outside for an 18-yard touchdown run that made it 28-0.

Finland responded by going deep, but budding Kuopio Steelers star Hannes Harju dropped a perfectly thrown deep ball from Urjansson which would have been a certain touchdown and they promptly turned the ball over on downs in their own end. Ekberg simply dumped it off to Gauthier on the hitch once again and the receiver rolled away from yet another tackler to complete his hat trick with a 22-yard score.

Desperate to break the donut, Finland turned to running back Tuuka Lehtonen. After a couple solid gains on the ground from the big back, the team came face-to-face with a fourth and one. Lehtonen got the push he needed and then some, high-stepping through arm tackles before breaking free for a 32-yard touchdown.

The visitors tried a meaningless onside kick attempt to salvage some pride and fittingly it was Gauthier who came down with the ball, allowing his team to kneel out the clock on the 35-7 win.

Beyond Gauthier’s heroics, statistical standouts were hard to find for a Swedish side that rolled their lines through like they were playing hockey. Young Arlanda Jets quarterback Viktor Ekberg was the top passer, going 3-of-4 for 110 yards and two touchdowns. Starter Philip Juhlin led the team in rushing with just one 36-yard jaunt through the secondary, while Kasper Wedberg carried 13 times for 34 yards and a score.

Photo: Jonas Domfors

Defensively, 22 different players got on the stat sheet for the Swedes. Waraphon Prasopsin led the way with 5.5 tackles, with Hugo Dyrendahl close behind with five. Malcolm Engstrom had 1.5 sacks, Sebastian Diakiti, Sebastian Nilsson and Rikard Carlsson each added a half, and Pedro Fernandez made some splash plays in the secondary.

For Finland, Ambro Urjansson was 20-of-44 for 201 yards, Tino Ndongo had six catches for 105 yards, and Tuuka Lehtonen carried 10 times for 71 yards and a score. Veikka Lentonen and Filip Zacok had sacks on defense, while Ville Rontu had the game’s lone pick.

As far as preparations for the upcoming European Championship game go, Sunday could not have gone more perfectly for the Swedes. The dominant win will build confidence while showcasing the whole roster has shown them at least one underrated gem ahead of their matchup with Italy at the end of the month.

J.C. Abbott is a student at the University of British Columbia and amateur football coach in Vancouver, Canada. A CFL writer for 3DownNation, his love of travel has been the root of his fascination with the global game.