North Division playoff race heats up, while Week 10 spells end of one ELF Cinderella story

Two weeks left in the European League of Football season and the playoff picture has gotten slightly clearer, but not by much.

Week 10 saw the unfortunate elimination of a Cinderalla story, but the North Division still features a two-horse race that could come down to the final week. In the end, several strong teams will be on the outside looking in after an impressively competitive inaugural ELF season.

Here are my thoughts on last week’s games.

Game 1 – Leipzig Kings 42 – Cologne Centurions 24

Leipzig Kings RB Jason Aguemon running up the middle. Photo: Cologne Centurions/Marc Junge

When it comes to the Leipzig Kings right now, there are two things you can bank on. Firstly, that some sort of mental mistake at the start of the game will put them in a hole early, but more importantly that they will get an offensive explosion at some point to make those early mistakes fade into the rearview.

It happened again on Saturday, as the Kings‘ failure to jump on the opening kickoff cost them an early seven points, they had a punt blocked for a safety and were actually behind 16-13 late in the first half. You’d hardly know it from the final scoreline, as Michael Birdsong was exquisite once again as he drove the field to take a lead one second before half-time that they would never relinquish.

Birdsong finished well over 300 yards passing with five touchdowns, enough to make a player who nearly missed half the season just one score away from taking the league lead in that category. He’s done it in spectacular fashion and both Anthony Dable-Wolf and Jaleel Awini had big days receiving to make their QB look good, but perhaps more impressive is the improvement of the offensive line in recent weeks. The Centurions aren’t as star-studded up front as some other teams, but Leipzig handled them very well for most of the game and Jason Aguemon took advantage of some massive holes for a banner day as a runner. That is big news going forward.

So too was the Kings defensive effort, which effectively bottled up star running back Madre London for the bulk of the ball game. This is still a team prone to some technical lapses, but the arrival of coach Malik Jackson has already made them much more sound defensively and it showed Saturday. Cologne struggled to find an answer with import receiver Quinten Pounds injured and the Leipzig offense ran away with the game unchecked.

Every week the Kings stumble a bit early, then rise with a crescendo. In many ways, that’s a lot like their season. After a stretch where they truly struggled, the Kings have won three straight and have their playoff lives in their own hands if they can win the next two.

Game 2 – Berlin Thunder 19 – Barcelona Dragons 3

Berlin Thunder DE Aaron Boadu sacking Dragons QB Zach Edwards. Photo: City Express

I guess there is a reason only children believe in magic because unfortunately whatever special potion the Barcelona Dragons had bottled the past few weeks finally ran out and so did their playoff hopes.

Defensively, the Dragons had some missed tackles Sunday that won’t go over well in the film room, but at the end of the day, they held their opponent to just a pair of field goals. 99 times out of a hundred, that is enough to win a football game. Unfortunately, the Barcelona offense was determined to be part of the 1 percent.

Seven turnovers, including a pair of pick-sixes from quarterback Zach Edwards, were the difference both on and off the scoreboard. The unstoppable passing offense of weeks past ground to a halt and an improving offensive line surrendered 11 sacks to put their quarterback under siege. Nothing went right and the team that fought so spectacularly for relevance found itself quietly dismissed from contention.

The highlight of the low-scoring affair was unquestionably the Berlin defense, which had the type of performance that head coach Jag Bal might have envisioned for his team at the start of the year. Jamaal White changed the game entirely with his 100-yard pick-six and added a forced fumble, league-leading tackler Wael Nasri was everywhere on the field, and Kolin Hill was a monster off the edge with five sacks. The entire unit could have hardly played a better 60 minutes and while it won’t matter this year, that will be something the Thunder can build on next season.

Game 3 – Wroclaw Panthers 30 – Hamburg Sea Devils 24

Panthers celebrating win over the Sea Devils. Photo: Łukasz Skwiot

Lightning never strikes the same spot twice, but Kavontae Turpin is just as fast and he didn’t seem to have any problem posting back-to-back 58-yard touchdowns in the second quarter of Sunday’s game against Hamburg.

The result was a complete momentum shift and the return of the Wroclaw Panthers to European prominence after several difficult losses. While he was contained and banged up in his debut a week ago, Turpin’s second appearance was exactly what the Panthers gambled on when they brought the late addition to Poland: game-breaking speed and explosive big-play ability. There is only more of that coming and the ELF is now on notice.

Wroclaw itself is back on track, defeating a top-seeded Hamburg team that is increasingly becoming a chore to watch – though a kickoff return touchdown from Justin Rogers and a spectacular touchdown catch from Jean-Claude Madin Cerezo made them more exciting than usual. Those big plays and other mistakes show that the Panthers still have a lot to clean up with their elimination on the line every week, but when the chips were down they delivered.

Fireworks in the fourth quarter might have been better for the viewer, but Wroclaw’s seven-minute drive to ice the game was a thing of beauty. Phileas Pasqualini pounded the football down the collective throats of a strong defensive line and whittled the clock away. It was the type of perfect execution that defined the Polish team the first few weeks. Hopefully, it’s here to stay.

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.