Spanish Bowl XXVII: The head coaches speak out

When the 2021 Spanish Bowl kicks off on Saturday, all eyes will be on the players on the field, but an equally heated matchup will be taking place on the sideline.

The title bout features two of the country’s sharpest coaching minds and both have only one goal in mind.

For the Badalona Dracs, Oscar Calatayud is already looking to cement his legacy as an all-time great with a fifth consecutive national championship, something never before achieved in LNFA history. For the Las Rozas Black Demons, Sebas Lopez is looking to harvest the fruits of his labor, dragging the Madrid-based franchise from Series B to toppling a Spanish juggernaut.

The game is a rematch of the 2019 Spanish Bowl, the last played pre-pandemic and a 47-6 blowout in favor of the Dracs. The circumstances this time around are much different and American Football International caught up with both coaches to get their thoughts before the big game.

AFI: 2021 has been a season of unique challenges and getting to a championship game is never easy. How has your team overcome adversity to get to this point?

Oscar Calatayud: Trying to maintain team discipline, never losing hope of reaching the final and giving the maximum possible security to our players.

Sebas Lopez: We have certainly taken on a season full of challenges. Starting with the challenge of the competition, we had the toughest schedule of the league because in our group we faced Osos Rivas in two games that ended up being very tightly disputed and, on the other hand, our intergroup rival was the Dracs, the team to beat. In addition, the restrictions imposed by the pandemic situation and the changes to the calendar due to positives in our team undoubtedly made it so that if you wanted to win the championship this year, you had to make an effort like no one has ever done before in Spain.

Photo: Lola Morales

AFI: On the field, what do you view as your team’s biggest strength?

OC: The defense. Our defense has done a great job all season and now it is in its prime.

SL: Our offensive line has managed to dominate so far, establishing the run game and giving Chris Merchant time to let the passing game develop. On the other hand, our defensive line has already shown they can steal enough seconds from Sergi Gonzalo reads to make a difference.

AFI: Watching tape on your opponent, what do you see as their biggest strength?

OC: Their offense has great players.  They have four talented imports playing on the offensive side, in addition to several high level national players.  It will be an interesting game to analyze.

SL: They are a tough team, like us. Having had games with a high score during the season sometimes makes you lower the intensity, no doubt this game both teams will have to do our best.

AFI: Football games ultimately come down to individual or positional matchups. What matchup do you view as the key to determining this game?

OC: We will have to contain their two air targets, David Girón and Mavin Sanders.  If we close those options to quarterback Chris Merchant, we will be very successful.

SL: The Dracs have managed to recover key pieces to their defense. The intensity that their defensive coordinator Xus Fernandez demands from his players never makes things easy for any offense. In any case our offense already managed to overcome their defense and we have been working hard these past few weeks to prepare for it.

Photo: Lola Morales

AFI: Having played each other twice this season, what have you learned or taken away from your previous contest with your opponent?

OC: They were two very different games and in both there were extenuating circumstances that do not give a clear reading.  The situation is changing for both teams so it will be a game quite different from what we have seen so far.  It is difficult to predict based on previous games.

SL: Since the first game we played at Las Rozas, it seems like an eternity has passed… many things have changed for both teams. On the other hand, the playoffs were already decided in the last game we played and both teams reserved our important players and game schemes. Undoubtedly, this Saturday’s game will be much more interesting for everyone watching us in Badalona or at home.

AFI: What would it mean to you and your team to be able to claim the Spanish Championship this year?

OC: It would be a payoff for the effort of the players, staff and organization greater than in other years.  It has been a physical, financial and emotional challenge for us.  It has been a very complicated year in many aspects and it would be a reward for such work and commitment.

SL: In 2016, our current athletic director and I returned to the Black Demons from other teams and laid out a plan to be champions in five years. At that time, the team was playing in the second division and had just come off a difficult season that almost saw them go out of existence. Those five years are now expiring. These last few years the team has shown that it could become a competitive team. Now they need to know that they can be winners and I can tell you that this week in every practice they showed that they have the ambition to be champions.

Watch Spanish Bowl XXVII live on AFI tv, Saturday, May 15 at 7 pm CET (19:00, 1 pm ET)

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.