A powerful running game behind C Ben Claxton helped Berlin down Frankfurt, but the Galaxy still earned the second World Bowl berth this weekend
The Berlin Thunder and Frankfurt Galaxy conducted a World Bowl preview Saturday night and, strangely, the team that lost the game got the best news of the weekend.
Berlin and Frankfurt will meet for the NFL Europe League's championship on June 12, an anticipated matchup made fact when the Rhein Fire lost to the Cologne Centurions on Sunday. The Galaxy had a chance to punch its own ticket to World Bowl XII on Saturday, but Berlin won the battle of the 6-1 teams by a slim, 31-27 margin.
The loss to Berlin pushed Frankfurt's record to 6-2, but Rhein's subsequent loss meant none of the other four teams in the NFLEL have a record better than 3-5. With just two weeks to go, there's no catching either the Thunder or the Galaxy for the two available spots in the championship game.
That means half of the six-man group of Tampa Bay Buccaneers allocated to the NFLEL this spring will be staying an extra week. Center Ben Claxton and defensive end Corey Smith will represent the Bucs for the Thunder, and cornerback Lynaris Elpheage will do the same for the Galaxy. All three are starters who have made very significant contributions this season.
The first game of the NFLEL's eighth weekend was actually played Friday night in Amsterdam, as the visiting Scottish Claymores nipped the Admirals, 19-17. Only one Buccaneer competed in that contest, but that lone Buc, defensive tackle Damian Gregory, was involved in perhaps the biggest defensive play of the weekend.
Midway through the second quarter in Amsterdam, Admirals running back Sandino Octobre – a 'National' player from France – tried to get around the left end but was met by Gregory, who stopped him for no gain. Gregory also stripped Octobre of the ball, and cornerback Ben Franklin returned the fumble 67 yards for a touchdown.
The defensive touchdown gave Scotland a 16-3 advantage, but two second-half touchdowns by the Admirals made it 17-16 in favor of the home team. That lead held until, with 90 seconds left, former Buccaneer training camp kicker Rob Hart nailed a 43-yard, game-winning field goal.
The Scottish victory was trivial to the standings, but it set the tone for a string of tight finishes. In the weekend's main event on Saturday, Berlin scored the go-ahead points with 12 minutes left in the fourth quarter, as two players allocated by the New England Patriots hooked up on the winning touchdown. Quarterback Rohan Davey hit wide receiver Chas Gessner with a 13-yard touchdown pass two plays after Minnesota Vikings cornerback Jermaine Mays intercepted a J.T. O'Sullivan pass.
Thunder running back Eric McCoo, making his first start of the season, rushed for 106 yards on 23 carries, indicating another strong week for Claxton. The young Buc also helped Berlin passers throw 32 passes while taking only one sack.
Smith's contributions included three solo tackles, one for a loss during a fourth-quarter Frankfurt drive. On the other side, Elpheage pitched in with two tackles and a pass defensed. It appeared Elpheage had given Frankfurt one last chance at victory when his third-down pass breakup inside the Berlin 10 led to a short punt and possession for Frankfurt at the Thunder's 25. However, a fumble by New Orleans Saints wide receiver Derrick Lewis two plays later killed that final threat.
Frankfurt thus had an extra day's wait before clinching its World Bowl spot. On Sunday, a blocked extra point on Rhein's lone touchdown allowed Cologne to win it in the third quarter with quarterback Ryan van Dyke's 14-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Ben Nelson. Though the Fire cracked the end zone just once, Buccaneer blockers Kevin Breedlove and Chris Ziemann, the starting left guard and right tackle, respectively, blocked for a 147-yard effort by Rhein backs.
Berlin and Frankfurt will reprise their Week Eight battle in Week 10, before meeting again in the World Bowl the following weekend.
Here is a summary of how the Bucs' half-dozen NFLEL allocates fared in this past weekend of play:
- G Kevin Breedlove, Rhein…Started eighth straight game for Fire, remaining at left guard for third week after five starts on the right side…Helped Rhein backs accumulate 147 rushing yards. * C Ben Claxton, Berlin…Started at center for Berlin and helped Thunder take over sole possession of first with 31-27 win over Frankfurt…Blocked for 106-yard rushing effort by backup RB Eric McCoo. * CB Lynaris Elpheage, Frankfurt…Started at right cornerback for the Galaxy for the eighth straight week…Pitched in with two tackles and a pass defensed. * DT Damian Gregory, Scotland…Subbed at defensive tackle and made two solo tackles…Also forced a fumble for the second straight week, leading to a 67-yard touchdown on the fumble return by teammate Brad Franklin. * DE Corey Smith, Berlin…Started at right defensive end in Berlin's 31-27 victory over Frankfurt and contributed three solo tackles. * T Chris Ziemann, Rhein…Started at right tackle for the seventh time in eight weeks and helped Fire running backs average 4.7 yards per carry in a 7-6 loss.