Spain: Osos Rivas stun Badalona Dracs to advance to 2nd straight Spanish title game

A year after winning their first league title in over two decades, the Madrid Rivas Osos are back in the Liga Nacional de Fútbol Americano Serie A championship game and will have the opportunity to defend their crown. For a second-straight season, the Osos path to the championship went through taking down the Badalona Dracs in the league semifinals.

Up by 14 points in the third quarter, the visiting Osos staved off a furious Dracs rally to win 26-21 at the Camp de Futbol Pomar and clinch their spot in the league championship on April 29 against the Black Demons.

 “Give [the Osos] credit,” Dracs quarterback Kevin Doyle said. “They possessed the ball well and were a good team. They just had our number and took advantage of mistakes on our part, both offensively and defensively.”

Saturday evening’s semifinal was billed as the league’s best offense versus its best defense, and for good reason. The Dracs put up 156 points in their final three games of the regular season while the Osos had conceded just 34 points through their eight games. Finally, both teams had a new opponent to measure themselves against.

 Madrid didn’t score on its opening drive but did show early signs of what was to come later in the game. Quarterback Sergio Barbero led his team down the field with a balanced mix of passes and QB runs, getting several players involved early.

However, late in the first quarter it was two of the Dracs’ American imports that showed why they were brought to Catalunya. One play after Badalona turned the ball over on downs, defensive back Jeremiah Gutierrez helped the hosts get it right back, sprinting in from the backfield and making a hard hit to jar the ball loose. Shortly after, with the Dracs now in Osos territory, Doyle found Raúl Cernuda over the middle of the field and the tight end did the rest, barreling past several defenders and falling into the end zone to give Badalona a 7-0 lead with the final play of the first quarter.

Midway through the second quarter the Osos answered back with what Badalona players initially thought was another big defensive play. Barbero dropped back and went deep, throwing the ball into triple coverage at the back of the end zone. A true jump ball, the ball deflected off several hands and it appeared that defensive back Eric Gracia ultimately grabbed it as he fell to the turf. However, Madrid receiver Ivan Iordanov also had the ball in his hands, wrestled it away and was given the touchdown to tie the score at seven.

That’s when the game flipped and the Osos slowly but surely began to wrestle control away from the hosts. Barbero, who finished with three passing touchdowns and another with his legs, found David Guirón for another deep touchdown right before halftime to put his team up 14-7.

The Osos controlled the time of possession battle, methodically moving downfield each time they had the ball. As much as the Dracs’ defense tried to get off the field, time after time Madrid found another first down.

“They were able to control the box, and when a team does that there is only so much you can do as an offense,” Gutierrez said.

Things went from bad to worse for Badalona in the second half. With starting running back Edu Molina injured, the visitors extended their lead to 20-7 following another meticulous drive midway through the third quarter, capitalized by Barbero rolling out of the pocket to hit Guirón in the right corner of the end zone.

Out of nowhere, the Dracs found a spark. A simple toss play to Gutierrez at midfield turned into a 50-yard touchdown, which gave the hosts an injection of life and cut the deficit to six.

“Even before the touchdown I was thinking ‘we got this’ and believed we were in the game,” Gutierrez said.

But a backbreaking defensive breakdown saw the Osos re-extend their lead when Barbero found Iordanov wide-open in the back of the end zone. The Dracs scored once more late in the fourth quarter on a deep fourth-down completion to Isaiah Woods, but by then it was too little, too late.

“This sucks, right?,” Doyle said. “But as I was telling the guys, if you gave it everything you could there’s no reason to be disappointed. Stuff happens and that’s the game.”

In many ways, the Osos defense proved to be for real. For much of the semifinal, it held strong and the only plays that beat it were a 50-yard individual carry and a picture-perfect touchdown to the back corner of the end zone.

On Saturday fans finally saw a clash of heavyweights from two separate conferences in a game that certainly lived up to the hype. Both teams, with comparative talent on the field, produced an entertaining semifinal in Badalona. For a second year in a row, the Osos got the better of the Dracs, setting up an all-Western Conference final between the league’s two Madrid-based teams. Badalona, meanwhile, is left to contemplate a second round of what-ifs after another season ends in the semifinals.

“I want to let this image of them celebrating sit in the back of my head for when I play overseas again,” Gutierrez said. “I don’t want to feel those feelings again, I want to be on their side next year.”