Game Preview: Nordmen vs. Jaguars

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High expectations and hard hits coming as the 2019 season kicks off in Saarenkylä on June 8th.

By the time the coin-toss happens on this upcoming Saturday in Saarenkylä, it will have been 295 days since an American football game has been played in Rovaniemi. 295 days since the Rovaniemi Nordmen convincingly beat the Pirkanmaa Patriots, and their heavily reinforced line-up of Tampere Saints players, to win the 2018 Tin Bowl; marking the most emphatic of endings to an undefeated season that saw the Warriors of the Four Winds’ domination of the 3rd Division. 295 days since these men have tasted victory. 295 days since we’ve heard the crash of helmets and the cheers of joy.

In short, it’s been a damn long 295 days and we’re ready to get back to work, but where do we go from last season? Having moved up a division, competition is expected to be tougher; but the merging of the 2nd & 3rd divisions into one has also changed the landscape of the upcoming season. We’ll learn just how much when we get our first taste of action when the Jyväskylä Jaguars come to town and the Rovaniemi Nordmen’s journey to the Iron Bowl begins this upcoming Saturday.

Nordmen depth chart taking shape

Like in any game, you never want to show your hand to your opponent; especially when it comes to a game of inches and seconds like American Football. The Nordmen will be fielding a strong lineup that starts in the trenches along the offensive and defensive lines. The Jaguars know this and even referenced it specifically in their game preview. The off-season conditioning and training program has made these linemen even stronger and faster than last year, and with the addition of promising rookies and reinforcements from Luleå, it will surely be a knock-em-down-grind-it-out game on the front.

The Nordmen’s LB squad it going to be scary. Rafael Piñeda returns in the middle as the captain of the defense. His speed and ferocity are well-known within the league and should not be ignored or underestimated, but what about the secondary? There was no mention of them by the Jaguars, so is this the defensive group that they are actually the most concerned about? Well, they should be.

During the Nordmen’s domination of the 3rd division in 2018, there was one thing that was evident, but didn’t get talked about that much. This team’s secondary is loaded. Not just one or two guys, but it is solid –and in this American’s opinion– will to be among the best, if not the best secondary in the 2nd division this year. A lot is made about the Nordmen’s offense, but this secondary shut down passing attack after passing attack last season and the scariest thing yet is that they’re even better than they were then. Whether it’s zone or man coverage, they are rarely out of position and will make you pay if you are. Rumor has it even, that the Finnish Air Force is considering having the Nordmen’s secondary come in to give a lecture on air defense and superiority to improve their own tactics. OK, I made that one up, but they should do that.

The Nordmen’s defense scored some points last year, but you can’t rely on your defense to do that for you every game — especially if you want to win. Luckily, we don’t have to. Unluckily for our opponents, they have to try and contain this barrage of weapons that begins with the man under center, Rafael Piñeda. Piñeda must feel like a kid in a candy store when he looks at his offensive weapons. TE Alfonso Ikäheimo set the 3rd division on fire last season with 20 TD’s, en route to an MVP season. I’ll just leave that there, because I doubt there’s much more I have to say about him. I also recently wrote a piece about the Nordmen’s WRs, so I won’t go into further detail about them right now, but rather bring up the tools in our backfield game.

In addition to Piñeda’s ability to carry the ball and turn into a bull in an antique shop, the Nordmen have an impressive backfield squad that will be ready to hit hard and often. Singled out in the Jaguars’ game preview, was Grace “G” Bavula, Jr. Maybe it’s because of the article I wrote about our players coming from Luleå, but the fact of the matter is that Warriors of the Four Winds have many guys that can inflict a serious amount of damage in the running game. Axl Isaksson & Kaarle Silander are eager to get out there and show what they can do, as is late addition Patrick Speijer.

The question shouldn’t be whether or not the Nordmen will score on Saturday, but how they will score — and how many times. The depth of this lineup presents some truly difficult game-planning for the Jaguars, who haven’t seen any tape of the Nordmen. It’s unclear as to whether or not the Nordmen coaches and players have seen any film on the Jaguars from last season or not, but one thing is certain: we’ll be ready.

What to expect from the Jaguars

Long-time stalwarts of the 1st division, the Jaguars dropped down to the 2nd division last season and turned in a very muddled performance. A close loss to the Mikkeli Bouncers in the semifinals ended the Jaguars season and gave them a final record of 4-5, capitalized with convincing wins over the Lohja Lions (twice), the Helsinki Wolverines’ second team and a close win over the Bouncers. Their loses were a mix of blowouts and close games; so it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what to kind of team to expect from Jyväskylä this year.

According to their own game preview, they have lost a few key players, but also have some returning reinforcements that could make things interesting. The Jaguars are set to bring with them a rather full-looking roster, with over 20 players making the journey to Rovaniemi; with many of them already coming up the day before the game. They could potentially be well-rested and ready to go, which they will likely need against an eager and ferocious Nordmen team.

In their opening game last year, the Jaguars stumbled badly and gave the Wolverines Blue their only win of the season after being beaten badly on their home turf. It’s difficult to imagine them turning in an identical performance two years in a row, but that’s exactly what our boys will be looking to do to the Jaguars.

Players to watch: Jaguars

Tuukka Hietamäki & Mathias Suutari are both returning to the field after taking a break last season. From the feel I got after reading their game preview, the Jaguars are excited about this and could mean that these two guys are hungry and ready to fight. It could also just be a smokescreen, intended to distract the Nordmen from other areas of the Jyväskylä roster. I’m interested to see how QB Akseli Syrjänen will handle the pressure and aggressive pass rush that the Nordmen have become known for. Will he try to maintain a pocket presence or risk going outside the tackles where the Nordmen’s blood-thirsty, hard-hitting LBs will be waiting? How well he handles the pressure could likely be the deciding factor in this game; at least on the offensive side of the ball.

Players to watch: Nordmen

Oskari Kurtti, Tom Engström & Hannes Harju. Why these three? Easy.

Kurtti is tall, strong, fast and has excellent mobility. He anticipates the play before it happens and I’m fairly certain that he has at least two hands more than a normal human being because he breaks up passes like a night at a “gentleman’s club” breaks up relationships. If you throw his way, be prepared to run after him as he dashes towards a pick-6 or to grab your facemask and shake your head in disgust because you’ve got to punt. Again.

Engström is a big guy. I mean a really big guy. I mean a really, really big guy. Or maybe it’s just because I’m really short. Either way, I am picking him to be THE difference-maker on the line. Strong, great feet and quick. Oh my stars, I think I’m in love.

Harju is one season removed from an outstanding rookie campaign. He’s in a crowded field of ball carriers and receivers, but with his speed and quickness all he needs to do is touch the ball a few times in a game and it could be over. A rather quiet guy, Harju lets his play do the talking. Be prepared to go deaf from that.

Prediction

Home field advantage is something you can’t overlook here. The Nordmen are currently running a 9-game winning streak. They’ve had a full off-season with Piñeda coaching and forming this team. I’m not betting against them.

33-12. Nordmen win.

Important Info

Kick-off is at 2pm, Saturday June 8th at Saarenkylä. Additional information can be found in our Facebook event. The forecast is looking to be around 20-24 degrees with a possibility of rain. Tickets are 5€ for adults; under 18 is free. For directions to Saarenkylän kenttä, follow this link. Food and refreshments will be available at the snack bar, as well.

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