The best of the ELF’s elite on display in Week 6

It seems only yesterday that the European League of Football kicked off its inaugural campaign, but in the blink of an eye we’ve reached the mid-way point of the regular season. If Week 6 is any indication of what is to come, fans are in for a treat.

After several weeks where the haves and have nots of the league began to separate, the ELF finally got a heavyweight tilt that lived up to the billing, followed by a massive upset that proves no team can be counted out quite yet. As the European football community continues to debate how to handle the new league, the pro experiment is starting to hit its stride with promises of massive league expansion coming closer to fruition.

Here are my thoughts on this week’s games.

Game 1 – Hamburg Sea Devils 26 – Wroclaw Panthers 23

Hamburg Sea Devils QB Jadrian Clark handing off to RB Xavier Johnson Photo: Wroclaw Panthers

Not to be hyperbolic, but this game is the exact reason the ELF exists.

Two top teams from different countries, both loaded with stars and playing riveting football in front of a packed crowd that was at times deafening through the broadcast. You truly couldn’t ask for a better display of just what European football can offer at its peak.

While the product on the field was impeccable, off of it the ELF fumbled the delivery. All year long their website has been prone to glitches, but for the most part, it has been manageable. Saturday it left this viewer and several others locked out of the stream for the majority of the first half. For that to happen during what has to be considered the game of the year so far is an unfortunate black eye.

Beyond that, it’s hard to find much to critique about this game. Both Hamburg and Wroclaw offer remarkably complete teams that provided perfect foils for one another. The high-efficiency Panthers offense was able to threaten despite the incredible Sea Devils defense being as good as ever. Their own defense made crucial plays to get Hamburg’s offense out of rhythm and make key stops. Both sides offered big plays on special teams, though the slight edge to Hamburg in that category proved critical.

Wroclaw returner Darius Robinson Photo: Łukasz Skwiot

All throughout, it was evident that this game would be decided by the thinnest of margins, coming down to one or two crucial mistakes. For a while, it looked like the Sea Devils’ head-scratching decision to burn all three of their timeouts in the third quarter could provide that difference. Instead, it was Wroclaw that stumbled late. An egregious drop from a wide-open Wiktor Zieba killed what could have been a game-winning drive and Phillip Friis Andersen’s clinching field goal was set up by an errant long snap and blocked punt.

Even so, they almost pulled off the impossible in the dying seconds, with Przemyslaw Banat torching the Hamburg secondary to set them up at the edge of field goal range with seven seconds left. That’s when the incomparable Sea Devils defensive front stepped up. New addition Giovanni Naguy batted the last pass attempt at the line and Evans Yeboah made the big man interception.

What we learned here is just how close the top three teams in this league are. Hamburg remains undefeated, Frankfurt has one loss and the Panthers have two to the teams above them, but had one or two plays gone another way this season, that order could easily be flipped. Midway through the season, the ELF championship is far from a foregone conclusion and the impact of this game will be felt in that race. In particular, both sides’ starting running backs, Mark Herndon for Wroclaw and Xavier Johnson for Hamburg, left this one with injuries and could be major losses should they prove to be severe.

Game 2 – Barcelona Dragons 48 – Berlin Thunder 16

Barcelona Dragons WR Jean Constant Photo: Barcelona Dragons

After suffering three straight losses that might be described as blowouts, some questioned whether the apparently overmatched Dragons would ever be able to record a win.

It is hard to imagine a bigger statement answer to that question than the one that Adam Rita’s team offered on Saturday.

There was no doubting what the formula for victory had to be for a team that lacks the depth of other clubs. They needed big plays in all three phases and a massive outing from their stars. They got both in spades, right from the opening kickoff. Top receiver Jean Constant was nothing short of sensational, ripping off massive returns, producing highlight-reel catches, and finishing with three touchdowns. One can’t help but pity Finnish corner Iiro Pekkarinen, who got much more than he could handle.

Defensively, Barcelona weathered an early storm and then stepped up their game big time in the second half. Berlin couldn’t get anything going and two fourth-quarter pick-sixes were the dagger. Lucas Masero’s return was impressive but it is defensive back Andy Vera who has been on fire the last two weeks. He notched two interceptions for the second time in as many games and both were of the highlight-reel variety.

The Thunder continue to struggle with consistency, particularly in the second half, and the move to Bryan Zerbe at quarterback failed to provide a spark, lacking the boom-or-bust big-play ability of Calvin Stitt. Berlin is not in a good spot at the position and a beatdown at the hands of the winless Spaniards will require some serious soul-searching.

Game 3 – Cologne Centurions 39 – Stuttgart Surge 23

The Cologne Centurions have ridden running back Madre London to success all season, but the Surge largely made the league’s leading rusher an afterthought in this one. Normally, that would be cause for celebration, but unfortunately, they got burnt early and often by another import star.

Receiver Quinten Pounds notched three touchdowns and well over 200 yards receiving on the afternoon, making the most of every touch. The American was excellent in this one, but his remarkable performance was far from a one-man show. The same week that Cologne formally moved on from import Danny Farley, German quarterback Jan Weinreich put forth what might be the best outing of his career.

While Weinreich generally falls more in the game manager category of quarterbacking, something that can often be unfairly used as a sleight, he was a game-changer Sunday. Each of his three touchdown passes to Pounds was near perfect throws, put in the only place where only his receiver could catch it. While official stats are not yet available, his completion percentage was as good as they come as well. It was truly a breakout day for the ELF’s top homegrown passing prospect.

The quality of the Centurions‘ execution makes it hard to overly criticize Stuttgart here and they were largely solid in front of what was an impressive home crowd. Lots of pressure from the Cologne defense, now with import defensive end Mike Taylor III, threw QB Aaron Ellis out of rhythm and the absence of tight end David Meza was noticed, but Louis Geyer and Paul Steigerwald made some nice plays at receiver. It wasn’t enough, even as Cologne slowed in the second half.

After they showed guts to pull out the tough win two weeks ago, the Surge simply lacked the juice to do it again here. That’s been a problem all season and could be the thing that costs them a playoff spot when all is said and done.

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.