Sundays in Solothurn
Heading into the rescheduled week 3 in Solothurn, the Zurich Intruders stood on the precipice of a playoff berth before the delayed summer break. Two victories would clinch the post season sojourn they earnestly sought since the bitter disappointments of seasons past. Expectation, however, does not assure execution, and foreboding weather, upstart cross town opponents and a hostile home crowd would measure the mettle of an embattled Intruders squad.
Prior to their opening tilt against the newly kitted ASEM Raptors, Intruders head Coach Lewis expressed concerns that his team was perhaps overlooking their opponents. Unfortunately his self-assured combatants, who seemed poised to beat back their newly minted soccer jersey sporting opponents, paid little heed. The game’s opening play seemed to allay the coach’s concerns, as an allegedly busted play, a mis-timed snap and handoff between QB Cipullo and RB Haidairi produced a stealth TD bomb that put Zurich up 6-0 less than a minute into the game.
While the game’s opening fit the script written by NFFL experts and Vegas prognosticators alike, the rival Raptors showed little interest in playing the villain in this crosstown struggle. Though a questionable first down call continued their drive at the halfway point, the Raptors paid no mind to absurd punditry or conventional wisdom. The unblitzed and unhurried ASEM QB drove down the field, eventually finding a willing receiver in the front right corner of the end zone, evening the score at 6-6.
This first half played out as a blow by blow bout, as the neighboring Raptor and Intruders would trade touchdowns throughout the first half. The ersatz triplets of Boroski, Haidari and Srinivasan hauled in two TDs apiece, capped by a brilliant Teubert to Haidari Hail Mary to cap the first half. Buoyed by a two score lead going into the break, the once flippant Intruders arrogance seemed well founded, but much like the ominous grey skies over Sportanlagen Mittleres Bruehl, the future proved a fickle mistress whose favor could neither be divined nor assured until the final whistle.
Zurich’s smoke and mirrors tricks slowly unraveled over the course of the second half, the man-bun sporting, youth infused, Davidian Raptors maintained a steely perseverance amidst a sea of three and outs by their opponents.
Each Intruders offensive player limped, stumbled and misfired, as the offense failed to close out a game that once seemed over after twenty minutes. Diligently and without a blitz to force their QB into poor decisions, ASEM moved down the field and chipped away at the intruders once assured lead. Still, in the waning moments of the final period, the Intruders stood on the cusp of putting the game out of reach once and for all.
Unfortunately, the Intruders faltered at the last hurdle. A sure Cipullo to a wide open Boroski TD short hopped harmlessly across the dew covered pitch, handing the Raptors the ball sufficient time to claim victory.
Instead of attacking ASEM, the Intruders foolishly relied on the equity of an amateur referee staff and a poorly conceived prevent defense to stave off the inevitable. Play by play, the Raptors marched methodically into Intruders territory with less than a minute to go. An inexplicable double clutch snap/false start no call brought the Raptors within 10 yards of victory. A dropped interception and lack of pressure conceded the Raptors QB endless opportunity, as his last second touchdown pass to WR # 32 sealed a narrow 32-31 victory for the resilient Raptors.
With their heads hung low under the hospitality tent and their limping QB through pre-game warm-ups, this Zurich squad hardly seemed up to the Herculean task of overcoming the Soly Rhinos on their home field. The Steelers-Ravens rivalry of the non-contact flag football league, previous Intruders-Rhinos clashes have been rife with collision induced injuries, personal fouls and bad blood the likes of which are rarely matched in this NFFL.
With a pregame speech as stark as the rain falling on his team’s bowed heads, Peter Lewis absolved his team from their collective first game sins and sent them on the path to second game redemption. Though the Intruders dominate the all time series, the hometown favorites confidently took the ball and drove down the rain soaked field, only to have their first touchdown slip through their receiver’s fingers.
As the precipitation relented, the grau-orange offense seemingly recovered early season rhythm. A Cipullo to Haidari strike in the left corner conditions opened the scoring at 6-0. The defense could not hold serve, as the quick release of the Soly QB and sure footed receivers drove down to tie the score at 6-6.
The game settled into a classic Solothurn Zurich tussle, as the scoring slowed and the exchanges grew more chippy and tense. A sputtering Intruders drive was saved when a desperate Cipullo heaved a wobbly pigskin to a wide open Teubert to go ahead 13-6. Still, no lead seemed safe after the morning’s second half collapse. This time, instead of wilting under the inclement weather and mounting pressure, the Intruders defense regrouped, reorganized and held their stymied opponents. After a Rhinos penalty for offensive pass interference, CB Pfiffner made the opposition pay with another drive killing interception.
On this day, halftime leads meant little, and the Intruders seemingly took that lesson to heart, with a second half drive to extend their lead on a Srinivasan touchdown grab. The Intruders defense, utilizing a deep rotation of Nelson, Lewis and prodigal blitzer Brandon to complement the starting five, stood tall and slowed a Rhinos offense that had feasted on cellar dwellers earlier in the day. Though they managed another touchdown, a calm confidence shone through and all but assured another victory.
Rain clouds rolled away above, but a different storm stirred ominously on the field, as the jawing and post play contact intensified throughout the second half. The Intruders kept the ball moving with a series of short passes culminating in a Srinivasan gallop into the endzone to reclaim a two score lead. Not to be outdone, the Rhinos picked off the two-point conversion attempt and went the distance. Thankfully the four point swing and days worth of missed extra points would not figure into this games closing drama.
Down two scores, the rattled Rhinos desperately drove into the red zone as precious seconds ticked off the clock. Unfortunately the hometown heroes would not sweep the day, as Pfiffner once again played the visiting villain and picked off a 4th down pass in the end zone. During the return, #86 of the Rhino intentionally tripped the Intruders CB on the return, resulting in both benches clearing and one of the more disgraceful moments in this storied rivalry.
Heated words between Teubert and the perpetrator culminated in ill-considered punch thrown by #86. Eventually the players were separated, yellow laundry littered the field, and the referees restored order by justifiably ejecting both players from the game. Veteran talisman turned social media pundit Sorboen filled in at the center spot and the Intruders drove for a final score to game MVP Haidari to win going away, 31-19. Unlike the previous game, the Intruders finished strong on both sides of the ball, thwarting their rivals in the face of a hostile home crowd, physical style of play and sloppy conditions.
Though a first game misstep denied Zurich an assured playoff berth, the team can build on the gut check victory against a fellow playoff contender. League officials are reviewing Saturday’s on field tiff, which could result in suspensions or manila envelopes probably containing sternly worded letters, but certainly not fines. A murderers’ row of opponents await the Intruders over the final two weeks of the season, and they will need to secure a victory or two to clinch late September football. Like their unplanned offense and amorphous defensive game planning, nothing comes easy to this Zurich team, though they hope that the adversity steels them for fall glory.