A peerless performance

Aleš Zakšek sealing Wild Boars fate, , photo: Jani Pavlin

Second to last week of regular season has staged a colossal surprise. Ljubljana Silverhawks have dealt a major blow to first placed Kragujevac Wild Boars minimizing their chances for a spot in the finals with a win by 21 points difference. On the other hand, SBB Vukovi have confirmed their bowl game appearance by winning against Docler Wolves in Budapest 50:14.

Asserting themselves as the strong favorites to win it all this season the Wild Boars needed a triumph or a loss by less than 19 points difference for a place in the finals. Consequently, that same goal for Silverhawks lied seemingly unattainable on top of a high mountain of 19 plus points victory. Nevertheless, none of Silverhawks’ players had any doubt they could achieve their mission in Kragujevac, in spite of a tall order.

Their defensive unit went to overdrive from the start with an early interception. Workhorse running back Gregor Črepinšek took over, capping off the drive with a rushing touchdown. The following time they had the ball though, they couldn’t keep it for long as Wild Boars’ interception return by Ivan Radojičić ended deep into opposite side of the field. However, Silverhawks defense proved their worth again raising the fence over which Wild Boars’ Ivan Živanović could only kick a field goal for 3:7.

This early lead boosted Silverhawks’ confidence as they were firing on all cylinders in the second period. Quarterback Kenric McNeal found both of his dependable targets, Bojan Justin and Matic Tomše, for a couple of passing touchdowns. Rushing over the goal line himself for his third overall touchdown of the quarter, McNeal set the stage for a great surprise with the score at intermission a favorable 3:27.

Half time break was better used for defensive adjustments by both teams. They went back to the field determined not to let the other side score again. It was in the last period that the Wild Boars found their offensive rhythm and scored a touchdown on an Ike Whitaker pass to Ken Hale. Their point difference was a barely sufficient minus 18 and the bowl game was hanging in the balance for both teams.

On the ensuing kickoff by the Wild Boars, Eugen Sumić returned it back to their territory to give his team a favorable field position. However, after three and out the Silverhawks kept playing aggressively on a forth down with McNeal rushing for first only to hit the wall again. Another forth try and their clutch kicker Aleš Zakšek sent one through the uprights for a 38 yard field goal. The score was 9:30 and the Wild Boars were out of the finals again.

Playing with their backs against the wall, they tried frantically to get back in the game. Their sputtering offense felt the urgency, but failed to make progress on the field. A glimpse of light for the Wild Boars came after a recovery of a late Črepinšek fumble, only to see them punt again. As if to frown on this timid tactics fate has turned its back on them with the Silverhawks blocking the punt. Slovenians’ offense then burned time and finished the drive with a turnover on downs in the opposing red zone. In their last drive Wild Boars’ two minute offense moved the chains twice for first downs but that was it. Silverhawks’ defensive unit forced and recovered a fumble to end the contest, leaving the Wild Boars stunned and crestfallen.

The Silverhawks have all but secured their place in the bowl game with this win, because they host winless Docler Wolves next week. The team from Budapest will have to show a much better performance than the one this week against SBB Vukovi to break their losing spell and make the Wild Boars ecstatic. All three first placed teams have a 2-2 score in their mutual games while points scored in these games place SBB Vukovi in the lead with +14 points difference, trailed by the Silvehawks with -5 and the Wild Boars with -9.