Will Powell ran for three touchdowns and threw for a fourth to lead the Novi Sad Dukes to a 25-23 victory over the SBB Vukovi Belgrade in Serbian Bowl XI to capture their first-ever Serbian championship.
Victory looked doubtful though late in the fourth quarter. Despite a spectacular first half performance by Powell where he accounted for three touchdowns, the Dukes had not moved the ball in the second half. Their 18-14 lead had vanished and with four minutes left in the contest, without having gained even a single first down in the second half, Novi Sad found themselves down 23-18 with the ball on the 50 yard line and needing a touchdown to win.
That’s when Will Powell, a receiver turned quarterback, took the game into his own hands, slipping through holes, powering over tacklers, his offensive line finding renewed energy. With 14 seconds left and the ball on the Vukovi four yard line, Powell called his own number for the last time in the contest and bulled his way into the end zone, ending Vukovi’s streak of four straight titles and giving the Dukes their first ever.
Novi Sad had opened the game in great fashion marching right down the field with Powell taking it in from the one for the game’s first score and a 6-0 lead. They missed the PAT which would be a problem for them all night long.
But Vukovi responded with Tony Washington starting at quarterback in place of the injured Myles Gates. Washington engineered Belgrade’s first drive mixing up passes with his own running but Novi Sad’s Kyle Theret picked off a Washington pass deep in the Duke’s territory, stopping the drive and giving the ball back to Powell. The quarterback went right back to work, marching his team the length of the field and taking it in himself again, this time from the 10, to extend Novi Sad’s lead to 12-0 (another botched PAT).
On Vukovi’s next drive, Washington finally got his team moving, and found receiver Nikola Simović on a deep route for a 45 yard touchdown pass putting Belgrade on the scoreboard and cutting the lead to 12-7.
This seemed to rattle the Dukes and on the next series, Powell was picked off by Danijel Maksimović who took it 30 yards for the go ahead touchdown and Vukovi took the lead for the first time 14-12.
This was only the end of the first quarter and the enthusiastic crowd had already been treated to a full game of entertainment.
With Washington and Vukovi running backs Marko Bakovic and Mihailo Josovic finding holes in the Duke’s defense, Vukovi drove down into the Novi Sad red zone before finally being stopped. Powell took over again
Driving the Dukes down the field again, Powell finally found Kyle Theret, who had jumped in at receiver, in the end zone for an 11 yard touchdown pass giving Novi Sad the lead back 18-14, after a third missed PAT, as the half ended.
Neither team could gain any momentum in the second half as Vukovi began began pounding the ball, keeping it on the ground. Vukovi linebacker Dextrell Simmons and his defensive teammates began finding way to shut down Powell and the Duke’s offense. Meanwhile Belgrade’s offense, although marching between the red zones, could get punch the ball in and they finally settled for a Rudolf Kokajia field goal to close the gap to 18-17 as the fourth quarter started.
The see saw battle continued in the fourth quarter with Vukovi effectively stymieing Powell and the Novi Sad offense but unable to move the ball much themselves. However, Tony Washington was finally able to get his troops untracked and after driving the ball down to the 10 he took the ball in himself giving the lead back to Vukovi 23-16. But on Vukovi’s next offensive series, the Duke’s stuffed a fourth and short attempt at midfield handing Powell the ball back with time to finish the game off. Those missed PATs were costly as now the Dukes needed a touchdown and not a field goal to win. Which they did.
The final game-winning drive for Novi Sad will be talked about for a long time to come in Serbia. However, not only was this the first title for Novi Sad ever, but they became only the third team since 2004 to win the Serbian championship after Vukovi and the Kragujevac Wild Boars.