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AMERICAN FOOTBALL: JUST SAN-TASTIC; Sulecio wonder run gives Scots final word.

CLAYMORES 31 RHEIN FIRE 24

SULECIO SANFORD admitted his match-winning 80-yard punt return was inspired by the fact he didn't fancy going into overtime.

The clock had less than a minute left when the wide receiver caught Rodney Williams' kick and then for the second time in a week, made a devastating run back through enemy traffic.

This time he was stopped just a yard short of the German end zone but the damage was done and top scorer Aaron Stecker went over for the winning touchdown.

That was enough to put Scotland into the World Bowl for the second time in four years because, as coach Jim Criner pointed out, he will accept money from anyone who thinks Barcelona can overturn his side's 121- point advantage next weekend.

Reliving the moment which has in all probability set up a final rematch with Fire in Frankfurt on June 25, Sanford said: "I didn't want to go into overtime, I just wanted to give Aaron a chance to win the game. When the kick came I just wanted to secure the catch then start to make things happen."

There was no over-caution from Criner either and the whole organisation can start planning for the World Bowl.

He said: "I would be ready to make a bet with anyone who thinks Barcelona can beat us by 121 points.

"A tremendous individual effort by Sanford won the game for us - it was the kind of effort you expect from a championship-calibre team."

Criner knows the Barcelona game will now have no more significance than preparation for the final.

But he stressed: "We don't want to have a lousy performance in Barcelona and be flat for the championship match. We want to have momentum for the big game. If we play Fire we can do it again. They've seen our strengths and weaknesses - but we've seen theirs too."

Stecker, who finally clinched a match which in truth the Claymores should have sewn up earlier, reckoned he might as well have hung up his boots if he had missed the equivalent of an open goal.

He said: "If I can't get in from three yards there's something wrong."

In fact the powerful running back had to crash through two Fire tackles to make the touchdown and his effort was a little more than a "gimme".

Stecker, the club's top touchdown scorer with 11 for the season, had endured a frustrating afternoon with Fire's talented line backer Jamie Baisley, arguably the best player on the field, allowing him little space and time.

The running back said: "Sulecio gave me the opportunity and I said, 'Enough is enough'. Now I just want to get to Barcelona."

Stecker has been the Claymores main man this season but is a firm believer in the team ethic Criner has instilled in his organisation.

He said: "If it wasn't for the rest of the team there would be no Aaron Stecker because I can't block and run at the same time."

Defensive end Jabbar Threats deservedly won the most valuable player award for his tireless work but he was as modest as the match winner.

He said: "The whole team is MVP because we all came out to play."

But Threats, who has compared playing well in a winning team to having a massive slap-up meal, added: "I had steak and eggs out there - a full course lunch."

The Claymores had to put in the full shift to beat Fire who just wouldn't lie down even though the Scots outfit three times opened up a lead of seven points or more before finally clinching the contest at the death.

Donald Sellers caught a Kevin Daft pass to give the home side a 7-0 lead just before the end of the first quarter but ex-Claymore Kevin Drake levelled things in the second.

Ben Snell ran in for his first touchdown of the season to give Scotland a 14-7 lead at half-time but quarterback Danny Wuerffel scrambled in from 15 yards to pull the score back to 14-13.

Fire then surprisingly went for two extra points rather than kicking a single but holder Rodney Williams was sacked to leave the Germans trailing.

When a Rickey Brady touchdown and Rob Hart field goal increased the lead to 24-13 the Claymores appeared to be cruising.

But Drake punished his old side with another touchdown catch and this time Fire did manage to convert a two pointer to haul themselves within a field goal of the hosts.

And they duly got it through kicker Peter Elezovic.

Overtime was staring everyone in the face until Sanford set up the biggest Claymores party since 1996.

Fire coach Gallen Hall was disappointed but warned: "Hopefully we will get the chance to play Scotland again and it will be a very good game."
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Title Annotation:Sport
Author:Campbell, Iain
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Jun 12, 2000
Words:803
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