The Swedish Championship League – Playoff review

It’s over! The season has come to a close and once again it’s Uppsala 86ers standing top of the pile with its 6th consecutive championship. This one was a real nail bitter with Uppsala eking out a narrow one point win over a surprisingly well performing Eskilstuna Sharks team.

Uppsala hosted the playoffs for the second consecutive year with a forecast promised of clear skies and sun. So it was with some dismay the teams arrived at the corona-proof fortress on a wet and entirely foggy day. Even though the weather did not deliver, the hosts did; with streams, commentators, photography, snacks/food and a local producer of football gear offering their merchandise.

Teams in attendance were Uppsala 86ers, Eskilstuna Sharks, Nässjö Saints and Göteborg Marvels. Marvels being a last minute entry, with Ale Brewers pulling out late (read more about that in our previous post). The semi-finals saw the 86ers play the Marvels and Sharks playing the Saints.

Semi-Finals

Last time the 86ers and Marvels played it was an even game throughout the first 30 minutes, with no team ceasing hold of the game. This time the 86ers got off to a hot start, quickly climbing to a 27-0 lead, leaning heavily on passes from Philip Smith to Erik Lagerström in the intermediate and short passing game.

Marvels managed to claw a score back before half-time but at 27-6 it looked like this game was going to be the blow out, we anticipated in out last post. However, Mattias Hejdesten, on a bum knee, managed to lead his men back and in what felt like the blink of an eye, and all of a sudden the score was 27-20.

Credit: Tore Lindvall

After jabbing balls to Erik Largerström to build the early lead, it was all haymakers when the 86ers scored 27 unanswered point. This time all of them being addressed to Sundiata Owens. Owens, after a difficult first half, went off on a tear. Not only scoring the 27 point but also having the catch of the day, on what looked like a ball pined with his right hand to back of his right shoulder (see above).

Even though Lagerström and Owens accounted for 7 touchdowns and Philip Smith threw for 8, the MVP of the game was once again DB, Max Lindvall, with a stellar defensive effort and crucial turnovers.  The final score was 54-20, we predicted 58-13 in our previous post, and the game in most part took the tenner of our prediction.

 

The second semi-finals was played between Eskilstuna Sharks and Nässjö Saints. In a pre-season game played between the sides the score was hotly contested, with Eskilstuna grabbing a narrow 4 point win. That game set us up with high expectations for their regular season game, however a 38-6 win for Eskilstuna had us scratching our heads.

Given that the score wasn’t indicative of play, we assumed that the playoff game would be highly contested, predicting a 38-34 win for Eskilstuna. However, it wasn’t to be. The Sharks throttled the Saints, slamming home another 30+ to 6 win, and as the saying goes; once is a fluke, twice is a trend.

The Sharks made an interesting switch mid-season, as Mikael Andersson was handed the reigns a QB. We thought this was a short term solution but Mikael’s ascension as QB was stunning to see. The Sharks coached by previous national team head coach, Andreas Hellström and his coaching staff designed a playbook full of roll-outs to get Michael to throw in space and having to read less of the field, as well as negating the presence of a blitzer in his face.

Credit: Tore Lindvall

Moreover, the plays built on everything flowing whichever way the QB was rolling, relying heavily on outs, ins, posts and corner routes. Although new at the position, Michael expertly used the offensive scheme to find balls to his often less athletic teammates.

The Sharks started the game running its usual high defensive line. The inexperience in Nässjö shun through as adjusting on the fly wasn’t generating great results. One of Nässjö biggest weaknesses throughout the season has been dealing with adverse and pressing situations. The stunning difference in performance when things are going well, and when they aren’t, is strange to see and were oh so evident in this game. The game ended in a 32-6 blow-out and this time it felt more like the results mimicked the game.

Award show

After the semi-finals it was time to hand out the awards for regular season performance. The winners are selected by a jury of representatives from each team, and the nominations strangely only featured two players from the teams that were in the finals.

Nominations instead tended to go to teams who didn’t qualify for a play-off appearance, non-more stunning than the QB category were the nominations stood between three QB, two of whom had a combined record of 2-8. The nominations aside the winner featured a ton of Ale Brewers. Grabbing a second place finish in the regular season, they stood deserving of credit. Interestingly enough, undefeated Uppsala 86ers only managed 1 award and 2 nominations.

Winners

MVP

Erik Karlström (Carlberg Cavaliers)

Defensive player of the year

Max Lindvall (Uppsala 86ers)

Offensive player of the year

Ludwig Andersson (Ale Brewers)

Quarterback of the year

Daniel Davies (Ale Brewers)

Blitzer of the year

Robert Almstrand (Ale Brewers)

Referee of the year

Daniel Davies (Ale Brewers)

Fair-play team of the year

Carlberg Cavaliers

Bronze game

The bronze game was then stacked to be a repeat of one of the newest and most hotly contested rivalries in flag today; Nässjö Saints versus Göteborg Marvels. Since the inception of their rivalry late 2019, they’ve played 4 times at a 2/2 win-rate. Marvels definitely had the edge in the opening games, but as the Saints got more experience the games tilted more and more in their favour.

The game started off with Mattias Hejdesten and his offence. After grabbing a quick first down, and getting stopped mistakenly by an inadvertent whistle, the ball was placed just over the half way line. On the ensuing first down, Hejdensten throws a pick-6 to Tom Jestin. On the next drive Marvels are forced into a 4th and long. The Ball thrown right at the sticks is intercepted by Lukas Olsson and returned for another pick-6, and Nässjö was up 14-0 without having it’s offence on the field.

Credit: Tore Lindvall

On the third drive, the first pass is thrown into the hands of a Marvels receiver, who couldn’t corral it after which it’s tipped into the hands of defender Henrik Ahlstedt, who returns it to about the 2 yard-line. A quick play later and the score was 20-0.

Having almost thrown three pick-6es in the first three drives, it was going to be a tall task for Hejdesten to make a comeback. Add to that the somewhat diminished squad and his injury, and the result was much anticipated. The score at the end of the first half was 33-0 and the game finished 61-26.

In the writers room we’re more than impressed with Lukas Östlund and his Nässjö Saints, as they’ve came from virtually nowhere and managed a medal finish their first year.  We predicted a 47-26 score in Nässjö favor, this game however got off to a start we simply did not anticipate!

Review of the Final

The Finals then stood between the two titans in Swedish flag football; Uppsala 86ers versus Eskilstuna Sharks. Ale Brewers may stake a claim to that title but a disappointing single finals appearance over the years has indicated that the team so far is more flash than bang.

We predicted in our preview article a fairly one-sided win for the 86ers, and man… were we wrong. The game started out with an excellent Eskilstuna drive stopped just outside the end-zone. Although they didn’t score this time around, the drive stood indicative of the level of success Eskilstuna’s offence would have moving the football against the high level defense of the 86ers.

Uppsala’s first drive was all about spreading the wealth as the team scored in four plays with all the four starting receiver having one catch each, caped of with a touchdown pass from Philip Smith to Stefan Borell. A Matas Menkis XP later and the score was 7-0.

The change in tempo between the two teams was noticeable. The Sharks using plenty of clock on it’s drives with Uppsala going up tempo.  The Sharks second drive ended in a 4th down heave to the end-zone and an interception by Erik Sigvardsson. At this point we expected the 86ers to pull away, much like in all the other seasons. However, after a sequence of miscommunication between receivers and the 86ers offence had to walk of the field with no points.

The Sharks team jumped on the opportunity and Karl Forsberg scored a TD. Karl who had to take the reigns as Eskilstuna’s All-star centre Linus Linder broke his foot in the semi-finals had a tremendous game. The touchdown was followed by an extraordinary sliding XP grab by Joel Andersson. Rookie, Joel Andersson, has made a name for himself during the season and is someone to keep an eye on in the future.

On the next 86ers’s possession the team used the elite running ability of QB Philip Smith on repeated plays and Eskilstuna’s rusher Björn Jafner had his hands full dealing with the shift QB. Smith was stopped just outside the goal-line and a quick center pitch later and Erik Lagerström had made it 14-7.

The Sharks team then equaled the 86ers, 14-14, by another score by Karl Forsberg on the same route he scored his first points. The 86ers got the ball back with just about a minute and a half left, of the first half, and quickly went down the field, exploiting the high line of the Eskilstuna defence on a ton of hitch concepts featuring Stefan Borell; who quietly had a stellar game.

Once past midfield the team got a tad greedy and tried a deep ball on Sundiata Owens. That pass was picked off by Pontus Råneby who managed to bottle up Owens from any long balls during the entire game. With about 40 seconds left Eskilstuna went down the field and managed to make it 20-14 just before half-time on a third score by Karl Forsberg!  This was the first time all season the 86ers went into halftime down and the team would have to rally in the second half.

The 86ers started with the ball in the second half and once again spread the love with a pass to Borell, Owens and Menkis, before Smith finished the job on a QB rush TD. With an XP by Erik Lagerström the entire offence got involved and the 86ers were up 21-20. The Sharks got the ball back and even though they managed a beautiful first down conversion on a great throw by Mikael Andersson in a tight window, they couldn’t capitalized on it and the 86ers defense held strong, partially because of a great sack and hurry by QB turned rusher Linus Hagvall. This was the only stop by either team on defence in the second half.

On the subsequent drive it was Lagerström, Owens, Smith and Lagerström for the score, a common recipe for the last half decade on the receiving end.   The 86ers defence pressed the Sharks offence to a forth and short. The sharks got out of it with a short run by Stefan “Dansk” Nilsson, who converted. A few plays later it was Mattias Andersson with a great catch on a ball from Michael Andersson, the score was 27-26 for the 86ers.

The second half adjustment by the 86ers offence became noticeable in the next drive. With the high Sharks defensive line, the 86ers ran a ton of short passing plays gaining an incredible amount of yards after the catch. Non-stand out more than Matas Menkis play in a running back position, from which he slips out and spin moved his way for almost 20 yards. In the no-run zone Eskilstuna applied a man-to-man coverage scheme. The 86ers took notice and repeatedly got a favorable match-ups and Matas Menkis made it 33-26.

However, Eskilstuna didn’t go away and a Stefan Nilsson touchdown later it was 33-32 with the Sharks able to tie with a succesfull XP. On the XP Michael Andersson rolled to his right and threw a pass that was skillfully deflected by Peder Jungstedt and the 86ers got the ball back, up 1 with exactly 2 min left.

The 86ers only had to roll clock to win. Eskilstuna chose not to make any adjustments on its high defensive line, so a quick pitch to center Erik Lagerström results in about 10 yards on first down and a rolling clock. A quick hitch to Stefan Borell for about 6 yards and the 86ers had worked of more than a minute. Owens managed a first down and the clock stopped with 40 sec left. On the first down, a Stefan Borell run-play resulted in about 8 yards and the Sharks took their first time-out, with 33 sec left.

On second down Matas Menkis manages the highlight of the finals with a run that lasted for 13 sec and with that run the Uppsala 86ers had secured its sixth consecutive gold medal finish!

A big congratulation to Uppsala 86ers the Champions of Swedish flag football and bravo to Eskilstuna Sharks for making it a stellar contest. Also a big thank you to the Swedish flag football community. It’s been a treat to cover some excellent football these few months! Thank you!

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