Competing in Europe for the first time in 17 years, the region’s American football side, the Copenhagen Towers, have made it through to the semi-finals of the EFAF Cup by the narrowest of margins.
After 120 minutes of gridiron, contested over two legs in the clubs’ respective countries, only one point separated them from their opponents, the London Blitz. There’s margins, and then there’s the breadth of a hair on a quarterback’s head.
Having lost by one point in a 7-6 mud fest in London two weeks prior, the Towers knew what they needed to do on Towers Field at Gentofte Stadium on Saturday April 27.
“Having a run-heavy game-plan in London, we didn’t want to just do more of the same,” explained Towers coach Peter Herbild after the game. “And neither did the Blitz. They are a much more pass-orientated team, and that played well into our strengths.”
Like in London, the game was initially low-scoring, and with seven minutes to go in the second quarter, it was still 0-0.
It wasn’t in anyway a reflection on the performances of the quarterbacks. JR Artozqui has been a revelation as QB during his three completed seasons for the Towers, while Blitz QB Fred Boyle is a multiple Brit Bowl MVP winner. But both struggled to get their passing games on track.
Defensively, the Towers were outstanding, keeping the Blitz passing game in check for the majority of the game thanks partly to two timely interceptions − through veteran DB Desi Barbour, his first in a Towers uniform, and Christian Dinesen, who was excellent in coverage throughout.
Among the other defensive stars were LB Phillip Hargett and DE Mikkel Stilling, who each recorded sacks on Fred Boyle, while DE Daniel Løvborg repeatedly put Boyle under heavy pressure. Stilling’s sack of Boyle with 0:02 left on the clock in the fourth quarter sealed the 20-18 win for the Towers.
The Towers had got on the scoreboard first when a Blitz snap sailed over the head of Boyle deep into Blitz territory. Boyle managed to touch the ball but could not gain possession, which allowed Towers LB Phillip Hargett to scoop up the ball and dive into the endzone with 6:49 left in the second quarter.
And then, less than five minutes later, the younger Hargett brother, WR Patrick Hargett, scored the second Towers touchdown. It was a beautiful read-and-react play by Hargett and Artozqui. Seeing the safeties roll into a cover-3, Hargett adjusted his corner route to a skinny post and Artozqui – seeing the exact same thing – hit Hargett perfectly 35 yards down the field. Hargett outran the Blitz defenders over the last 15 yards to the endzone for a 50-yard pass play as the game clock hit the two-minute warning.
But in the third quarter, the Blitz came out swinging. And passing. They moved the ball seemingly at will and scored three times – two touchdowns and a safety – to take the lead.
Oddly enough, the Blitz scores were very similar to the Towers’ scores. Boyle practically delivered a copy of Hargett’s touchdown, when he hit WR Jack Daley for a 47-yard score. Later, the Blitz defence put points on the board courtesy of a Towers’ turnover, when DB
Enoch Kankombo took a deflected Artozqui pass five yards to the endzone. And finally the Blitz scored a safety, when a punt snap sailed high over the head of punter Kristian Rasnis. The punt rolled into and out of the back of the Towers’ endzone.
Not being done making copies of previous plays, Artozqui hit Hargett for 38 yards on a similar play to the one Hargett scored on earlier. This time, however, Hargett made a diving catch that downed the ball on the 1-yard line. Artozqui then took care of business on the ground himself one play later, when he powered up the middle for the winning score.
Towers president Martin Ægidius was understandably pleased after the game. “Nowadays we win the close games. It’s great!” he said. As he slapped my shoulder, he mused: “You and I have been here a loooong time and look at us now!”
The EFAF Cup semi-finals are scheduled for the weekend of June 15-16, and the Towers’ opponents won’t be known until a game on Saturday that the Thonon Black Panthers of France are expected to win.
Factfile | EFAF Cup
While there was unquestionably drama on the pitch, let’s not overdramatise the magnitude of the Towers’ achievement. They might have beaten a team from a city ten times the size of Copenhagen, but this is only the EFAF Cup – the Europa League of the continent’s American football scene. Indeed, it’s a tournament that was last year won by the Towers’ arch-rivals, the Søllerød Gold Diggers, who beat another Danish side, the Triangle Razorbacks, in the final.
The Gold Diggers’ reward is a place in the vastly superior European Football League, which involves more teams, greater prestige and stronger competition. The Austrians have dominated of late, winning seven titles since 2004, while Germany, Italy, the UK, the Netherlands and Finland are also traditionally strong.