Buccaneer RB Aaron Stecker met the press before shining in World Bowl 2000
The NFL Europe League's two best offensive teams met in World Bowl 2000 on Sunday, but in the end, it came down to defense. In a 13-10 struggle that would have seemed to benefit the Scottish Claymores and their league-best defense, it was the Rhein Fire that came away with the victory.
That means that Tampa Bay Buccaneers-allocated CB Deshone Mallard of the Fire earns an NFLEL championship ring while his Buccaneer teammate, RB Aaron Stecker of the Claymores will have to be satisfied with his league Offensive MVP award.
Though Mallard's squad came out on top, both Buccaneer representatives did what they had done all spring during their first NFLEL seasons. Stecker was the game's single most effective offensive weapon, gaining 92 yards on 13 carries and adding 21 yards on four receptions. He was the only player to gain over 100 combined yards in the game, fitting for the man that led the NFLEL during the regular season with 1,050 combined yards and was the only player to reach the 1,000-yard mark in that category.
Meanwhile, Mallard, who tied for first on the Rhein defense and third in the league in interceptions, earning a spot on the all-NFLEL team, turned in the Fire's only pick, a crucial fourth-quarter play that snuffed a promising Claymores drive.
The Fire scored first when QB Danny Wuerffel drove his team 51 yards for a 21-yard field goal on the game's opening possession. However, Stecker quickly grabbed the lead for the Claymores on Scotland's first drive. After gaining nine yards on a burst around right end and watching TE Willy Tate catch a 30-yard pass on the next play, Stecker capped the three-play drive with a 36-yard scoring run up the middle.
The second quarter featured an additional field goal for each team, but the balance of the game was a defensive match, including a scoreless third quarter. In the final period, with Scotland still clinging to a 10-6 lead, the Claymores threatened to put the game away with a drive that began at their own 20-yard line in the closing seconds of the third period. Stecker got it started with a six-yard gain, then got 15 more yards two plays later. A Kevin Daft-to-Sulecio-Sanford pass then got the ball down to the Rhein 34-yard line. However, that's when Mallard turned in his deciding play, picking off Daft's pass over the middle at the 10-yard line and returning it to 20 yards.
Though the Fire did not score on the resulting possession, Rhein remained within striking distance and ultimately won the game with a touchdown drive in the closing minutes. Fire RB Pepe Pearson scored the winning TD on a one-yard dive with 1:19 remaining, concluding an eight-play, 43-yard drive. The Claymores' last-ditch effort to tie the game failed when K Rob Hart's 40-yard field goal try sailed wide left.
It was an exciting conclusion to an NFLEL season that featured such wild finishes on a weekly basis. It was also the end to a long but fruitful effort by Deshone and Stecker, each of whom made the most of an opportunity to gain extensive playing time. Those two will now rejoin the Buccaneers for training camp and attempt to show that the talent they showed over the spring will translate well into the NFL. Both will bring back fond memories of their NFLEL campaigns; Mallard will also bring back a ring.