Spartans take the Cup, against all odds

In the final game of Sportklub CEFL Cup, Moscow Spartans have prevailed in Bolzano versus the Giants. In a “three yards and a cloud of dust” style offense they grinded out tough yards and took their time, keeping opponents’ offensive unit off the field. A touchdown per quarter was seen, with the teams dividing the halves. The visitors have scored in the first, the home team in the second, and one point separated them in the end.

Spartans’ players are big and deceptively fast. Their playbook is terse but well-rehearsed and they play as a team. There are no spread offense plays in it and their quarterback is not an import player, nor is any other position. This was their third straight long distance game on the road in the Cup.

In it they faced the team with a dynamic aerial attack. Giants’ quarterback is the second most prolific passer in Italian league and his favorite target is first in yards caught. They showed glimpses of their mastery late in the game playing from behind, but couldn’t quite catch up.

Spartans have launched the first drive with their signature ground game. They’ve crossed midfield but had to punt soon.

After a three and out, Giants punt from their end zone but the kick is blocked and Spartans’ LB Omari Grinyaev recovers the ball in the Italians’ end zone, 0-7.

Giants’ QB David Gahafer screens to Mark Simone for first down and they have the short field. Trying to convert on 4th down from the visitors’ 34 yard line they turn the ball over.

After unproductive three downs the Russians punt and the home team mirrors them. The Spartans get the ball back with the advantageous field position. They still can’t get their offensive consistence and give up the ball.

Giants RB Ifrain Pajan rushes for 15 yards but the overhead snap on the next play gives all of that back. Gahafer is forced to go long, and Ivan Vorobev picks him off.

Spartans start the drive from the rivals’ 42 yards. Wide receiver Maksim Kistkin gets the hand off on a misdirection play and sprints untouched to the homestretch. On the following try the long snap goes awry, but holder Kirill Svyatkin plays heads-up and runs it to the end zone, 0-15.

Second half begins with Gahafer completing long passes to Dominik Bundschuh and Simone. Giants are 13 yards close to Spartans goal when Gahafer quickly zips it to Bundschuh for a touchdown. The point after is blocked and the Muscovites are still leading by two possessions, 6-15.

Visiting team’s offense sputters on their next drive and they punt. Their defense does better when Aleksandr Romanenko sacks Gahafer for 5 yards. Italians go for the fourth down conversion on their side of the field but the pass to Simone doesn’t find the intended target.

Running back Denis Pronkin moves the chains for the Spartans. Finally they attempt to tack on three more from 36 yards out but the kick is too low.

Fourth quarter begins as the Giants get the ball back. They go the wrong way after a penalty call and Gahafer launches it deep downfield but finds the hands of DB Vorobev once more.

Visiting team is tenacious running the ball down after down taking time off the clock. They stop in opponents’ red zone and the following field goal try from 29 yards sails wide left.

A short Gahafer pass to Simone turns into big yardage after a few missed tackles. Bundschuh hauls in the next throw and Marco Bonacci corrals another ahead of the chains. The ball is on Spartans’ 10 yard line when Gahafer spreads 5 of his targets and dials up Nicolo Gallina in the middle for another touchdown. He does the same on the 2 point conversion and links up with Simone for 14-15.

Spartans take the ball with 5 minutes left in the game. They pound it over the ground repeatedly but their attack stalls near midfield and they punt.

Giants recover on their 6 yard line with 1:08 on the clock, and Gahafer comes out with 5 receivers again. Stadium crowd is on their feet cheering in a frenzy. Gahafer completes to Simone for first down 50 seconds until the end. On the next down he gets sacked by Aleksandr Kytin and the ball is stripped from his hands by the defense.

Victory formation by the Spartans spends the last 38 seconds as they kneel to seal their big win and take home the champions’ trophy.

Ivan Vorobev was awarded a Xenith helmet for the game MVP. His defensive performance, including two interceptions, was well worth it.