Stockholm Mean Machines inch past Carlstad Crusaders in Swedish semi-final

Quarterback may be the most important position in all of sports, but the Stockholm Mean Machines didn’t need one to book their ticket to the Swedish championship game.

With Canadian Brett Hunchak sidelined for Stockholm, the defending champion Carlstad Crusaders looked like the easy betting favorite to advance from the Superserien semi-final on Saturday, but Mean Machines receiver Matthew Retzlaff had a different idea.

Stepping in as a wildcat quarterback for the pivotal playoff contest, the wily veteran rushed 29 times for 131 yards and a touchdown and completed nine of eleven passes for 65 yards and one interception. The performance proved just enough to inch his team past their arch-rival Crusaders by a score of 16-14, avenging their two point championship loss from a year ago.

Once again on the losing side was dual-threat import Tim Morovick, who defected to Carlstad this offseason after leading Stockholm in the that ill-fated title contest. Morovick connected on 23 0f 36 passes for 266 yards and two touchdowns, while scrambling for 47 more, but committed two fateful turnovers and couldn’t come up with a play to complete a fourth quarter comeback.

Stockholm’s defense kept the Crusaders in check all game Photo: Stefan Akander


With plenty of hype for the heated rivalry matchup, the semi-final game itself got off to a slow start. After a scoreless first quarter, Stockholm opened the scoring early in the second with a 37-yard Robin Gavelin-Miranda field goal, but the Crusaders struck back quickly. Johan Olsson picked up 23 on a wide receiver screen and three plays later, Morovick went deep, finding explosive Serb Strahinja Stepovic in behind coverage for a 32-yard touchdown strike.

Matthew Retzlaff soon rallied his team for a 64-yard drive of their own, hitting receiver Anton Blomgren to get in Carlstad territory. The receiver-turned-quarterback added another first down with his legs and Adam Westin did the rest, cutting back the inside zone run and busting out of the first tackle for a 35-yard touchdown.

Retzlaff kept that momentum going early in the second half, finding Austrian standout Dario Dobrolevski for a massive 22-yard gain on the third play from scrimmage. Stockholm drove the remaining 49 yards on the ground and Retzlaff capped it himself, finding a hole off the left side and squirting through for a four-yard touchdown to make it 16-7 after a blocked point after.

It took the Crusaders just three plays to get back into the redzone in response. Stepovic hauled in a pair of easy first downs and Johan Olsson continued to dazzle in the screen game with a 30-yard pick up. Parked at the Stockholm 14-yard line, Morovick looked to score but Vidar Gjermstad punched the ball out of the scrambling quarterback’s grasp and Robin Prevolnik recovered for the Mean Machines. Carlstad forced the three and out and a punt from the end zone, but Morovick faired no better on the next drive, picked off by Deniel John on a long pass attempt.

Stockholm put together a 12-play drive that ate into to fourth but Mattias Eriksson and Eddy Abdulla combined for a stop on fourth down to give the Crusaders back the ball deep in their own territory. This time they turned to the ground to get things moving, with Alexander Segerfeldt picking up two big first downs and Morovick adding another. With the defense flowing downhill, the dual-threat pivot came out of  a timeout with an aerial strike and Stepovic made a nice back-shoulder adjustment to bring in the 23-yard score, his second of the game.

Carlstad RB #5 Alexander Segerfeldt Photo: Stefan Akander

Down two, Carlstad needed a play from their defense to survive and got one from Pierre Courageux, who came underneath an underthrown Retzlaff ball for a timely interception. Unfortunately, the offence failed to deliver in the same way. With 3:32 remaining, Morovick produced two hard-fought first downs but no more, unable to connect with Theodor Landstrom in double coverage on a desperate fourth and eight. The ball fell incomplete and Retzlaff knelt out the clock for the 16-14 victory.


Retzlaff’s gutsy performance came courtesy of an excellent outing for the Stockholm offensive line, who paved the way for 231 combined yards on the ground. Adam Westin had four carries for 54 yards and a score, while Timmy Goransson pitched in eight for 33. Dario Dobrolevski had five catches for 33 yards to round out the top offensive performers. Defensively, Ben Prasopsin had six tackles and German Nikolaus Knoblauch had 5.5. Vidar Gjermstad had four to go with his sack and forced fumble, while Deniel John had 3.5, two pass breakups and an interception.

For the Crusaders, Strahinja Stepovic led all receivers with seven catches for 107 yards and two touchdowns. Johan Olsson and Marcus Johnsson added five catches each, for 67 and 51 yards respectively, while Mattias Eriksson weathered the storm on defence with eleven tackles.

With their second victory over the Crusaders this season, the Mean Machines now move on to face the Örebro Black Knights in the Swedish championship, with a chance to bring the trophy back to Stockholm for the third time in four years. The status of Brett Hunchak will be the main talking point entering the final, but the Mean Machines have now effectively proved his absence won’t be the deciding factor.

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.