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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Claxton, Smith Earn Rings

Buccaneer-allocated players Ben Claxton and Corey Smith helped the Berlin Thunder defeat the Frankfurt Galaxy this weekend in World Bowl XII, the NFLEL championship game


C Ben Claxton was described as the glue that holds Berlin's offense together by Head Coach Rick Lantz

Corey Smith now has two championship rings.

Smith, who played early in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 2002 championship season as a rookie defensive end, was on injured reserve during Super Bowl XXXVII but shared in the glory of the Bucs' 48-21 win over Oakland.

On Saturday, Smith was on the winning squad again when the Berlin Thunder beat the Frankfurt Galaxy in World Bowl XII, thereby earning his second ring, this time as a 2004 NFL Europe champion.

"This is a great group of guys, they remind me a lot of the championship team with the Buccaneers," he said. "Everybody worked together and came together – and to end it like this is great."

Four months ago, Berlin had made Smith, one of six Buccaneers allocated to the NFLEL this season, the first pick in the allocate draft, and he finished as the team's leading sacker, with 8.5. He had his final sack of the season in the fourth quarter on Saturday.

Smith and the Thunder defense held Frankfurt to 255 yards and forced five turnovers in a 30-24 victory that wasn't as close as the final score indicated. In the process, Berlin defeated Frankfurt for the third time in four weeks and finished their NFLEL season 10-1.

First-year center Ben Claxton, another Buccaneer-allocated player, also played a big part in Berlin's win, as the Thunder's red-hot running game ran wild again, to the tune of 180 yards on 37 carries. RB Eric McCoo, allocated by the Philadelphia Eagles and the NFLEL's leading rusher this season, ran for 167 yards behind a line anchored by Claxton. The former Ole Miss standout was recently described as "the glue that holds them together" by Berlin Head Coach Rick Lantz.

In all, Berlin gained 451 yards of offense to counteract five turnovers of its own, with NFL Europe Offensive Player of the Year Rohan Davey completing 19 of 29 passes for 212 yards. He was sacked just once. Davey had an even shorter wait to add to his ring collection than Smith, having picked up one as a reserve with the New England Patriots in February.

The season-long accomplishments by McCoo and Davey wouldn't have been possible without the contributions of Claxton and the other four up front.

"Ben Claxton is a true leader on our offensive line," said Rick Lantz. "He has played on almost every single snap of this year. He has been doing a fantastic job all year long. He is a tough, quiet, great guy and he has to make all the blocking adjustments for them on the line so he is a smart guy. I can't say enough good things about him."

There was one other Buc on the field Saturday in Rhein, as cornerback Lynaris Elpheage tried to help the Galaxy take a lead early in the second half. With the game tied, 10-10, two minutes into the third period, Elpheage made a one-handed interception of a Davey pass, returning it 38 yards to the Thunder's 17. However, a bad snap thwarted Frankfurt's field goal attempt and kicker Ralf Kleinmann's Yepremian-esque pass attempt was intercepted by linebacker Kevin DeRonde of the Tennessee Titans. One play later, Davey handed the ball to Cleveland Browns wide receiver Richard Alston on an end-around, and Alston pulled up and fired a pass to wide receiver Chas Gessner, another New England Patriot. Gessner was all alone and he scored easily on a 60-yard completion.

Berlin went on to build a 30-10 lead by the fourth quarter, and two late touchdowns were insufficient to bring the Galaxy back. In the end, the credit could be spread around the Thunder locker room, but Smith was pleased with what his unit accomplished.

"Like coach said, 'Offenses win games, defenses win championships,'" he said. "We knew that their defense was going to come out and meet our challenge, and our offense has been doing well all season. It was time for us to step up. We had to come out and establish something early, and get things going so our offense could get in that rhythm and put it together at the end.

"Any time you win a championship it is always perfect. As long as you have a ring on your finger it is all perfect."

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