Three touchdowns from Will Hussey highlighted a fantastic team performance from the Phoenix,who out-lasted the four-time national champions as they secured their first ever trip to the national championship game.
The game began with the home team on their heels, as Great Britain international running back Dwayne Watson led the Warriors down the field with a 58 yard run down the sideline. The Phoenix defense dug in, before succumbing to a fourth down touchdown from one yard out.
The Phoenix weren’t phased, as the special teams answered right back, with Will Husseyreturning the kick off deep into Warriors territory. Four plays later, the scores were equal, as quarterback Pat Daley found receiver Ben Burslem in the end zone for the score.
Tamworth’s defense shut down the Warriors on their next drive, with linebackers Ben Davies and Nelson Charles-Nwufoh making key stops, forcing London to punt the ball away.
The home side made the most of the possession, as on the very next play from scrimmage, Daleyfound a streaking Hussey down the sideline for a 76 yard touchdown. Alex Lenkowski made the extra point attempt, and the Phoenix lead 14-7.
Once again, the Phoenix defense dug in against a much larger and physical offensive line, and despite Warriors quarterback Jerome Allen finding James Cherry and Ian Jacquet on successive throws, the GB Lions quarterback was being hurried every time he dropped back to throw. The pressure eventually told, as defensive end Will Stone brought pressure off the edge and knocked the ball out which was gratefully scooped up by Wayne Drew to give the Phoenix the ball back.
Tamworth running backs Deji Alli and Adam Hope couldn’t find any space, on the next possession, so the teams traded possessions, and following another good defensive series, the Phoenix had the ball back with good field position.
Daley, who finished the day with 21 completions from 27 attempts for 279 yards, was instrumental in the following drive, as he lead his team down the field, eating up chunks of yards as the Warriorscouldn’t match the speed of the Phoenix. A James Hossack grab was followed by a Burslem run and as Daley scrambled out of the pocket to give the Phoenix excellent field position, the home side were in the ascendancy.
On the 12th play of the drive, Daley found his man alone in the end zone, and rifled the ball to the hands of Hussey for their second – and the Phoenix’s third – touchdown of the day. Lenkowski split the uprights, and Tamworth had the lead, 21-7.
More determined running from Adam Hope, and a key 3rd down scamper from Daley on the following drive put Tamworth in a great scoring position, and offensive coordinator Dan Smith was rewarded for his faith in the team, as Ben Burslem caught the touchdown on 4th down to expand the lead further.
The London Warriors are seasoned campaigners, and winners of the past four national championships, and they exploded back into life on the following drive, with Dwain Watsonbreaking five tackles on the way to a 45 yard gain. Allen then found Jacquet before he hit James Cherry on a 22 yard scoring pass. The kick from Jacquet was good, reducing the deficit to 28-14.
London scored again on their next possession, and looked dangerous going into the half. Allenand Watson found their rhythm behind an oppressive offensive line, and a tiring, undersized Tamworth team were tiring fast. The score at half-time was 28-21.
The third quarter ebbed and flowed as both teams battled to get ascendancy, as neither offenses could quite find the knockout punch. The deadlock was finally broken by the London Warriors, as they scored late in the third quarter, but crucially missed the extra point, meaning that Tamworthwere still in the lead 28-27.
The Phoenix offense went back to work, and whilst they could eat big chunks out of the Warriorsdefense, they couldn’t figure out a way to breach the visitors defenses. A promising drive was snuffed out, and head coach Martin Hilton elected to go for the field goal, which extended the lead 31-27.
The Phoenix defense found a second wind, and started to knock the Warriors back, and the pressure told as Andy Mortimer dislodged the ball from Dwain Watson, and safety Oli Campbellwas glad to pounce on the fumble, giving the ball back to Daley and the offensive unit.
The Warriors defense had also found a way to move through the gears, and the spaces that were open before, were quickly being shut down. Daley narrowly missed an outstretched Marcus Boswell, before hitting Ben Burlsem just short of the yard marker, and the Nix had to punt the ball away as the quarter came to a close.
The Warriors managed to make work of a short field, with Watson peeling off back-to-back 12 yards runs, before Allen found Cherry to bring the Warriors into scoring territory. Despite three physical downs of football, the visitors punched the ball home from one yard out. Watson giving London the lead for the first time, 31-34.