The Commonwealth Football League Sharks held the Philippine Punishers to 6 points for over three quarters of action before succumbing to a late pick-6 interception touchdown in the last frame of Nov. 10’s first-ever 11-man tackle football game held in front of a crowd of over 300 spectators at Manila’s Phil-Sports Complex Track & Oval Field.
“It was a good fight, though our offense did not perform up to our expectations. There is room for improvement in all aspects of the game really, but we’re only getting started. We have every intention of continuing our effort of reestablishing tackle football in the CNMI,” stated CFL chair and player-coach, John Blanco in an email last week.
Blanco also added that the Punishers and their fans were gracious hosts and that the group looks forward to playing them again next year on both turfs.
The Sharks played very well on defense and tallied three interceptions, although Punishers quarterback Mike Hoese did connect with his wide out G.J. Dy for a 20-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter.
Punishers kicker Dave Mouatt of Australia converted the initial extra point try, but had to kick it again because of a penalty during the attempt and missed so the scoreboard read, 6-0, early on in favor of the home team.
The Sharks answered in the second quarter with a 70-yard drive that ended with a 1-yard punch-in by Jeff Boyer. Sharks quarterback Josh Cutrell completed five out of six passes during the charge, but his two-point conversion attempt to the corner of the end zone sailed just a little too deep. The receiver managed to bring it down, but landed out of bounds.
Both teams came up empty in the third quarter and it remained locked at 6-all midway through the fourth quarter until Punishers strong safety Jai Merchant corralled a clutch 18-yard “Pick-6” interception return with seven minutes remaining in regulation that ultimately clinched the win.
The Sharks threatened in the time remaining and came about five yards away from pay dirt, but a QB sneak on fourth down was sniffed out by the Punishers’ front line.
The Sharks later benefited from a late fumble by Punishers running back Will Yeh in the final minute, but could not breach the Punishers defense in the end.
The win marked the Punishers’ fourth of the season. Its lone loss came to Guam’s Miller-Lite Football League All-Stars who are coming to Saipan to take on the Sharks this coming Dec. 1.
The Sharks were held to a combined 27 yards rushing with a fumble and Boyer’s touchdown. The group also struggled in the punting game and muffed a couple of kicks that only made it about 10 yards past the original line of scrimmage.
Lutrell completed nine of 25 passes for 116 yards and one interception.
Jerome Norita caught three of them for 37 yards; Syl Teregeyo nabbed one for 32 yards; Jermaine Catching came down with two for 28 yards; George Lieto caught two for 12 yards, and Jelani Tilipao snagged a 7-yarder.
On defense, Jaime Martinez recorded four tackles and a sack; Paul Camacho was credited with three tackles and a sack; Tilipao made one tackle, but notched a fumble force, a fumble recovery, and an interception that he returned for 20 yards; Teregeyo also bagged a fumble force and a pair of tackles; while Danny Agulto and Lieto each swiped an interception.
They played a clean game overall and were only called for one penalty.
Notably, the modified ground rules stipulated that teams could not attempt to block punts or extra point attempts. There were no kickoffs after scores and when kickoffs were executed, only two players were permitted to chase down the returners.
The field was also 10 yards shy of regulation and various official timeouts were gifted to both squads throughout the game.
Punishers’ Merchant earned most valuable player honors after the game for his impressive performance.
Their do-it-all standout also played running back, wide receiver, linebacker, defensive back, and took the reins at quarterback during the final possession of the game and scampered for a clutch 20-yard first down as the Philippines ran out the clock.