Saarland Hurricanes top Cologne Crocodiles in penalty-filled affair, advance to GFL semis for first time in history

Playoffs are a time for star players and big plays to grab the spotlight, but while Sunday’s GFL quarterfinal matchup between the Saarland Hurricanes and Cologne Crocodiles offered plenty of both, they served in an unfortunate supporting role.

Instead, it was striped shirts and orange flags that were center stage in the first round of the playoffs, slowing the pace of play between two ill-disciplined sides to a near standstill. Hardly a dive went by that wasn’t dramatically altered by penalties and each team committed more than their fair share of majors, but while the Hurricanes were the most penalized team in Germany this season, they escaped the worst of the referees’ laundry when it counted Sunday. The result was a 35-16 victory, sending Saarland to the semifinals in the top league for the first time in club history.

That victory overcame an inauspicious start, as Hans Plam opened the game with a hellacious sack on the first play from scrimmage and the Hurricanes went three-and-out to force an early punt. That proved disastrous, as Lino Schroter flew free off the edge to block the kick and Carmelo Insalaco recovered in the endzone for a Cologne touchdown barely a minute in.

Saarland surrendered two more sacks  — which would ultimately prove to be Cologne’s last– on the next drive and punted again. The Crocodiles drove the field thanks to a few big runs from Sergi Kendus, but once in first-and-goal, things fell apart. Cologne committed a string of major penalties which backed them up to the Hurricanes‘ 27-yard line for fourth down, a position quarterback Christian Strong couldn’t find a way out of with a short dump-off and the team turned it over on downs.

Photo: Sarah Philipp

Saarland eventually struck midway through the second quarter. Gambling on fourth-and-one, quarterback Josh Goldin drew the Crocodiles offside and took advantage of the free play to find a streaking Vic Wharton down the left sideline for a 33-yard score. Cologne responded with a 30-yard field goal, but the Hurricanes had more in store. Goldin found time to look downfield, finding a leaping Marcel Baumbach for a 41-yard gain. A 14-yard dump-off to Leon Helm soon set up first-and-goal and Goldin delivered a five-yard strike to Marvin Fuchs to take the 14-10 lead with 30 seconds left in the half.

Chaz Elder opened the second half with an interception off of Christian Strong, but Saarland failed to capitalize and was forced to punt. Elder simply responded by giving his team another opportunity, coming underneath a Strong floater for his second pick. This time Goldin delivered, finding Fuchs for a 14-yard touchdown.

After a strong return, the Crocodiles began to threaten. Kendus ground out some hard yards, tight end Sebastien Moers rumbled for a first down and Markell Castle beat the coverage on a 16-yard fade to haul in the team’s first offensive touchdown of the night. The point after went wide right and the Hurricanes answered back just as quickly. Fuchs immediately picked up 24 on a short screen, before Baumbach busted the coverage with a long 27-yard touchdown catch from Goldin on the wide side of the field to restore the two-score advantage.

Down 12 at the start of the fourth, Strong spread the ball around to five different targets as he drove his team down the field for another potential scoring drive. It would again prove to be all for naught, as the Saarland defense stepped up in the red zone and Chaz Elder made another play, knocking down the endzone attempt on fourth down. Marian Menden then got the Hurricanes out of the shadow of their goal line with a 36-yard catch, backing it up two plays later with a spectacular diving 33-yard grab. Goldin didn’t need to look anywhere else, as Menden soon drew pass interference in the endzone, then wrapped the drive with a three-yard touchdown.

Cologne WR Aaron Jackson #4 Photo: Michael Demmer –

A potential kick after the touchdown was scored resulted in the ejection of Crocodile defensive lineman Jahn Lara Perez, but Cologne refused to roll over. After a quiet night, Aaron Jackson caught a bubble screen on the first play of the ensuing drive and wove 58 yards through the defense into the redzone. Unfortunately, they failed to move the sticks again and Elder brought down his third interception of the afternoon as soon as Strong looked to the endzone, allowing his team to grind out one more first down for a 35-16 win.

Hurricanes quarterback Josh Goldin was exceptional in the victory, unofficially completing 18-of-27 passes for 296 yards and five touchdowns. Vic Wharton was the top to target with six catches for 82 yards, Marian Menden had three for 72, and Marcel Baumbauch added two for 68, while all three scored touchdowns. Marvin Fuchs had the other two scores. Chaz Elder’s hat trick of interceptions was the defensive highlight in a strong overall effort.

Canadian quarterback Christian Strong was 25-of-38 for 283 yards, one touchdown, and three picks in a losing effort. Sergi Kendus was the workhorse, carrying 18 times for 84 yards and adding six catches for 47 more, while Markell Castle caught five passes for 68 yards and a score. Aaron Jackson led all receivers with eight receptions for 99 yards, the bulk of which came on one long play during his team’s final drive.

Just four seasons removed from relegation, Saarland’s return to the GFL in 2021 now sees a franchise first: a berth in the semi-finals and a chance at a German Bowl title. They’ll face a tough test in the Dresden Monarchs this week, a team whose status as the most disciplined in the GFL this season should provide far less free yardage for Saarland to take advantage of.

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.