Full Game Highlights
On Sunday, June 20, the European League of Football’s week 1 continued with another high-scoring matchup. The Berlin Thunder hosted the Leipzig Kings in a game where Leipzig would finish on top 37-27 to begin the ELF’s inaugural season 1-0.
Leipzig would receive the ball to start the game, and quarterback Michael Birdsong would be leading the way for the Kings. The Kings would start slow, and their first drive would end in a punt, but it would not take too long for both teams to get in a rhythm.
On Berlin’s first drive, quarterback Calvin Stitt would throw a perfectly placed deep bomb to wide receiver Tino Ndongo for an 80-yard touchdown grab. The PAT would be blocked by Leipzig wide receiver Alpha Jalloh and returned for 2 points making the score 6-2 early in the 1st quarter.
Leipzig would return to the field where Birdsong would get picked off by Iiro Pekkarinen to set Berlin back up on offense. The thunder would put a solid drive together with running back Joc Crawford getting involved on some nice runs between the tackles as well as a few solid screens, but the Thunder would be held to a field goal, increasing the score to 9-2.
The Kings returned to the field, and Michael Birdsong would do what he could, but without much help from the rest of the offense their drive would again end in a punt. Despite Leipzig’s slow start on offense, the defensive front 7 was looking pretty solid early, keeping the pressure on Calvin Stitt and getting a few sacks already at this point in the game.
On the teams’ 3rd drive of the game, The Kings’ offense would finally start to get in a groove. They would get things going through the air, finding ‘The Spring League’ and ‘Japan X-League’ Alumni, Yoshihito Omi, on a few nice plays, as well as a massive 40-yard reception by former New York Giant and Atlanta Falcon wide receiver Anthony Dable-Wolf. Micheal Birdsong would cap off the drive with a 16-yard touchdown to Timothy Knuettel for Leipzig to tie things up at 9-9 at the end of the 1st quarter.
As the 2nd quarter began, you could really tell that the Kings were getting more and more comfortable as time went on. Birdsong would make a handful of great throws, connecting again with wide receiver Yoshihito Omi on a few nice plays, getting running back Jason Aguemon more involved, and finishing the drive with another touchdown to Timothy Knuettel to take their first lead of the game. They’d miss the extra point due to a bad snap making the score 15-9
At this point, the Berlin Thunder were having some serious problems with Leipzig’s defensive front 7. The Kings kept the pressure on at all times and would not let the Thunder do much of anything. Berlin quarterback Calvin Stitt found himself running for his life quite often, and they would be forced to punt on the drive.
When the Kings got the ball back on offense, Birdsong just kept on rolling. He continued to find Yoshihito Omi through the air and would really establish the run game with Raymond Sobowale. Omi would finish off the drive with a great 12-yard touchdown to extend the Kings’ lead to 22-9.
After a few drives stalling out for both teams, Berlin would finally get the offense grooving again as they approached the 2-minute warning following a big interception by Aaron Boadu. Berlins’ Calvin Stitt would follow up the Leipzig turnover by placing the ball perfectly in the endzone for a nice touchdown to Bryan Zerbe. The PAT would again be blocked by Alpha Jalloh, making the score 22-15, with the Kings still leading.
Jalloh would immediately answer with points of his own for Leipzig, returning a kickoff for a touchdown and extending the lead to 29-15
Berlin would try to keep things moving on the next drive, getting some big runs from Joc Crawford, and quarterback Calvin Stitt making some great plays with his arm and legs. Sadly, Stitt would get picked off by Roedion Henrique and the Kings would knee out the 1st half.
Berlin began the second half with the ball, and both defenses would come out strong, forcing the opposing offense to stall out back to back a few times. As we got deeper into the 3rd, offensive playcalling on both sides became more creative, and we saw much more option plays and RPO’s. Halfway through the 3rd quarter, a poorly snapped punt would lead to a Leipzig safety, and the Kings would go up 31-15.
The game was starting to get out of reach for the Thunder, but the Kings did not take their foot off the gas. After a 46 yard kick return by Omi, Birdsong and the Kings would put together a great drive, finding wide receiver Jacob Templar in the endzone to increase the score to 37-15.
Early in the 4th quarter, Berlin would go for a 4th and 11, only to turn the ball over on downs. At this point Leipzig started to drain the clock, but did not stop throwing the ball entirely. Birdsong would fit the ball into some really tight windows and did a great job of knowing when to escape with his legs, but they would end up having to punt the ball away.
As we approached the 2-minute warning, Berlin would quickly drive down the field with a big reception by wide receiver Nicolai Schumann and capping off the drive with an extremely accurate touchdown pass to Seantarius Jones in the front corner of the endzone to make the score 37-21, Leipzig still leading. Following another punt by the Kings, Berlin would set up a perfect screen to running back Joc Crawford, who would take it 46 yards. Shortly after that, Seantarius Jones would catch another great touchdown. They would miss the 2 point conversion, bringing the score to 37-27 Leipzig leading. Leipzig kneed out the game, and the Kings will start the ELF’s inaugural season with a record of 1-0.
The Kings ended the game looking like a force to be reckoned with, finishing with 4 passing touchdowns from Birdsong, 8 team sacks, 2 PAT’s blocked, one of which was returned for 2 points (both blocks by wide receiver Alpha Jalloh), and only allowed their quarterback to be sacked 1 time.
The Thunder have a talented team and had some really impressive plays throughout the game. If Berlin can clean up the penalties, get their O-line meshing a bit better, this team will be a threat as well.
Personal Thoughts On Broadcast & Level Of Play
Just like day 1, the overall broadcast quality was very impressive for a league kicking off its inaugural season. From camera angles to on-screen graphics and more, it feels very professionally done. There were no audio or technical difficulties this time around, and the game’s announcer, David Gascon, was fantastic. Gascon was extremely knowledgeable/well researched on both teams, and you could tell he has experience in the booth. I would still like to see 2 people in the booth at some point, but the commentating was very professional.
Regarding the level of play, games have been very penalty-filled, partially due to undisciplined play and partially due to refs calling seemingly everything they see. It appears to me they are calling more rather than fewer penalties due to the officials’ review system not being top tier and the fear of missing calls. I understand not wanting to miss flags and keep people from getting injured, but It would be nice to let the players play a bit more as there was an absurd amount of penalties. Despite the penalties slowing things down a bit, the game was pretty fast-paced, and both teams played some exciting football. As the weeks go on, I’m sure the issues will get cleaned up, and the level of play will continue to improve.
The Leipzig Kings will face the Wroclaw Panthers in Poland for a week 2 matchup on June 26th at 12 pm EST.
The Berlin Thunder will be on a bye next week. Their next game will be in Berlin versus the Stuttgart Surge on July 4th at 9 am EST.
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