A precision offense that rarely turned the ball over and an aggressive defense that allowed the fewest points in the league made the London Monarchs the best team in the World League of American Football in the regular season. Forgetting how to play that way for 20 minutes against the New York-New Jersey Knights in the playoffs very nearly cost the Monarchs (10-1) a trip home for the World Bowl next weekend against Barcelona (9-2).
The Monarchs rallied from an early 17-point deficit to salvage their first World League of American Football season on Sunday as Stan Gelbaugh passed for 391 yards and five touchdowns to lead London to a 42-26 victory over the Knights at Giants Stadium.
"Stan Gelbaugh is a great quarterback and a tough, tough competitor," London coach Larry Kennan said. "You can't get him down. I knew if we fell behind, we could come back."
The Monarchs didn't make life easy on themselves as three blown coverages in the secondary led to two Jeff Graham touchdown passes to Kip Lewis and a 17-0 Knights lead early in the second quarter.
"I thought we'd continue to bury them at that point," Knights coach Mouse Davis said. "But a few calls got them back in it on a touchdown drive. Still we had our chances."
The Monarchs, who won all three games with the Knights (5-6) this season, didn't take the lead for good until Gelbaugh hit Pat Davis with a 1-yard touchdown pass early in the third quarter for a 21-20 lead.
Gelbaugh, who completed 25 of 41 passes but also threw three interceptions, added a 68-yard scoring strike to a jumping Jon Horton later in the quarter for a 28-20 advantage.
New York-New Jersey, which had numerous chances to tie the game or take the lead, drew within 28-26 on a 6-yard touchdown run by Eric Wilkerson with 6:04 left in the third quarter. However, Graham failed to hit Lonnie Turner on a two-point conversion try.
A fumble by Graham on a snap at the London 26 with eight minutes to play killed one drive and Corris Ervin intercepted a Graham pass at the Monarchs 5 with 3:38 to play.
"We were just one or two plays away from winning it and going to the World Bowl," said Graham, who completed 19 of 35 passes for 399 yards, with three interceptions. He also was sacked nine times.
Gelbaugh then wrapped up the game with a 78-yard scoring pass to Horton, who had eight receptions for 225 yards. Gelbaugh also had TD passes of 6 yards to Andre Riley and 21 to Judd Garrett in the first half. David Smith added a 3-yard TD run with 51 seconds left.