Saturday will be a day of reckoning for two young teams accustomed to winning! Unlike the other semifinal game, the Wasa Royals and Hämeenlinna Huskies have much shorter histories. Both teams have had early success, each rising from Division 2 to the Maple League in less than 5 years. To do this, the Royals and Huskies have each had their turn winning the Rautamalja and Spagettimalja championships. The winner of this game will have their shot at the Vaahteramalja trophy to add to their team’s trophy case.
I just want to know what the players and coaches think about the matchup. Luckily, I was able to interview Huskies players Niko Lester and Arkadi Meerschout about this upcoming game. Take a listen.
Of course their are two sides to every story, so I had to hear what the Royals playmaker Spencer Cutlan had to say about the game as well.
The players give a unique perspective on the game, but the coaches come up with the game plans and understand the team as a whole. Huskies Head Coach Stan Bedwell and Royals Head Coach John Booker both shed light into how they are preparing for this playoff game.
The Royals escaped the Huskies in the last meeting (27-24). What do the Huskies need to do differently this time around to get the victory when it matters most?
There’s not one thing in particular that I can think of from a gameplan standpoint. We gave up too many big plays on the defensive side of the ball and we didn’t execute enough plays on offense to win it. We had several players banged up at that time, but now we’re the most healthy we’ve been since May. We feel like we’re peaking at the right time and we’re excited to have the chance to prove that on the field.
All the talk is about the Air Raid offense you guys have, but what do you think gives the Hämeenlinnna Huskies the edge in this contest?
The week before we played the Helsinki Roosters the second time, we cancelled practice and worked on team building to overcome some internal conflicts. Although we did not win that game, we stuck together throughout and have grown stronger as a team ever since. We’re confident in ourselves now and we’re playing for each other. Win or lose, we’re in it together.
Efe Evwaraye and Chris Young are just a few key names on this Royals defense. Which Royals defenders do the Huskies have to account for to ensure success?
They have a ton of good players. They play a lot of 2-man under, so you have to be able to win one-on-one matchups. Their corners, Jefferson Davis and Rufail Khalifa, are very physical. Stacey Thomas is a great player and their defensive line is very strong as a whole. I think Nicholas Peterson has been a bit of an X-factor for the Royals on both sides of the ball, he’s a very good player that has given them a significant boost as a team.
Sottilare and RJ Long will have success at some point, it’s inevitable. But what is the key matchup for the Huskies to stop the rest of the Royals offense?
RJ Long is the type of player that you gameplan to stop, but there’s so many other talented receivers there. Jussi Kaas and Aappo Saloranta are big targets, Peterson can score any time the ball is in his hands, and Spencer Cutlan is a playmaker. The running backs are solid also, but I think the key to beating the Royals is slowing down their passing game…it’s clear that, like us, they want to throw the football.
The running joke is that the Hämeenlinna Huskies are an import team, but aside from the Butchers you actually have the highest usage rate of Finnish players. Who are some of the Finnish players we should be looking out for this week against the Royals?
Offensively, Tommi Pinta and Juuso Alakoski have made plays for us all season. Velipekka Jaakonsaari has big play potential and Jani Luiro will hopefully be back from injury this week. On the defensive side of the ball, Rickhard Helenius and Juha Yli-Arvela looked great in practice this week. Our defensive back trio of Aku Kattainen, Mikko Isokaanta, and Sami Haantaus have done a great job for us all season and we expect them to continue with a great performance on Saturday.
The Huskies took the Royals to the brink in the last matchup (27-24), and most people would expect a similar type of game this weekend. What will be a few things the Royals need to accomplish to get the victory in this matchup?
We will need to be more discipline and not have penalties that keep their drives alive. In our previous two matchups, offsides and pass interference on 3rd and long have sustained drives for them when we had stops. Knowing the quarterback will throw the vertical early and hard count when behind the sticks are key for our defense. Offensively we have to be successful in the run game. They have a good front and do a great job stopping the run. We have to take advantage of the box count when they spread out to cover our receivers.
A major story this year is the Air Raid Offense, presented by Stan Bedwell and the Huskies, but the Royals defense has shown it can stop anyone on any given day. What will your defense focus on to limit the success of the Huskies Air Raid system?
Leverage and finding the ball will be critical. When we play with bad leverage we get holding and interference calls. When we play with proper leverage we need to find the ball to make plays and get turnovers. We also need consistent pressure and win our matchups up front. We are at our best when we are mentally locked in to our individual jobs. When we do that we are a tough defense to score on.
RJ Long is the name everyone talks about, and we are sure he will get his per usual. Besides getting your best player the ball, what else will ensure the Royals success against this Huskies defense?
There is always a specific plan to get RJ the ball in multiple ways. It’s also important to have a plan for the players around who will benefit from the attention he gets. To be successful we have to have to take advantage of the looks the defense gives us. The box count will be critical for this game as it is in every game. We have to take what is available and not force anything.
Roman Runner versus RJ Long will be a great matchup, as well as Roman Runner versus Rufail Khalifa. These are obvious matchups, what other matchup should we look forward to playing out in this game?
Those match ups will be critical. I see it as the matchup on the line of scrimmage will be a key match up. Who can protect their quarterback and establish an honest run game. Spencer Cutlan is another key matchup. His ability to work the middle of the field on offense and pin their offense deep in the kicking game will be huge!
The Maple League Playoffs start Saturday, August 26, with the Hämeenlinna Huskies (3) versus the Wasa Royals (2) at Kaarlen Kenttä, Vaasa 15:30 UTC +3. Sunday, August 27, will be the Porvoon Butchers (4) versus the Helsinki Roosters (1) at Myyrmäen Jalkapallostadion, Vantaa 15:30 UTC+3. Both games will be televised on the Ruutu subscription service. Good luck to all the teams and players involved!