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.
In their first international venture of the year, the Emirates American Football League Falcons will have their work cut out as they face a hungry Ukrainian side armed with a slimmed-down roster.
After victories over Kazakhstan’s Almaty Titans and Saudi Arabia’s Jeddah back in April, the Falcons are expected to be challenged by the Kiev Patriots today.
Playing on home soil, the Patriots have their own motivation for the game as they hope to showcase American football to their nation. As such, they’ve been heavily advertising the clash and creating a buzz around the contest to drum up interest.
Not only will the Falcons have to deal with a side eager to prove itself, but will do so with a relatively shorthanded squad. The roster features 20 players, many of whom will be thrust into bigger roles with the absence of notable names like Zavier Cobb, Vivaldi Tulysse, Luke Norrey, Davion Miller, Jay Hall, Alex Rodriguez and more.
The running game has particularly been a strength of the Falcons over the past two years, but with multiple stars missing from the backfield, players like Taylor Avritt will be leaned on to carry the ball.
With Cobb’s absence, Justin Johnson is likely to get time under centre and command the offence. Johnson flashed his arm strength and showed promise in the blowout win over Jeddah when he connected with Cobb on a deep pass for a touchdown.
Many of the other Falcons on the trip may not have been standout players in those April wins, but did have solid contributions, like Lorrence Reid who returned the opening kick-off for a score against Jeddah.
The challenge facing Falcons head coach Kyle Jordan today (UAE: 15:00) is getting the players in sync and prepared without ideal practice time.
“The tough part, the disadvantage we have is that we don’t practice together as a team too often,” said Jordan. “This is one of the first trips where we’re getting three practices before we take off, and we’re still not able to get everybody here to get cohesion among the personnel, get timing down and all those sorts of things.”
On the defensive side, the Falcons will have their hands full slowing down elusive running back Dileel Bartley, who is expected to be utilised heavily in all facets.
Patriots coach Jeff Vinall said: “He can run the football, but he also helps us out in the passing game as a receiver and as a pass protector.”
A roster full of fresh faces is set to head to Ukraine for the Emirates American Football League (EAFL) Falcons’ first international test on foreign soil this season.
Featuring a squad of 20 players, many of whom will get their initial taste with the Falcons, the EAFL’s finest will face the Kiev Patriots on Saturday as the programmes meet for the first time.
The Falcons are no strangers to playing in hostile territory, having gone a perfect 3-0 last season in trips to Sri Lanka, Kazakhstan and India. They then beat Kazakhstan’s Almaty Titans in a rematch in Dubai in April, one day after blowing out Saudi Arabia’s Jeddah side.
Those Falcons teams, however, included several of the EAFL’s most established players, such as Zavier Cobb, Vivaldi Tulysse, Luke Norrey, Robby Lopez, Jay Hall, Alex Rodriguez and more.
The squad heading to Kiev is less experienced and has a higher mix of newcomers among the group of veterans. Taylor Avritt, one of the leaders of the Falcons, is eager to see how his team-mates respond to the challenge.
“I think it’s going to be a really good opportunity for the newer guys that are part of the Falcons team to get acquainted with how we as the Falcons organisation play, especially travelling to international lands and playing against a really well-equipped and pretty physical Ukrainian team,” Avritt said.
“I think it’s going to be a big learning curve for a lot of us young guys and I’m really looking forward to us playing physical with them and seeing if we can compete in a foreign territory for us.”
While the Falcons have faced a range of talented international players with diverse backgrounds, their defence may be in for its toughest test yet against Kiev running back Dileel Bartley.
The American, who played college football at Graceland University, is likely to be utilised heavily by the Patriots in the clash.
The Falcons will also be meeting a team hungry to prove itself to its nation in order to continue growing the sport’s presence in Ukraine.
Maksym Shylo, president of the Ukrainian League of American Football (ULAF), said: “On Saturday we hope to see a bright sports show. Seeing that Ukrainians love American football, I hope this match will become a bright event in the history of American football in Ukraine. For ULAF, it’s a great event.
“Thanks to this game we can very well showcase American football to the Ukrainians.”
Michael Andersen, Taylor Avritt, Mathias Bartsch, Perry Blackburn, Paul Carrizosa, Dino Drimakis, Ali Ellesawy, Mo Eltigani, Moe Fouda, John Holets, Shady Hussein, Justin Johnson, Justin Kesterson, Robert Lega, Arthur Provensal, Lorrence Reid, Michael Salvati, Mark Vowles, Chris Cunningham, Thomas Newman