The NFL Academy put on a show under the Tuesday Night Lights at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium as they dominated American opponents Erasmus Hall; could the unofficial fourth NFL London game be here to stay?
Wednesday 11 October 2023 12:49, UK
So much for all the rigmarole over a future international NFL franchise. Whether it comes or not, the UK might have already found itself a team for which to root. And how we could get used to some regular midweek football under the lights.
Tottenham Hotspur Stadium played host to the unofficial fourth London game on Tuesday night as the NFL Academy stormed to a 35-0 shutout victory over US opponents Erasmus Hall. It made it two wins in five days over American counterparts following on from Friday's victory over IMG Academy at Loughborough.
Here was the new and exotic strand to the NFL London DNA. Perhaps it's most intriguing, innovative yet as traits of the pomp and passion of a high school football scene straight from a US Netflix series were translated onto the league's north London headquarters.
London commuters stopped by straight from work in their numbers with bags in tow and beers in hand, BigKid Foundation youngsters sat down to enjoy a dose of what might yet feature among their life aspirations, NFL Academy wording filled either end zone to further legitimise another milestone, Academy product Toshane Boyce lended his knowledge on commentary, and Ndamukong Suh accompanied the likes of Osi Umenyiora, Maurice Jones-Drew and Kenny Stills in attendance in amplifying the might of the NFL's UK operation.
The opulence and the frenzied festivities to Sunday's game between the Buffalo Bills and Jacksonville Jaguars had been stripped away. It made for an intimate crowd ingrained with friends and family connections, preserving a grassroots feel to one of the most spotlighted opportunities yet to impress recruiters. For the UK, it was yet more progress. For the players, it was strictly business as they continued to construct the film sample designed to attract US colleges.
It took until the beginning of the second quarter to bring up the first points of the game, from which point the Academy never looked back. Lined up on the outside in a 2x2 formation, Academy wide receiver Bryan Winter took advantage of the soft man coverage on third-and-five as he sold the corner-route feint before breaking inside to buy separation, by which point quarterback Jack Troni had already released the ball to find his man at the back of the end zone.
The same connection struck again on third down minutes later, Troni showing tremendous poise to roll to his left and delay his release with the pressure coming before absorbing a huge hit as he floated a second touchdown pass of the day to Winter on what had evolved into a deep over-route.
It was 21-0 by half-time, the Academy dialling up a trips right formation from which the checkdown option lured the curl/flat defender up while Winter broke inside to drag double coverage with him as the clear-out route, leaving Ben Lax wide-open at the back of the end zone.
The Academy turned to the running game deep in the third quarter, Justus Seelig igniting the drive and eventually finishing it off from two yards out as he bundled over behind a lead blocker after Troni's swivel handoff had sold the jet-sweep to tempt the Erasmus Hall EMOL up, opening an avenue on the outside. Another Andy Quinn extra point lifted the score to 28-0.
Then came one of the plays of the night as defensive back Arthur de Boachie, a thorn to deep shots all evening, hauled in an underthrown ball for the interception before scurrying down the sideline and hurdling one tackle attempt until finally being pushed out at the five-yard line. It prompted perhaps the loudest cheers of the day from the Tottenham crowd while De Boachie, swarmed by teammates, swaggered across the end zone in celebration. He would announce another Division 1 offer later after the game, this one from Campbell University.
There was still time for one more trip to the end zone, Troni sliding to his right on fourth-and-goal before firing an off-platform dart to Matthew Okunade, who had run a perfectly-timed rub-route with pre-snap motion man Winter.
The occasional got-you-out-of-your-seat kick return from their electric number 13 featured among few flashpoints for Erasmus Hall as the visitors were man-handled and out-executed for the duration. They leave with the experience of playing at Tottenham, along with the first-hand knowledge of what the Academy is cooking up this side of the Atlantic.
Head coach Steve Hagen had spoken in the build-up about playing 'quicker' as one of the key fundamental improvements since his arrival, and it was evident on Tuesday. Personnel rotation was significantly smoother than that of their opponents, play design was cleanly communicated from the sideline and down the stretch there came a useful exercise in tempo offense.
During drives you watched as Fletcher Cornwall played a leading role on the sideline in acting out signals as if playing charades to help inform his teammates of the next call, while others were seen raising what appeared to be Batman and Joker cards as another method of instruction delivery. And on the field coveted offensive lineman Daniel Akinkunmi reminded why he has received upwards of 30 Division 1 offers as the top-ranked international prospect ahead of his commitment announcement on Thursday.
It didn't need the 60,000 fans or the superstar names to feel like one of the most special and defining moments for football in the UK yet. It also raised the bar on what might come to be expected from the Academy over the coming years. The unofficial fourth London game might and should be here to stay.