In Desert Bowl II, Abu Dhabi’s Tulysse knew all the right moves

During Friday night's EAFL championship game, Dubai knew Abu Dhabi's game plan would run through Vivaldi Tulysse. But Tulysse figured out how to beat them anyway. 'There were no secrets,' he told Steve Elling.

Vivaldi Tulysse, second from right, was named the Desert Bowl's most valuable player on Friday night. Charles Crowell for The National / March 14, 2014
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DUBAI // It was quite an earful for fans to absorb as league officials anointed Vivaldi Tulysse the Desert Bowl II's most-valuable player award over the stadium public-address system late Friday night.

In a series of crucial plays on both offence and defence, each of the South Florida native’s big moments seemed to grow in importance. As his teammates cheered, a handful of his feats were noted over the PA system, including a scoring pass, a pivotal touchdown run and an interception.

Still, a key element of the running back’s achievements at Dubai Sports City was omitted – his clairvoyance. As it turns out, Tulysse basically insisted that the Abu Dhabi Wildcats call the misdirection toss play that resulted in his game-winning, 56-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter.

“I told the coach ... it would work,” Tulysse said. “And on the very first play, it worked.”

The league's best player took a pitch from quarterback Amos Daniels, cut back against the grain and cruised into the end zone to hand the Wildcats a crazy and disjointed 14-13 victory over the previously unbeaten Dubai Stallions in the Emirates American Football League finale, which had its fair share of theatrics.

There were controversial calls, a couple of lengthy delays as game officials reviewed video tape, and a 20-minute suspension of play when rain and lightning swept off the desert to bathe the stadium in a flash storm. But just as he had done when he was named the league’s top player in 2013, Tulysse provided the night’s most memorable pyrotechnics.

In fact, league officials had just settled on naming Dubai’s Davion Miller as the championship game’s most-valuable player – the American tailback rushed for 104 yards – when Tulysse turned the game around with a slick play on an even slicker field.

“I have been living here awhile, and I have never seen it rain that hard before,” Miller said.

Abu Dhabi’s hard reign continues, too, and Tulysse’s fingerprints are again all over the distinctive falcon championship trophy. After a regular season ruined by a nagging ankle injury, which resulted in the team’s underwhelming 3-3 record, Tulysse scored three times in the league semi-finals two weeks ago. It did not take long for him to underscore his value in the league final, either.

Occasionally lining up at quarterback for the Wildcats, who have struggled to pass the ball consistently all season, Tulysse threw a 17-yard touchdown pass for a 7-0 lead in the first half.

Just as crucial, though, was the heady play he made moments before authoring the game-deciding score. After a 20-minute delay prompted by lightning in the area, Dubai receiver Jeff Nicolson scored on the first play after the game resumed to give the Stallions a 13-7 lead with eight minutes left. Nicolson, who played for Abu Dhabi’s undefeated title team last year, had never played on team that had lost an EAFL game. The streak was about to end.

On the third play of Abu Dhabi’s ensuing possession, Daniels threw a pass over the middle that was intercepted by Dubai’s Ziad Choueiri, who ran forward a few steps, then fumbled. Of course, Tulysse was there to fall on the loose ball at the Abu Dhabi 34-yard line, giving the Wildcats another chance. Three plays later, he scored on the slashing, decisive toss play.

All game, the Dubai defence had stacked eight and nine defenders along the line, knowing that Tulysse was the biggest threat on the field. Tulysse knew that would be the defensive plan, though he finally found a crack in the defence.

“There were no secrets,” Tulysse said.

There were a few more surprises remaining. With the score tied 13-13 after his scoring run, Tulysse was flagged for excessive celebration in the end zone, which meant that kicker David Brown’s fairly routine point-after kick would instead become a 34-yard boot on a rain-soaked field. Worse, because of confusion over the penalty particulars and where to spot the ball, he had to stand around for almost 10 minutes as the referees looked at a video replay in the press box.

Brown, a native of Scotland who had not played American football before this season, was getting more and more stressed as the time passed.

“It was getting worse and worse, the longer the time it was taking,” he said.

One thought kept circulating through the former rugby player’s head: “Just get it between the uprights.”

He did just that, and like the uprights, Abu Dhabi was still standing tall, hoisting the championship trophy for the second time in as many years of league existence. All told, it was a wet-and-wild, 3 1/2-hour marathon.

“Yeah, but it was worth it,” Abu Dhabi Coach Charles Gillespie said.

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