Maple League Championship 2022 for Kuopio Steelers
The Kuopio Steelers won their third championship by defeating the Seinäjoki Crocodiles in Saturday’s Maple Bowl XLIII game. The final, which turned into a battle of two strong defenses, was decided just a couple of minutes before the end when the Crocodiles’ kick-off team made a mistake. The victory went to the Kuopio team with a score of 21-14 (14-6).
The Maple Bowl XLIII did not follow the script that previous meetings between the two teams during the season had predicted. The Seinäjoki Crocodiles fought like predators and did not let the Kuopio team, who had dominated the regular season, have an easy victory. The low-scoring game was unexpectedly decided by a stunning individual performance by Le’Anthony Reasnover, who returned the kick-off following the Crocodiles’ tying touchdown to the end zone, igniting a loud celebration among the large Kuopio crowd.
The Crocodiles started the game strongly, with the Steelers’ first offensive possession being quickly stopped, and the visiting team scoring points on their opening drive with two successful field goals by Eetu Mäki-Maunus, taking a 0-3 lead in the first quarter.
The Steelers quickly responded with a touchdown on their next possession, with quarterback Joey Bradley immediately throwing the ball to Hannes Harju after the Crocodiles’ score. Harju broke free from his defenders and ran 40 yards to the end zone with the ball. With Markus Ojainväli’s extra point kick, the home team took a 7-3 lead.
In the second quarter, the Steelers scored again, with TE Jani Lindqvist catching a pass from Bradley near the goal line and bringing the ball into the end zone to give his team a 13-3 lead.
The rest of the game’s points were scored by the kickers, with Ojainväli scoring another extra point and Mäki-Maunus making a field goal. The first half ended with the Steelers leading 14-6.
The caretaker of Väre Arena’s scoreboard was given work only in the last quarter of the game. Crocodiles succeeded in their first touchdown with Christian Powell breaking through for their only long run of the game, a 37-yard touchdown that brought them within two points at 14-12. Quarterback Zachary Whitehead delivered the extra point pass to Kasper Harju, tying the game at 14-14 with 1:42 left on the clock. It seemed that the Maple Bowl was headed for its second overtime in history.
Le’Anthony Reasnover had other plans. The American, who had carried the ball only 10 times for 29 yards throughout the game, caught a high kickoff and weaved his way through the Crocodiles’ kick coverage to the end zone in a stunning individual effort. Markus Ojainväli sealed the game with his kick, making the final score 21-14.
Maple Bowl XLIII was a thrilling game in which the much-anticipated battle between the two central running backs did not play out as expected. Crocodiles’ Christian Powell was the yardage king of the field, carrying the ball 34 times for 181 yards. Reasnover, named the Most Valuable Player of the entire Maple League season, gained only 29 yards in the game, but ultimately won the game for the Steelers with his special teams touchdown. Reasnover was named the game’s Most Impressive Player.
The defenses of both teams took center stage on the field, overshadowing the central running backs. Steelers linebacker Colby Campbell, named the MVP of Maple Bowl XLIII, stopped Crocodiles’ runners 13.5 times. The Steelers’ defense also succeeded in tackling the opposing team behind the line of scrimmage a total of 14 times. Juhani Koivumäki had the most statistical marks for the Crocodiles’ defense.
Game stats: Maple Bowl XLIII
Photos: Jari Turunen