Their unbeaten streak is now over, but the Emirates American Football League (EAFL) Falcons didn’t leave Ukraine without gaining valuable experience and unearthing new talent.
For the first time since October of last year, the Falcons suffered a loss to an international foe as their comeback fell short in a 18-14 defeat to the Kiev Patriots on Saturday in the European nation’s capital.
The Falcons’ last loss had come at the hands of the Belgrade All-Stars when the squad travelled to Serbia, but was followed by back-to-back victories over Saudi Arabia’s Jeddah and Kazakhstan’s Almaty Titans in April.
As it did against Belgrade, a stripped-down roster hampered the Falcons in Kiev and was exacerbated by various injuries during the game, putting even more pressure on the lack of depth.
The Patriots didn’t show any mercy as they surged to an 18-point behind explosive running back Dileel Bartley, who broke loose for an 80-yard touchdown run in the first quarter for the opening score before adding a 20-yard scamper to the end zone in the third.
“First quarter and first half, we were sloppy. It’s been a while since we’ve played football, so that was sort of expected,” said Falcons head coach Kyle Jordan. “Some of the mistakes we made were very costly and resulted in scores.”
It was the same story on offence, where the Falcons’ running game struggled to consistently move the chains.
After halftime, however, the Falcons finally found their footing and responded with two quick-strike scores on deep connections between quarterback Justin Johnson and wide receiver Christian Ridley – the first going for 45 yards in the third quarter and the second spanning 57 yards in the fourth.
“We were just a little bit slow to adjust to seeing this type of defensive front,” said Falcons running back Taylor Avritt. “They put a lot of guys up in the box but didn’t always bring every single guy. Once we started adjusting to it, that’s when we started having good success pushing the ball downfield.”
Ridley provided the silver lining in a losing effort as the American showcased his skills in impressive fashion playing in his first game of any kind with the EAFL.
“The spontaneity of the whole thing was absolutely insane,” said Ridley. “I just kind of showed up to a practice and the Falcons were nice enough to let me come out and play.
“It couldn’t have been cooler. It was nice to represent the UAE and Dubai and it’s been fun on this trip getting to know the guys.”
While the absence of key contributors played a role in the defeat, the opportunity for secondary players may mean the Falcons end up better in the long run.