Date: 02 Jul 2011
Home: Wroclaw Crew - 27
Away: Gdynia Seahawks - 7
Crew head to 3rd straight title game after 27-7 win over Seahawks
Mark Philmore's spectacular 70-yard touchdown reception just before halftime was the turning point in the first PLFA I semifinal, a game played on an overcast Saturday afternoon in Wroclaw. That burst was the biggest play in a game that was full of them, helping the Wroclaw Crew to a 27-7 victory over a determined Gdynia Seahawks team and earning the Crew a spot in Poland's championship game for a third straight season.
Both teams brought an intensity suitable for a playoff game in this one, with the palpable emotion creating an energy that radiated off the artificial turf at Sztabowa stadium. Anyone who thought the fans who showed up despite the conditions were in for a repeat of the blowouts the Crew had handed the Seahawks in their last two meetings would have quickly put those thoughts to rest after the first few drives.
The Seahawks won the toss and elected to receive, taking the ball and going on a drive that set the tone for the first half. It lasted nearly five minutes, with the Seahawks moving methodically down the field to a spot just outside the red zone, where the Crew defense held strong. In the no man's land between a long field goal attempt and a punt, the Seahawks went for it, and ended up turning the ball over on downs.
Gdynia stopped the Crew quickly on their first offensive possession, however, and the Seahawks quickly got the ball back at midfield following a punt. Still, their next drive would come to nothing and the rest of a tense first quarter would eventually pass without any points on the scoreboard for either team.
The Crew finally snapped the tie on the first play of the second quarter, when Justin Walz threw a pass that just eluded the outstretched arms of the Seahawks safety. It was hauled in by Lukasz Sutkowski in the middle of the end zone for a 20-yard touchdown, and the Crew led 7-0 after the successful PAT.
They had a chance to double that lead shortly thereafter, when Deante Battle came untouched on a blitz and forced Seahawks quarterback Luke Zetazate to throw an interception that was run back for a touchdown. However, that score was called back when American referee Alex Zarganis ruled that Battle had roughed the passer with a blow to the head.
While the Seahawks would not score on that drive, they did manage to tie the game just before halftime when they were given excellent field position after a Peter Plesa interception. After three plays they again found themselves in nearly the same spot on the field as in their opening drive, but this time Zetazate hit Maciej Siemaszko in the end zone for a 18-yard touchdown, and the game was suddenly tied when Michal Garbowski's extra point crawled over the crossbar.
With only 47 seconds remaining in the half and the Crew taking the ball at their own 20, it looked like that was the way the teams would go into the locker rooms. In fact, the Crew seemed content to run out the clock themselves, until Mark Philmore took in an innocent-looking screen pass and ran around the right end with it. He then danced down the sideline while breaking two tackles, before getting into the open and outrunning the entire Seahawks secondary on his way to the score that swung the momentum decisively in the Crew's favor.
That play took much of the wind out of the Seahawks' sails, but they came out and held the Crew on the opening series of the third quarter. The Gdynia offense never again found the same rhythm it had in the first half, however, in part due to the nearly constant presence of Aki Jones in the offensive backfield.
The Crew offense, for their part, changed tactics in the second half, going mainly to the run game to try to wear down the Seahawks defense. It seemed to work and the offensive line, called for several holding penalties in the first half, began to open up big holes for the Wroclaw backs. Jakub Placzek ran 12 yards through one of them late in the third quarter to give the Crew a 20-7 lead, and quarterback Justin Walz would add a short touchdown run in the fourth to seal the victory.
The Seahawks will surely be disappointed after coming up short in their bid to make the final game of the season for the third time, but a keen observer would surely give them credit for a strong performance after watching them fall to the Crew 62-7 earlier in the year and 49-0 in last year's semifinals. The competitiveness of Saturday's game is undoubtedly a good sign for all of PLFA I, showing that although the Wroclaw teams may indeed still be atop the league, the gap between them and the rest is closing.
The Crew will now be able to relax a bit and watch the second semifinal. They will meet the winner of that game, between the Wroclaw Devils and the Warsaw Eagles, in the PLFA I SuperFinal on Sunday, July 17 in Bielawa. It will be the Crew's third straight appearance in the national championship game, and their fourth overall. A victory in the SuperFinal would complete a perfect undefeated season for Wroclaw, and give them their first title since 2007.