The Carlstad Crusaders are crushin’ it.
Thanks to a dominant offensive line and a running game that ripped more holes in its opponents' defenses than a Miley Cyrus outfit, the Crusaders rambled their way to the top of the American Football mountain, winning their sixth consecutive Swedish title with a 42-17 victory over the Orebro Black Knights Sept. 7 in Uppsala while also carrying home the Champions League title after knocking off SBB Vukovi Belgrade 84-49 July 26 in Belgrade.
"It’s wonderful," said Crusaders place kicker/tight end Jakob Dahre. "It has been a long season that has been up and down, but it’s great to win two championships in one season.”
The Crusaders built both titles on their powerful running game. American running back Brett Koepp, who played collegiately at Tiffin University in Ohio, led the team in rushing in the Swedish championship game, rambling for 198 yards on just 13 carries. Quarterback Anders Hermodsson, a product of the Crusaders' system, ran for 96 yards on 10 carries while going 12 for 19 for 164 yards in the air.
"Brett was playing in Europe in 2012 in a game where the best European players played against all the imports,” said Crusaders general manager Robert Sundberg. "We had team USA vs Team Europe and we had representatives from our club and Brett played for Team Europe. He met the players, got really fond of Carlstad and how we played. Brett asked our plans for import players for the 2013 season, so we scouted him, looked at game tape, and brought him in.”

Earning another title
Koepp put Carlstad in front in the Swedish title game, scampering for 34-yard touchdown at 10:40 of the first half. The run capped a four-play, 82-yard drive. Koepp also snared a 42-yard pass from Anders Hermodsson. Orebro came right back, however, as Black Knights running Anders Lehtonen capped a 69-yard, 11-play, 7:23 drive with a 3-yard scoring run. The long drive was part of Orebro’s game plan as it looked to capitalize on the one weakness the Crusaders’ have shown this season.
“We have been slow starters all season long and we don’t know why,” said Sundberg. “They played very physically in the first half. They really went all in.”
Orebro took the lead in the second quarter on a Joe Cafferty field goal that linebacker Eric Murphy set when he picked off a pass from Hermodsson. It was the high point for the Black Knights as the Crusaders reeled off the next 35 points, crushing any thoughts of an upset. Hermodsson put Carlstad in front for good at 7:49 of the second quarter when he capped an 8-play, 70-yard drive with a 5-yard run.
Although the Crusaders held the lead, Sundberg said his team wanted to send a message.
“We have not lost a second half all season and we didn’t want to lose one in this game,” he said. “We went into the half and made some adjustments and maybe they were a little tired. One of our biggest strengths is our depth and we came and controlled the half.”
The Crusaders went up 21-10 at 8:45 of the third quarter when Johannes Magnusson caught a 2-yard scoring pass from Hermodsson. The Crusader quarterback made the score 28-10 at 13:07 of the third quarter when he scored on a 13-yard run. Dahre made it 35-10 when he caught a 15-yard touchdown pass from Hermodsson while Koepp capped the Crusaders’ day with a 50-yard scoring run to put Carlstad up 42-10. Welp hit Johan Stal with a 24-yard pass at 9:17 of the fourth quarter, but the Black Knights were never really in contention.
"That first drive really set the tone for the second half,” Sundberg said. “We wanted to make them hang their heads a bit, and on their first possession they went three-and-out and we came right down and scored. That was big."


Boosting American football in Sweden
The title is Carlstad’s sixth straight and marks its seventh-straight appearance in the championship game. The Crusaders have been to the Swedish final in 13 of the past 14 years and have reached the playoffs in 18 consecutive seasons.
In the Champions League, Carlstad defeated 2014 European champions Helsinki to reach the final, where it faced Serbian champions Vukovi Belgrade. Against Belgrade, the chief opponent was the heat. Sundberg said the temperature on the field topped 100 degrees (Fahrenheit) and defense became an afterthought as both teams lit up the scoreboard.
The Crusaders jumped out to a 21-7 first-quarter lead and never looked back. Once more, it was a dominant performance by the offensive line. Guard Sebastian Johansson and left tackle David Hedelin were two big reasons for Carlstad’s control of the line of scrimmage.
"They both play in the States for universities – Sebastian is at Marshall and Hedelin is at Purdue. They will play each other this season and I think it is the first time two Swedes have faced each other in a game,” Sundberg said. “Both are big reason why our O-line is so good. They have been together for five, six years and have a lot of experience playing together.”
With the offensive controlling the line of scrimmage, Hermodsson had ample time to find his receivers. He finished 13-22 for 212 yards and four touchdowns. The Crusaders’ quarterback picked up 224 yards on the ground on just 13 carried and scored five touchdowns. Koepp ran for 130 yardsand two touchdowns on 12 carries and had two receptions for 62 yards, including a 58-yard scoring strike from Hermodsson.
The Crusaders’ crushing offense racked up 631 yards of total offnse, while Belgrade had 446. Belgrade quarterback Myles Gates finished with 8-for-17 in the air for 120 yards and one interception while rushing for 140 yards on 17 carries.
Sundberg said the Champions League isn’t necessarily a boost to American football in Sweden, but in the wake of the folding of NFL Europe, it is filling a void.
“Maybe it doesn’t mean so much for the development of football on a national level, but on a European level, it is very important,” he said. “People can see there is good football all over Europe. Without NFL Europe, there wasn’t an outlet, but now, with the Champions League, we play against teams from all over Europe. We beat the Finnish champions, the Danish champions. We beat the French and the Serbian champions. Now people can see where there is good football and that opens up the cooperation and knowledge between countries. It opens up the communication between countries instead of each country by themselves. That’s the big importance.”
Although American football remains small in Sweden and the rest of Europe, it is growing. Sundberg said programs such as that in Carlstad and increased media attention could result in even more growth provided players in Sweden and the rest of Europe get the chance to play at higher levels.
“When you look at all the big sports (in the U.S.) – basketball, baseball, hockey, soccer – there are a lot of international players, except in football,” Sundberg said. “I think when NFL Europe stopped that hurt us, but now we growing again. The Champions League is important for this because players can see there is good football in other countries and not just Germany, which is always where people think the best football is. From my point of view, it is good for the NFL is the sport develops more in Sweden and in Europe because now coaches can come over here to look for players for high school or college. Ten years ago, no one knew anything about (American) football. Now it’s on TV and people can see it all the time and that means the common guy can learn about it.”

By Chipp Reid