JB

Former Maryville and Northwest Missouri State quarterback Jonathan Baker makes his entrance onto the field in Seinäjoki, Finland.

I open the curtains to no surprise. Rain, and lots of it. The day turned out to be as predicted the night before. The game would be played under a cloud-covered sky leaking constant rain on everyone below. Just the way a quarterback likes it (insert eye-roll here).

The Tampere Saints were coming to town and wanting revenge from last season’s 38-37 overtime defeat to end their playoff hopes. We were both completely different teams from last year, but both aiming to get off to a strong start in the Maple League. 

Which is why we had something special in store for the opening play on offense. Going back to last year’s matchup, in the first play of our overtime drive we ran a trick play. A handoff to our American running back Christian Powell saw him run around the right end and drop back before finding our wide open British receiver, Patrick Wilson, standing in the end zone. Just like we drew it up. We converted a two-point conversion on the very next play to complete the come-from-behind victory. 

Receiving the opening kick, the offense ran onto the field with the play called back in January. In a rain soaked field, I gave Christian the ball, just as I had last August. Just like then, he ran around the right end and dropped back before finding a wide open Patrick, standing alone around midfield. Patrick did the rest running into the end zone, completing the 80-yard touchdown on the opening play. The Crocodiles had the lead 7-0. 

The next two hours felt like a lowlight reel that you couldn’t take off repeat. Failed third downs, missed throws, dropped passes, missed blocks. The mud was piling up across our natural grass field. The Saints evened the game at 7-7 with a trick play of its own. A fourth down fake punt resulted in a throw across the field to an open man and a touchdown. Halftime came and went and we were back in the monsoon. 

We did our best to make offensive adjustments, but it felt like every play we ran was a man or mud-induced slip away from breaking. The defense did more than its fair share of shouldering the load, forcing five turnovers on the day, with each one always seeming bigger than the last.

Late in the third quarter, the Saints offense stayed on the field for fourth down in our territory. The quarterback dropped back and threw a seam route across the middle. Our American safety, Dejvion Steward, was waiting for it from his safety position. Dejvion stepped in front of the pass and took it 80 yards the other way, with some key blocks from his eager teammates. We had the lead again, 13-7. 

The defense also made a goal line stand in the fourth quarter with another interception on fourth down. Iiro Huhtala, our Finnish cornerback, made a nice catch toward our sideline after the quarterback tried leaving the pocket to make a play. He had an entourage guiding him near midfield before being tackled. 

With the defense making key stops and big plays all day, it was time for the offense to put it away. With less than five minutes remaining in the game, we took over after the fifth forced turnover of the game. Christian huddled the offense together and motivated the guys, saying it was our turn to make a difference (in a little more intense manner than that).

The response from our offensive line was exactly what we were searching for. Five plays of running the ball straight at the teeth of the defense got us down to the one-yard line. The final play of the drive saw Christian shed two would-be tacklers before stretching the ball over the goal line for the touchdown, 20-7. 

With under three minutes to play and the score separated by two possessions, the game was all but over. The defense put its final stamp on the game by forcing the offense to run out the clock, and the Crocodiles had its first win of the season. 

It was not the vision any of us had during the preseason on how the season would start, but we were 1-0. The goal was accomplished. The lack of offensive production needs to be corrected and improved upon, but in a game when rain came down in buckets the entire time, and the field was completely covered in mud, the offense had zero turnovers. Zero. That will win football games. 

We finished the game with only 10 pass attempts and 146 yards of total offense. This is a lot to improve and work upon, which we can do with a win under our belt, the best feeling. Especially going into a tough week two.

The next time I write I will have played in two games involving two road contests. 

This Friday, May 31st, we travel to Helsinki to take on the Wolverines. The Wolverines return to the Maple League after winning the Finnish Division I league last year to be awarded the promotion into the top league. It will be the first game of the season for them after a bye week and  are greatly improved with talented imports and a solid Finnish roster. This will be a great test for us and one that will give us a perfect sense of where we are compared with other teams in the league moving forward. 

The game kicks off Friday, May 31st at 10:30 a.m. CDT.  

The following week will be against the Porvoo Butchers. Another tough opponent with many new faces from the year before. 

Kickoff for that game is scheduled for Saturday, June 8th at 8:30 a.m. CDT.

You are able to watch these games online live and anytime on demand by visiting https:/ruutu.fi/. Visit my personal website for help logging in and how to watch by going to http://jbtheqb.com/watch/.  

The season is off to an exciting start. The team is healthy after the win and ready to prove ourselves after an adversity filled first week. Here’s to hoping the next column is full of fun stories and victories.

Until next time, Go Crocs!