Team France edges Finland, advances to gold medal final at 2018 IFAF European Championships

Team France scored two fourth quarter touchdowns to break open a 7-7 tie and then held on to beat Finland 21-14 and qualify for the gold medal final in the 2018 IFAF European Championships at Vantaa, Finland.

Finland did not make it easy. With a roaring crowd cheering them on, they held the vaunted French rushing attack to 90 yards while rushing for 153 themselves. In fact, Finland outgained France 316 yards as compared to 279, but much of that yardage came late in the game with the seconds ticking away on the clock and France in a prevent defense.

France performed when they best needed it though.

Quarterback Paul Durand threw for 189 yards and two touchdowns and time and again displayed his cool finding receivers when he needed to under relentless pressure. Jeff Alexandre was his favorite target catching five passes for 68 yards and a crucial late touchdown to seal the win. Nelson Tsimi hauled in two passes for 48 yards and a touchdowns while running back Stephen Yepmo rushed for 80 yards and the game’s opening touchdown but averaged only 3.3 yards a carry.

Miro Kadmiry stepped in at quarterback for Finland in the second half in place of Janne Lehtinen, sparking the offense, throwing for 138 yards and two touchdowns with Tommi PInta and Karri Pajarinen scoring the touchdowns.

France took a 7-0  lead early in the second quarter after neither team could gain any momentum early in the game. Durand connected with Tsimi on a 23 yard touchdown pass and the versatile Alexandre kicked the extra point.

The lead remained 7-0 at the break

Stephen Yepmo (23) carried ball 24 times and rushed for 80 yards and 1 TD. Photo: Jari Turunen

Kadmiry replaced an ineffective Lehtinen to start the second half and immediately provided a spark rushing for a total of 52 yards on a six play drive and capping it with a touchdown pass to Pinta to tie the game at 7-7.

The French seemed to be caught off guard by the new quarterback. Two possessions later, Kadmiry was at it again driving Finland down to the French eight yard line. But a fumbled snap put them back to the 20 yard line and then a blocked field goal due to another bungled snap suddenly swung  the momentum back to France’s favor.

Durand engineered an eight play, 80 yard drive, finishing it with an 11 yard touchdown pass to Alexandre and France retook the lead, 14-7.  Now it was Finland who could not move the ball and Durand went back to work. He marched France from their own 49 yard line down to the Finnish three yard line relying on Alexandre and Tsimi with Yepmo punching the ball in to extend the lead to 21-7.

Miro Kadmiry (7) led Finland’s offense in 2nd half. Photo: Samppa Toivonen

Finland took over with five minutes left but could not get past the 45 yard line of France and France got the ball back with just under three minutes left in the game. However, with time a key factor now France could not manage a first down and Finland got the ball back with barely two minutes to on their own 23 yard line. This time Kadmiry mixed his play calling up completing passes to his receivers and using his legs to drive Finland down to the French 16 yard line. With just over 30 seconds on the clock he hit Pajarinen to narrow the lead to 21-14.

Both teams and the entire stadium knew Finland would try an onside kickoff to recover the ball for a last gasp attempt at a touchdown. But Alexandre’s sure hands sealed the win for France.

France will now play Team Austria for the gold medal on August 4 while Team Finland will take on Sweden in a battle for the bronze medal.

Watch the highlights here.

Photos: Samppa Toivonen and Jari Turunen

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