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21.07.2011 PLFA

Crew withstand Devils' last-second charge to win SuperFinal VI 27-26

After 47 minutes and 58 seconds of tense, back-and-forth football, SuperFinal VI came down to a single field goal attempt. That kick sailed wide left, allowing the Wrocław Crew to complete an undefeated season and win their second Polish national title, 27-26 over last year's champions, the Wrocław Devils. Quarterback Justin Walz was named the game's Most Valuable Player.

PLFA Football
(c) Marcin Fijalkowski www.maffoto.pl
PLFA Football
(c)Marcin Fijalkowski www.maffoto.pl

PLFA Commissioner Jędrzej Stęszewski commented on the result: ‚ÄúCongratulations and thanks to both teams for giving our fans another fascinating game. We could not have written a better script for the crowd and the cameras, and I am satisfied with the celebration of the great game of football that was on display today.

The Crew, who also won the title in 2007, matched the Warsaw Eagles as the only teams with two Polish championships. By comparing the final games of each of the Crew's championship seasons, one can see how far football in Poland has come. Sunday's game was the first to be nationally televised, in front of a full crowd on a beautifully painted field.

The quality of the football has improved dramatically since the days of homemade pylons and chains, and no matchup has reflected this as much as Crew vs. Devils. The fact that the stands were already half-full two hours before the kickoff was a good indication of what fans have come to expect from the Wrocław derby. The teams have met four times in the last two seasons, with none of the games decided by more than a touchdown.

That statistic looked in danger at halftime, when the Crew led by a score of 20-7. The opening sequence, however, was contrary to the eventual run of play. The Crew won the toss and elected to receive, but they were quickly stopped and forced to punt. The snap on the punt went awry, and suddenly the Devils had the ball at the 25. Shortly thereafter Luke Balch's rainbow found the waiting hands of Christopher Washington at the goal line and the Devils led 7-0.

The teams traded punts twice after that, and the first quarter expired without any further scoring. Walz got the Crew moving in the second, scrambling for big gains before hitting his favorite target, Mark Philmore, for a touchdown pass to tie the game. Philmore, who scored 19 touchdowns in 11 games overall this season, was named the 2011 PLFA I MVP after the game.

Mateusz Ruta intercepted Balch on the next drive, setting the Crew up in good field position to take the lead. They didn't waste the opportunity, converting on the drive when Walz scampered across the goal line from a yard out. The Devils then drove quickly back the other way, and it looked like we were in for a repeat of the teams' 41-34 shootout back in May.

The Devils got as close as the 3-yard line on that drive when, facing first-and-goal, they lost possession when Balch and Adam Synacek couldn't connect on a handoff and the Crew fell on the football. The Crew marched 91-yards down the field as the first half clock ticked down, and Walz found Philmore again at the end of it to make it 20-7 for the eventual champions.

After their dominant second quarter, the Crew offense went dead in the second half and the Devils came all the way back to take the lead. Balch spread the ball around to his talented receiving core of Washington, Grzegorz Mazur and Patrycjusz Pałac, with the result being a 24-yard touchdown by Mazur on the opening drive of the second half. They faked the extra point and converted the two-point try, and a Krzysztof Wis field goal later in the quarter cut the deficit to 20-18. The Crew managed only one first down in the entire third quarter.

The Devils completed the comeback with just over 9 minutes left in the game, when Balch hooked up with Piotr Wis for a 9-yard touchdown pass, and another two-point conversion made it 26-20 in favor of the defending champs. They got the ball back after a three-and-out by the Crew, and drove down the field looking to seal up the game. This time, however, the Crew defense held and Walz had three minutes to try and get his team the decisive score.

He didn't need it all, as the Devils had no answer for the Crew's hurry-up offense. The Devils helped them out a bit with a personal foul on a third-down play near midfield, and Walz's legs helped get the Crew down to the 5-yard line with just over a minute and a half remaining. He found a gaping hole over left guard and ran through it all the way to paydirt, tying the game. Kamil Ruta's extra point was true, and the tables were turned once again.

The Devils' version of the hurry up offense proved nearly as effective, as they quickly gained big chunks of yardage. The Crew committed a personal foul of their own with 15 seconds remaining, cutting the distance to the end zone by half. Balch took a snap and dove to the middle of the field to set up the field goal attempt. The Devils used their final remaining timeout, and the ball stood at the 12-yard line with 00:02 showing on the stadium clocks.

Crzysztof Wis had a long time to think about the kick, as nerves led to two false starts by the Devils that pushed the kick back 10 yards. In addition, the Crew called their remaining timeouts to try to ice him. The buildup to the kick seemed to last an eternity. Finally, the Devils snapped the ball and Wis's 40-yard field goal, which had plenty of distance, was sent on its way. When it came down outside of the uprights, the Crew and their fans erupted in celebration.

And so the PLFA will have to wait at least another year for its first repeat champion. The Crew proved throughout the season that they were a team worthy of the crown, matching the perfect season the Devils themselves completed a year ago. In perhaps the best game yet played on Polish soil, they got there by the slimmest of margins.


2011: Wrocław Crew

2010: Wrocław Devils

2009: AZS Silesia Miners

2008: Warsaw Eagles

2007: Wrocław Crew

2006: Warsaw Eagles

SuperFinal VI Scoring:

1st Quarter

10:46 Devils, Washington 30-yard touchdown reception from Balch (K. Wis PAT), Devils 7-0

2nd Quarter

10:29 Crew, Philmore 22-yard touchdown reception from Walz (K. Ruta PAT), Tie 7-7

6:01 Crew, Walz 1-yard run (K. Ruta PAT), Crew 14-7

0:34 Crew, Philmore 6-yard touchdown reception from Walz, Crew 20-7

3rd Quarter

8:30 Devils, Mazur 24-yard touchdown reception from Balch (two-point conversion Tarczyński reception from Washington), Crew 20-15

0:07 Devils, K. Wis 32-yard field goal, Crew 20-18

4th Quarter

9:14 Devils, P. Wis 9-yard touchdown reception from Balch (two-point conversion Washington reception from Balch), Devils 26-20

1:27 Crew, Walz 5-yard run (K. Ruta PAT), Crew 27-26

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