Spain: Badalona Dracs’ defense roars to life in convincing win over L’Hospitalet Pioners

By Kyle Pinnell

The Badalona Dracs’ first offensive and defensive drive of their Saturday showdown against cross-town rivals L’Hospitalet Pioners proved emblematic of how the afternoon would go. 

Badalona’s first drive on offense included a long, slaloming run by running back Edu Molina, but ended with an untimely fumble several plays later. On defense, the Dracs gave up a deep pass down the sideline, putting themselves into a goal-to-go situation, before standing firm to keep the Pioners off the scoreboard. 

The offense eventually woke from its slumber, but the story on Saturday afternoon was the Dracs’ defense, which bent but never completely broke as it forced five turnovers in a 27-7 win against L’Hospitalet to secure its first road victory of the 2023 season and improve to 2-0.

“I’m proud of how we played in the second half,” defender Victor Miller said. “The first half, that wasn’t us, but the second half was our brand of football.”

Badalona Dracs QB Kevin Doyle Jr taking a snap. @jordidolsdiez

Badalona nearly rallied to make a second goal line stand early in the second quarter, but the Pioners broke through with a touchdown on third down. While the game’s momentum frequently shifted, especially in the first half, those seven points were the only ones the visitors conceded all afternoon.

“The goal is ‘zero first downs,’” Miller said. “That’s what we say every week at practice. Zero first downs.” 

Even as their offense struggled and the defense conceded the occasional chunk play, the Dracs knew they had a winning formula and that they had to stick with their gameplan. 

“We thought with a five man rush we would have control and that gave us the results we expected,” defensive coordinator Victor Perez said. “[The Pioners] couldn’t adjust to our defense. We were waiting with our defensive backs deep and gave them all the pressure.”

The Dracs’ made another goal line stand in the second quarter, forcing L’Hospitalet’s quarterback into a rushed throw in the red zone and into the waiting hands of Jeremiah Gutierrez. Despite another moment of positivity, the score remained tied 7-7 at the break.

“We have very difficult matches in the league,” the coaches told the players in the locker room. “If [the Pioners] are going to put us in this situation we’re going to get better.”

Badalona Dracs defense. @jordidolsdiez

Whatever else the message was at halftime, it worked. Tackles were made with more power and at higher intensity, the Badalona defenders continued to confuse the Pioner’s offense, all while the Dracs’ sideline grew louder as their teammates made play after play.

“I’m happy because the defense replied the way I asked them to,” Perez said. “I got mad because we didn’t see that in the first half and I had to shout and tell [the players] why aren’t they playing like we can. To me it was very late, we have to show that on the very first drive.”

Miller, who finished with a sack as well as several tackles and quarterback hurries, set the tone right after halftime by recovering a fumble shortly after another Badalona defender dropped a potential interception. The Dracs then exploded to life, with quarterback Kevin Doyle Jr. finding Raul Cernuda in the endzone to give his team the lead for good.

Everyone seemed to get in on the action in the second half. Erik Figueroa recovered a fumble, Mario Parez and Alex Cerezo corralled interceptions.

“I felt really happy,” Cerezo said. “It was my first interception with the senior team. I was only thinking ‘run, run’ and try to score.”

Despite the elevated performance in the second half as the Dracs pulled away, Miller said neither him nor the team was completely satisfied. This is the Dracs, after all, and the standards are sky-high.

“I had a lot of missed sacks and a couple of missed tackles,” Miller said. “I want more and I want more out of my defense, too. Get three interceptions? I want five. We gotta keep going up, that’s the standard on the Dracs.”

Still, Badalona’s players left with something to feel good about: a win. The Dracs scored 27 unanswered points after the Pioners scored the game’s first touchdown. Anchored by a defense that grew stronger throughout the game and an offense finding its rhythm, the Dracs traveled back across Barcelona with their first road win in their pockets and something to build on ahead of next weekend’s clash against the Valencia Firebats.

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