Russia secured their first IFAF Europe Group B berth in a decade by defeating the visiting Team Norway 20-0 in front of a packed Tsarskoye Selo Stadium, home of this year’s Russian Champions the St. Petersburg Griffins.
Looking much more coherent than in their loss against Poland two weeks ago, head coach Vasily Dobryakov’s troops played with confidence. The offense, led by Moscow Patriot and Russian league MVP Igor Chernolutsky finally “clicked” and managed to move the ball with some consistency from the outset.
Both Chernolutsky and his backup Anton Bagautdinov scored touchdowns while kicker Serguei Lochakov added two field goals and two PATs for the win. Ironically, the hype surrounding Norwegian kicker Håvard “Kickalicious” Rugland, who played with the NFL Detroit Lions, created more pressure than he deserved as he missed both his attempts when Norway had a chance to score in the first half.
Nevertheless, it was Norway who moved the ball well in the first half, but could never penetrate the red zone as field position became a key issue. Running back Lorenzo Proctor was having success Russia struck first on the first of two key turnovers as Norway fumbled the ball on their own 20 yard line. Russia kicked a field goal to take the first lead 3-0. Russia’s offense, based on a run heavy wing-based formatio,n finally began to chip away at the tiring Norwegian defense (Norway played with six linemen) finally scoring on a Chernolutsky two yard run to give Russia a 10-0 halftime lead.
Russia slowly imposed their will on the Norwegians in the second half as Bagautdinov scrambled for a second touchdown in the third quarter and the physical Russian secondary bottled up Norway’s wide receivers Arne August Skovseth Søgaard (Eidsvoll 1814s) and Pål Eimar Wulff. Meanwhile, quarterback Mehmet Sezer (Oslo Vikings) was under pressure from a relentless Russian front seven. As the game went on, Igor Chernolutsky had more and more time in the pocket to find his targets – throwing several long completions to tight end Andrey Ivanov and speedster wide receiver Victor But. However, it was Bagautdinov who scored the team’s second touchdown, when Chernolutsky had to leave the field after his helmet was knocked off.
Norway’s offense, totally stymied as the game wore on, ended up gaining only five first downs in the second half, and Russia would go on to comfortably close the game at 20-0.
Having not participated in a European championship Group B tournament in 10 years, Russia now has a lot to look forward to, as the level of talent that they have gathered at this time is arguably the best the nation has seen in years. But Norwegians should also be proud of themselves, as head coach Jørgen Benestad-Johansen, put it, having played some very good football during a tough game away for the first time in many years. Russia Coach Vasily Dobryakov was not totally happy with his game plan as his team missed many opportunities but their ability to make the right changes during the game were a key factor in this victory.
Thanks to Michael J. P. Laurent and Ilya Kravtsov for their valuable contributions to this article.
Photo credit: Khalyavina Svetlana