Saturday sees Show Bowl return to Derby as the Braves take on Varsity rivals, the Lincoln Colonials. A large crowd is expected to turn up to cheer on the Braves as they look to cement themselves as playoff candidates for the second year running whilst the Colonials will be geared up to put one over their old foes.
The Braves will be full of confidence after their recent home win over rookie team, the Coventry University Jets. The Jets tasted defeat for the first time as they fell 32-24 to the Derby Braves in their debut road game. The Jets knew that the 2-1 Braves would pose a sterner test than their two previous contests even though their most recent result was 35-0 mauling at the hands of last year’s runner up, the Loughborough Aces.
Rookie Jets Head Coach Adam O’Reilly saw his team make the perfect start as Chris Hobbs returned the opening kickoff 80 yards for a score and a 6-0 lead. Right tackle Jacques Wood’s key block sprang the speedy running back, who missed the previous game through injury, and allowed him to gallop untouched into the endzone. The extra point conversion failed after a bad snap, thwarting Coventry’s attempt to extend their early advantage.
Derby responded well, driving down inside the Jets’ 10 yard line only to be stopped short by a magnificent goal line stand. The jubilation on Coventry’s sideline was short-lived however as their offence took over in the shadow of their own goal posts and proceeded to gift their hosts two points on a safety with another botched snap. The Braves seized momentum and began to pound away with fullback dives and halfback toss plays to add two more scores for a 16-6 lead. The Jets continued to move the ball well and managed a response before the half, quarterback Josh Randall hooked up with receiver Steven Bryan for a 15 yard touchdown and Josh Hughes added the PAT to make it 13-16 Derby at the half.
Receiving the ball at the start of the second half, the Braves mounted an impressive scoring drive to extend their lead back to two scores at 24-13. Jets’ kicker Josh Hughes booted an impressive first field goal from 44 yards out to pull his team back within eight as Coventry’s defence began to exert some pressure. Even though defensive Captain Michael Billinghurst was carried from the field with a suspected spinal injury, Alex Clarke, Aniteye Plahar and Aaron Haslam all found big plays, picking off Braves’ veteran quarterback Peter Ashenden.
As Coventry’s offence began to labour though, their defence finally cracked and the Braves managed to re-establish their power running game to find the endzone once again. The plucky Jets refused to lie down though and Randall once again hit Bryan for their second touchdown of the afternoon making it 32-24 as Randall was successful with a two point conversion, Kieran Munnelly his target this time.
Coach O’Reilly showed faith in his defence getting him the ball back and decided against the onside kick. “Our defence gave a great showing today, they’re improving as a unit all the time” said O’Reilly, whose faith was rewarded as Plahar came up with a fumble recovery in Braves’ territory. Coventry had a final chance to take the game into overtime but couldn’t convert as they turned the ball straight back over to Derby who were able to run down the clock.
“I’m very disappointed to have lost the game” stated O’Reilly on the day “but I’m very pleased with the performance we gave. We’d added a few new plays over the break and the offence went out today and executed them very well, they’re starting to gel and if we continue to play like that we’ll have a good season. We were always in the game today, all three units saw to that. Our receivers, as a group, put on a real show today and will continue to improve as the season goes on.
As Derby’s attention moves toward Show Bowl up next for the Jets are the Warwick Wolves in Coventry’s Varsity match. The game will be played at the Wolves’ Westwood Sports Centre with a 12:00 kick off and should prove to be a real grudge match between two sides that know each other very well. No fewer than 10 Jets players previously wore the red and black of Warwick as did three of their coaches. The links don’t end there though, Jets offensive co-ordinator Graham Huber previously worked as Head Coach of the Wolves.
Coventry currently sit sixth in the British Universities American Football League’s Midland Athletic Conference with the Wolves lying one place below. O’Reilly won’t be looking to do his former team any favours “They’ve not scored in two of their games so far this year and we’ll be looking to continue that run and shut them out. We set out this year with the aim of winning as many games as possible and we’re progressing nicely. Making the Challenge Trophy playoffs would be an incredible achievement for a first year programme and whilst there’s still a long way to go we’ve put ourselves in with a shout”.
This weekend the MAC also sees the Lions back in league action for the first time this year as they host the Worcester Royals. Their Championship rivals from last year the Loughborough Aces host the Sheffield Sabres from the Northern Conference. City rivals, the Nottingham Outlaws and the NTU Renegades will go head to head in their Varsity game on Super Bowl Sunday – a game previewed elsewhere on this site. The Stallions’ game at Tarannau has been called off due to heavy rain.
As Varsity match ups go, Lincoln at Derby follows has a lot to live up to as it follows hot on the heels of last week’s hotly contested game between the Falcons and the Chargers
In what was a warm-up to the official Varsity Game that will take place later on in the year, the two Canterbury-based teams faced off in their first games of 2011 in an exciting encounter.
The game started with the Chargers receiving the football and after a 1st down on the first offensive play, penalties and a Russell Jordan sack put the Chargers on 4th down.
The Falcons first play from scrimmage was also a first down, after a 11 yard run from rookie Running Back Sam Peters enjoying his first start of the season. The offensive drive faltered after and both teams exchanged punts.
The deadlock was broken halfway through the first quarter after a solid offensive drive placed the Falcons at the Chargers 15 yard line. Navigating his way through the Chargers defensive backfield, Team Captain Russell Jordan beat double coverage to bring in Brendan Spangler's accurate pass for the first score of the game. The two point conversion was no good. The first quarter finished 6-0 to the Falcons.
The Falcons defence continued to pressure the Chargers offence into mistakes but the Chargers Quarterback; Josh Adamson, frequently ran bootlegs to his advantage and often sought out his favourite target; ex-Falcon Tight End Greg Mutyambizi.
WR/LB Jordan ended a good Chargers drive with a well executed interception and the offence quickly followed this with a passing touchdown from QB Spangler to WR Lukas Koterec to take the score to 12-0. The 2 point conversion was again no good.
The Falcons defence looked to end the half without conceding a point and was given a break when a 60 yard Mutyambizi reverse was called back for holding. QB Adamson scrambled for 30 yards to keep the drive alive before a second sack by Jordan put the Chargers near midfield. On the next play, Adamson lofted a Hail Mary which was batted down by the Falcons secondary straight into Mutyambizi's hands who ran a further 20 yards for the touchdown. The extra point was no good to bring the half to a close at 12-6.
The second half started brighter with both teams offenses moving the ball solidly. The Falcons had three opportunities to increase their lead but failed to capatilise. Two deep passes for sure touchdowns were dropped before a Spangler QB Sneak for a touchdown was called back on an alignment penalty.
Heading towards the end of the final quarter, the game looked to finish closer than a lot of spectators anticipated. Veteran Running Back Zach Toogood took a carry off tackle to scamper in for a 15 yard touchdown. Jordan hauled in the 2 point conversion to take the score to 20-6.
The game was far from over however, when Adamson completed a deep pass down the sideline after a blown coverage by the Falcons DBs. This gave the Chargers the ball on the Falcons 2, which Adamson sneaked in to bring the score to 20-12. After the Falcons recovered the onside kick and took the necessary knees, the final whistle blew.
The Falcons now sit at 3-1 for the season with 4 games remaining, on the verge to becoming the best Falcons team ever and reaching the playoffs for the second time in their 16 year history.
In the Falcons’ next game Essex Blades once again travel to Canterbury. The Falcons will look to repeat the success they had against the Blades last time out in a 22-14 win. However, they will be wary. The Blades will still be smarting from their defeat last week to bitter rivals, the UEA Pirates and will be out to prove a point with Alex Robinson in fine form to lead the charge. His two touchdowns for 90 yards last week will make him a marked man for the Falcons’ defense whilst their offense will have been studying how UEA’s Chris Carson was able to pick his way to the line on two occasions. The Chargers meanwhile, will roll on to face the KCL Regents.
In the Thames Valley Conference two of the big guns go head to head as the Destroyers face the Redhawks. Last year both qualified for Championship playoff action and this game could go a long way in determining who comes home with the Conference title. The other team setting the pace in the Conference is the Southampton Stags. The Stags head to the grand old city of Oxford to take on the Panthers in what is going to be a tough encounter.
In the SWAC the Bath Killer Bees started 2011 with a disappointing 23-6 loss to local rivals, the UWE Bullets.
This was always going to be a difficult fixture, with UWE coming into the game undefeated and Bath missing key squad members due to the university’s inter-semester break. However despite all this Bath started the game with a big kick return by Mike Hutchinson, but the ensuing drive was stopped on 4th down around the UWE 25. UWE didn’t do much on their first drive either, and the 1st quarter that lasted only 15 plays finished 0-0.
The 2nd quarter was more like one-way traffic, with UWE driving down the field but finally settling for a field goal after some strong Bees defense. Mike Hutchinson came up with another long return on the kickoff, and the Bees drove well until Chris Jones, playing his first game at QB since last season, was picked off at the goal line. The Bullets again drove well and capped it off with a long TD pass. The Bees offense struggled again on their next possession, eventually punting the ball back to UWE. The Bullets then quickly scored another TD on a blown coverage, but the snap on the extra point was fumbled by the holder and recovered by Anders Bengtson to make the score 16-0 at half time.
The 3rd quarter was quick and uneventful, with no further scoring by either side. However the game came to life again in the 4th, with a fairly innocuous run up the middle by UWE suddenly breaking open for a TD run of over 60 yards. The extra point was good, making it 23-0.
With the game all but over, Bath showed great resilience to get on the scoreboard. A drive full of short, precise passes by Jones ended in a 10 yard TD pass to James Samuel, which was greeted by rapturous applause from the Bees sideline after an afternoon of offensive frustration. Samuel had an opportunity to catch the two-point conversion as well, but couldn’t quite hold onto the ball. Mike Hutchinson then went for an audacious onside kick, which was recovered by Gordon Cheung to give Bath’s offense one more drive. Unfortunately for the Bees, the 24 seconds left on the clock did not allow enough time for any more scoring and the game finished 23-6.
Offensive MVP for Bath went to WR James Samuel, who was a threat all over the field and caught 6 passes for 43 yards and a TD. Defensive MVP went for the second time this season to DE Tom Owen, who kept good outside contain all game long and had two sacks and a forced fumble on the day. Unusually, an overall team MVP was also awarded. This went to QB Chris Jones, who replaced the Bees’ usual starter Aaron Linley extremely well and made some fantastic throws into tight coverage.
Although the scoreline looks lopsided, the game was a very close one and the Bees have Bees are now looking forward to their long trip to Aberystwyth on the 13th of February to see if they can improve to 3-1.
The Cuda kept pace with the Bullets in the Conference after seeing off the undefeated Demons whilst the Cobras fired back into playoff contention with a victory over the Plymouth Blitz. Their game today against the rookie Gladiators could prove crucial as they look to string a run of results together which will see them consolidate there position.
The Northern Conference sees a titanic clash as Carnegie face the Celtics with both trying to make up ground on the Warriors and the Bombers. The Centurions will be hoping that they still remember what a ball looks like as they make a long delayed return after a run of postponements against a dangerous Sharks outfit. Elsewhere its a must-win game for the Hawks and the Tyrants if either wishes to continue their season with knock-out football.
In the Border Conference the Saints face the seemingly unstoppable Raiders and the Predators have an equally unenviable task against the Tigers. Back in Newcastle on Sunday, the Mustangs host the Spartans on Sunday in a massive Tyne / Wear derby.