Power shifting in ELF as Week 7 provides proof of parity

Parity. It’s the type of buzzword that is catnip to sports leagues everywhere, but over the first half of the European League of Football season, it didn’t look like they had much of it. Just three dominant teams and the rest trying to catch up.

Suddenly, that appears to be changing.

As the league entered its second half of the season in Week 7, a once pre-determined playoff race got slightly murkier. Sure, there was one blowout to forget, but a near upset of epic proportions and a huge loss from an ELF powerhouse proved anything can happen. Here are my thoughts on this week’s games.

Game 1 – Hamburg Sea Devils 22 – Barcelona Dragons 17

Photo: Michael Freitag

The Hamburg Sea Devils may have moved to 6-0 on Saturday, but you can’t help but feel that their status as the best team in the ELF is up for debate after this one.

When the Wroclaw Panthers pushed them to the brink a week ago, it was pretty well expected. When a Barcelona Dragons team coming off their first win does it, that becomes concerning.

The Hamburg defense was just as good as ever and Barcelona had to work hard for their offensive production, which reduced considerably in the second half. But the unexpected twist was how ready the much-maligned Dragons’ defense was to perform. Some early struggles slowing Julian Ampaw on the ground didn’t seem to matter and their versatile secondary continued to make plays when they were presented with opportunity. Niko Lester’s interception return touchdown exemplified this, taking advantage of a bad error from his opponent and turning it into one of the highlights of the week.

While praise for the Dragons is deserved, there is no question that this game shouldn’t have been this close. For the Sea Devils, that falls squarely on the shoulders of quarterback Jadrian Clark. A player with spectacular past seasons in the GFL and Austrian league, Clark hasn’t looked himself for much of this year. He’s shown flashes, but the quarterback of the best team in the league entered this week as its sixth-ranked passer, trailed only by those who haven’t played a full season.

It was more of the same on Saturday, with Clark inconsistent and off target in big moments despite good protection. It was enough for the Sea Devils to win, but that victory had to come courtesy of five field goals, not the first time kicker Philip Friis Andersen has outplayed his quarterback. The offense couldn’t finish drives and while Clark’s first interception falls on receiver Lukas Rehder for the tip, the other two were poor decisions from Clark, both in scoring position.

Without Xavier Johnson to lean on in the backfield, Hamburg is vulnerable until they can sort out their passing attack. That makes the ELF completely up for grabs even as they run away with the standings.

Game 2 – Frankfurt Galaxy 57 – Stuttgart Surge 3

Galaxy WR Anthony Mahoungou hauling in a pass Photo: Alex Stoll

Sometimes when there is a surge, it is accompanied by a power outage. That is exactly what happened to Stuttgart on Sunday.

The Surge simply had nothing going for them in this one. They compiled less than 200 yards of offense and only stopped the Galaxy twice all game on defense. Aaron Ellis was hung out to dry as Frankfurt poured on the pressure and neither Bryan Yankson or Jean-Charles Moukouri could generate anything in the backfield, a big reason that each of their first three drives of the game finished with negative yardage.

It was nothing short of a perfect performance from the Galaxy defense and a beautiful thing to watch. While modern defense is usually about forcing takeaways, they only posted one interception and still erased the Surge by swarming to the football. Official stats are not yet available, but I counted at least seven sacks, with only Mete Konya double dipping. Every play in the backfield seemed to be made by a different jersey number and there was nobody who the offense could key on.

On the other side of the ball, Jakeb Sullivan had a great outing and Anthony Mahoungou had his best game of the year. Frankfurt was the only team without a top ten receiver entering the week but that may be a tribute to the collective sum of their offensive parts. A player like Mahoungou doesn’t typically take over games because the Galaxy have such a deep roster. The Frenchman stood out here, but his team still got scores from six different players on offense. That’s a scary thing to stop.

Game 3 – Cologne Centurions 33 – Wroclaw Panthers 31

Photo: Łukasz Skwiot

At home, the Wroclaw Panthers have been the image of perfection. On the road, you can argue they’ve been the better team in all three games they’ve played. Yet they now sit a .500 on the season thanks to the uncharacteristic errors that seem to accompany them every time they leave the comfort of Poland.

Up 22-7 in the third quarter, the Panthers seemed poised and in control of this one. Then the wheels fell off entirely. Quarterback Lukas O’Connor decided to lazily pitch the ball to Paul Steffen for the world’s easiest pick six and things spiraled from there as running back Mark Herndon was stripped twice to set up Cologne touchdowns, although the second one was an egregious missed call by the referee after the former Florida Gator was downed behind the line of scrimmage and was allowed to keep running until the ball was forced out.

Of course, on defense, it was an inability to stop Madre London that sealed the collapse. In fairness, the league’s leading rusher was made to work for his four touchdowns and didn’t quite slash through his opponent like we’re used to seeing, but he got every big play he needed. Wroclaw got bullied on the edges in key moments and London was able to slash through off tackle. Even on the final drive, with the game in the balance, he was able to rattle off a 59-yarder. Sure, the Panthers stopped a touchdown and got one final shot at a miracle, but anyone watching knew the game was over once London burst through the secondary.

While Panther mistakes and London will get the headlines, the Cologne defense deserves some credit here as well. As the metaphorical pressure mounted on O’Connor, they manifested it physically and the normally cool and collected passer was visibly unsettled when he most had to deliver. The result was nothing short of a major power shift in the ELF, with the Centurions kicking down the door of the league’s big three.

Game 4 – Leipzig Kings 37 – Berlin Thunder 24

Leipzig Kings WR Anthony Dablé-Wolf fighting for extra yards. Photo: Eric Mühle


A bye week can be a wonderful thing and the Leipzig Kings came off theirs looking like a new team. While health across the board was a big piece of that, nothing was more refreshing than the return of quarterback Michael Birdsong.

There are some downright electric players to watch in the ELF but if I had to spend my last $20 to watch any import play, I’d slam it down for the former X League standout. He looks, moves, and operates like a  professional quarterback. The ball snaps off his hand with velocity and timing. He evades pressure without ever looking flustered or dropping his eyes from downfield. There are some excellent passers in the ELF. From a traits standpoint, Birdsong is in a class of his own.

It wasn’t a perfect return — his ball control on the last play of the first half left something to be desired — but Birdsong made the Kings infinitely better. His chemistry with Timothy Knuettel didn’t decline at all while injured and the whole offense seemed much more cohesive.

The opposite was true for Berlin. Being down 27-8 at the half unceremoniously ended the Bryan Zerbe experiment at quarterback and while the return of Calvin Stitt provided some spark in the fourth quarter, it was hardly anything to write home about. Running back Joc Crawford is the heartbeat of the offense, but he can’t do it all and Seantarrius Jones isn’t getting the touches he needs at receiver. It is an offense with enough talent to do damage, but all the parts seeming to work independent of one another. That has the team trending in the wrong direction with a bye next week to fix it.

Leipzig, by contrast, is now trending up. Operating with just a four-man coaching staff all year, they added veteran defensive coach Malik Jackson this week and are already getting better on that side of the ball. The difficult challenge of building a team from scratch in a traditionally football sparse region has been enthusiastically shouldered by head coach Fred Armstrong and was viewed as a multi-year process, but with Wroclaw faltering, they are suddenly back in the hunt despite a difficult late season schedule.  With Birdsong at the helm, anything is possible.

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.