Bucs-allocated CB Lynaris Elpheage (left) is almost sure to join Tampa Bay teammates Ben Claxton and Corey Smith in World Bowl XII on June 12
Ben Claxton and Corey Smith are in. Lynaris Elpheage may not be far behind.
Hopefully those three Tampa Bay Buccaneers are enjoying their European 'vacations' this spring, because it now looks like it will be extended an extra week.
By defeating the Rhein Fire on Sunday, the Berlin Thunder, featuring Claxton and Smith as key starters, clinched one of the two spots in World Bowl XII. The other spot in the June 12 NFL Europe League championship game will almost certainly belong to Elpheage's Frankfurt Galaxy, which also won on Sunday, downing the Scottish Claymores.
The Thunder, at 6-1, became the first team in NFLEL history to secure a World Bowl spot after just seven weeks. The Galaxy, also sporting a 6-1 record, has not officially clinched the competing berth, but would have difficulty coughing up the bid at this point. Only one other team, the 3-4 Rhein Fire, remains alive in the playoff hunt, but the Fire would have to win its last three games, the Galaxy would have to lose its last three and the Fire would have to defeat the Galaxy by more than 18 points on May 29.
If Frankfurt indeed earns the second spot in the World Bowl, the Thunder and Galaxy would end up playing each other three times in a four-week span. The two teams will meet for the first time this season next Saturday in Frankfurt, then gather for a rematch in Berlin in Week 10.
Berlin got back on the winning track after taking its lone loss the weekend before at Cologne. The Centurions defeated the Thunder, 28-27, on a last-second touchdown pass and the deciding extra point. This weekend, Berlin rendered a similar comeback unlikely by jumping out to a 24-0 lead early in the third quarter of an eventual 33-20 victory.
As usual, Smith was instrumental in Berlin's victory. The Buccaneer defensive end came into the weekend tied for second in the league with six sacks, but had put pressure on himself to turn in big plays earlier in the Thunder's ballgames. Mission accomplished. On Sunday, he ended Rhein's first possession with a forced fumble, knocking the ball out of Dallas Cowboy quarterback Chad Hutchinson's during a sack Smith shared with Lawrence Flugence.
Smith's offensive teammate, Claxton, also continued to excel, anchoring the Thunder offensive line from his starting center spot. Behind that line, Berlin runners ground out 108 yards, and quarterback Rohan Davey, sacked just twice, threw for 242 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.
Two Buccaneer players did their best to keep Rhein in the game, as Kevin Breedlove and Chris Ziemann started at left guard and right tackle, respectively, for the Fire. The Rhein line allowed just two sacks of Hutchinson, who threw for 305 yards, but Berlin countered with 429 total yards of offense and a critical, 3-0 edge in turnovers.
Frankfurt's 27-24 victory over Scotland was a bit tighter, thanks to another Buc-allocated player. With the Galaxy holding that three point edge and the ball with six minutes to play on Sunday, Buccaneer defensive tackle Damian Gregory forced a fumble by New Orleans Saints QB J.T. O'Sullivan. Gregory also recovered the loose ball at the Scotland nine-yard line, thwarting a game-clinching score.
Unfortunately for Gregory, the Claymore offense could get no closer than their own 25 before punting, and Frankfurt was able to run out all but one second of the final two minutes on the game clock.
Elpheage and the Galaxy defense held Scotland to 270 yards of total offense. The league leader with 12 passes defensed, Elpheage contributed one tackle on Sunday. Gregory's efforts in defeated included four solo tackles and one sack to go with his big play in the fourth quarter.
Here is a summary of how the Bucs' half-dozen NFLEL allocates fared in this past weekend of play:
- G Kevin Breedlove, Rhein…Started at left guard for the second straight week after opening the first five games at right guard…Helped Fire accumulate 329 yards of total offense. * C Ben Claxton, Berlin…Started at center for Berlin and helped Thunder clinch a World Bowl spot with 429 yards of offense in a 33-20 victory over Rhein…Blocked for Thunder running attack that produced 108 yards. * CB Lynaris Elpheage, Frankfurt…Started at right cornerback for the Galaxy for the seventh straight week…Contributed one tackle in Frankfurt's 27-24 win over the Scottish Claymores. * DT Damian Gregory, Scotland…Subbed at defensive tackle and pitched in with four solo tackles and a sack, giving him 3.5 sacks on the season…Also forced and recovered a fumble inside Scotland's 10-yard line. * DE Corey Smith, Berlin…Started at right defensive end and recorded one tackle, 0.5 sacks and a forced fumble…Continues to lead first-place Berlin with 6.5 sacks. * T Chris Ziemann, Rhein…Started at right tackle for the sixth time in seven weeks and helped the Fire allow just two sacks of QB Chad Hutchinson.