The Amsterdam Admirals have won the first NFL Europe League title in team history, defeating the Berlin Thunder 27-21 in a thrilling finish to Yello Strom World Bowl XIII. After opening up a 24-7 lead in the third quarter Amsterdam watched the Thunder roar back into the game to set up a potential game winning drive in the final minute, which Amsterdam’s defense foiled.
The Admirals got a huge game from quarterback Kurt Kittner, who came out firing to throw for the team’s first two scores. Kittner was the well deserved MVP of the Yello Strom World Bowl XIII, completing 15 of 28 passes for 239 yards and two scores. His favorite target on the day was receiver John Booth, who had four catches for 103 yards. Ruvell Martin had one touchdown to add to his league-leading total of 12 during the regular season.
His counterpart, Dave Ragone, helped Berlin overcome the lack of a running game, throwing 48 times and completing 30 of his attempts for 328 yards. Ragone threw for three touchdowns and almost single handedly brought the Thunder back into the contest. He stood up to a fearsome Amsterdam pass rush which sacked him seven times in the game, with defensive ends Josh Mallard and Clint Mitchell each collecting two.
Amsterdam’s ground game, which had been rated first in NFL Europe during the regular season, was held somewhat in check by the Thunder defense which allowed 110 yards rushing. Jarrett Payton 54 yards on 17 carries, while Jonathan Smith had 48 on 11. They fared better than Berlin’s one-man backfield, with Little John Flowers carrying 10 times for 50 yards in the absence of regular starter Cal Murray, who was injured in their final game of the regular season.
Amsterdam came out firing, and set the pace with their very first possession to give them a 7-0 lead from the get-go. Starting from their own 32-yard line, the Admirals went to the air and got a 9-yard pickup when Kittner hit Payton over the middle. After a 2-yard loss on a pitch to Payton they found themselves in a third-down situation, but got a break when DE Christian Mohr jumped offside to give them a first down. Kittner went for it all, aiming for Martin on a deep pass, but Willie Ford managed to make a play to knock the ball away from the San Diego Chargers wideout. Staying with the passing game, Kittner found John Booth down the left sideline on first down, and the Kansas City Chiefs allocated receiver slipped an attempted tackle by safety Jack Hunt to take the ball to the Berlin 26. After Payton picked up 4 yards on the ground on first down, Kittner rolled right looking for his tight end Mike Gomez, but finding him well-covered threw back across the field, hitting Martin in the endzone for a 22-yard touchdown to cap a nine play, 68-yard opening drive.
Berlin was unable to do anything with their first possession, but after holding Amsterdam to three and out began their second series from their 37-yard line. Berlin lost 5 yards on first down when Ragone was sacked by Clint Mitchell, and on third down Ragone’s pass again went astray, leaving the league’s Offensive MVP without a completion with five minutes remaining in the first quarter.
Amsterdam began their next series from the 25, and got a huge play from Booth on first down, as the Admirals receiver held on to a ball that went through the hands of cornerback Jermaine Mays for a 25-yard pickup. Two plays later Kittner looked for the endzone again, but this time Mays was in position on the quarterbacks late pass, and managed to bat the ball aimed for Carlos Perez away. Amsterdam came up 1-yard shy on third down when Booth was dragged down just short of the 31, and were forced to set up for a four-point field goal attempt. Chris Snyder’s kick was blocked by Dante Ellington, giving the Thunder possession at the 37.
The Admirals defense, which finished last in the league in the regular season with 16 sacks, managed to drop Ragone for a loss on first and second downs, with Phil Archer and Mallard’s defensive plays leaving the Thunder needing 27 yards on third down. When Michael Jennings dropped Ragone’s third down pass it left Berlin still looking for their first first down at the end of the opening period.
The Admirals were unable to move the ball on their first possession of the second quarter, but left Berlin with poor field position, backed up at their own 6-yard line.
The lack of a Berlin running threat again had them stuck in third down, and this time when the pass rush got to Ragone, defensive tackle Derrius Monroe forced the quarterback to fumble, with safety Ron Israel recovering the ball to give Amsterdam the ball at the Thunder 12-yard line. On first down Amsterdam doubled their lead as Kittner found former Illinois teammate Mike Gomez over the middle – threading the ball between three defenders and seeing the Buffalo Bills allocated tight end come up with a great catch for a touchdown for a 14-0 lead.
Berlin’s running back Flowers picked up 7 yards on first down of their next drive, but again found themselves in a third down situation, this time needing 1-yard for the first. Ragone failed to make it to their 35-yard line on a sneak on third down, and the Thunder then decided to go for it on fourth down, but he was denied a second time, turning the ball over on downs to Amsterdam 34 yards away from the Berlin endzone.
The Admirals offense was too close to waste that chance, and soon found their way back to another scoring opportunity. This time the Admirals were forced to settle for a 32-yard Chris Snyder field goal that gave them a 17-0 advantage with seven minutes remaining in the first half.
Berlin’s offense finally found their feet on the ensuing possession, picking up their first first down of the contest when Flowers picked up 4 yards on third down. However, they were unable to break into the Admirals half following a crucial holding penalty, and Brian Simnjanovski came on for his fourth punt of the game.
This time the Thunder defense was able to check the Admirals progress, with Greg Taplin coming up with a sack on third down to force an Amsterdam punt on the two-minute warning.
Berlin finally made their way onto the scoreboard after Dutton’s punt gave them great field position at their 49-yard line. With Ragone calling all his own plays on the drive, the Thunder got their spark on first down when the passer found receiver Redd down the left sideline for a 29-yard gain to the 22. On the next play the quarterback tried the same play to the right side, aiming for Jennings, who caught the ball but was forced out to the side of the endzone and the pass was called incomplete. A draw play to Flowers got them 12 yards on second down to take the ball to the Amsterdam 10-yard line, and then Ragone hit Aaron Boone – his favorite receiver during the season – for a touchdown to give Berlin their first score with 33 seconds left in the half to make it 17-7.
Berlin began the second half with the ball at their own 30 after Mays returned Snyder’s kick-off 25 yards, and managed to convert one third down when Ragone hit Boone for an 11-yard pickup, however, the same connection did not succeed the next time Berlin found themselves in a third down situation, and the Thunder were forced to punt again, with Simnjanovski’s kick landing in the endzone for a touchback.
Amsterdam’s first drive of the third quarter was infinitely more successful as they increased their lead on a Jonathan Smith touchdown run. It may have been a running back that scored for Amsterdam, but Kittner ignited the offense again with his 54-yard pass to Booth to get the drive started. The Admirals receiver made an outstanding over-the-shoulder catch to come up with the ball at the Thunder 24. Two plays later Smith broke loose for an 18-yard run to give them a 24-7 advantage with just under ten minutes gone in the third quarter.
On the Thunder’s next drive Ragone put the game on his own shoulders and came out passing, completing three consecutive passes to start the drive. After being sacked for the sixth time, the Thunder found themselves in third and 17, but Ragone improvised a great play, escaping the pressure and hitting Redd across the field for a 22-yard pickup to the Amsterdam 26-yard line. However, the Berlin drive stalled there after three incompletions, and Berlin’s chance to claw back Amsterdam’s lead fell away when Kevin Miller’s 43-yard field goal drifted wide right.
Amsterdam got down to the Thunder 35-yard line on the following possession, but when the drive stalled Andrus chose to send Dutton onto the field to kick the ball away.
Berlin managed to pull closer back to 24-14 when they capped the next five-play, 80-yard drive with a 10-yard touchdown pass from Ragone to Flowers. Starting from their own 34-yard line, Ragone began with consecutive completions of 17 yards to Terrence Stubbs and14 yards to Jennings. A pass interference penalty on Amsterdam corner Jeff Sanchez got them to the 10-yard line, where Ragone hit Flowers on a swing pass with the running back taking it into the endzone.
Starting the ensuing drive from their 20, Amsterdam started out with powerful running from Payton, who gained 25 yards on three carries, but got a key play on a 40-yard pass from Kittner to Martin that took them to the Thunder 14. The drive was stopped at the 10-yard line, and Snyder came on to kick his second field goal to make it 27-14 with nine minutes remaining.
Ragone and Berlin came roaring back on their next possession to set up the game’s thrilling finish. Working largely out of a hurry-up offense with the quarterback calling his own plays, Ragone completed seven passes to take Berlin from their 22-yard line to Amsterdam’s 10, where he hit Redd in the endzone to pull back within six points of the Admirals at 27-21 with five minutes on the clock.
Amsterdam found themselves at third and 14 on their next drive after Berlin’s defense held tough. On the play Kittner’s pass sailed over the head of his intended target, Perez, but a roughing the passer call against defensive end Isaac Hilton gifted the Admirals with a first down. They got their next first down at Berlin’s 47 through a pass interference flag with three minutes on the clock, when safety Adrian Mayes had contact with Gomez before the ball reached the tight end. However, the Thunder defense managed to step up and stop them outside of field goal range, prompting an Amsterdam punt with 1:56 on the clock. Dutton managed to get the ball to die at the Thunder 6-yard line, leaving Berlin 94 yards to drive to win the game.
The breathtaking final drive began with Ragone completing passes of 7 yards to Flowers,17 yards to Jennings and 6 yards to Stubbs before the clocked ticked down to leave them with one minute remaining. He then got a huge play as he connected with Stubbs again for a 24-yard gain that took them down to the Amsterdam 28-yard line with 31 seconds on the clock. They moved closer with 12-yard hookup between Ragone and Redd that got them down to the 16, but a sack by defensive tackle Norman Heuer followed by a 5-yard false start penalty knocked them back to the 22. On third down defensive end Omari Hand tipped Ragone’s pass so that it fluttered harmlessly to the ground, leaving the Thunder with one play to win the game. Ragone looked for his former high school teammate Redd in the endzone but safety Norman LeJeune jumped up to knock the pass away, in the process securing Amsterdam’s first ever NFL Europe title.