It’s the big one this weekend, as the BAFA National Leagues showpiece event sees Tamworth Phoenix face London Blitz to crown the #BritbowlXXXI champions! Months of training, film, and slogging it with their conference opponents has led to this moment….
Tamworth Phoenix vs London Blitz
Tamworth make it to the dance for the first time in their relatively short history. Since their promotion to the top tier following the Division One final in 2010, the ‘Nix have made playoffs every year, steadily growing and becoming the number one team in the Midlands. Now they have their sights on becoming the number one team in the country.
It’s crazy to think that just three years ago, Tamworth Phoenix were on the brink of folding. But Head Coach Martin Hilton stepped in to his role and alongside other individuals committed to the cause, not only kept the club going, but continued to push forward. Since taking the helm, Coach Hilton has overseen a regular season record of 28-2, with the last regular season defeat coming against East Kilbride Pirates on 1 August 2015.
However, for all their dominance in the Premier North, the Phoenix would almost always come unstuck as soon as the post-season came around. Back in 2014, when it seemed half the top flight qualified for post-season football, Tamworth defeated Bristol Aztecs 20-10 in the quarter-final before suffering a big 41-14 loss away to the London Warriors who went on to win the National Championship. In 2015, with just the top two from each Premier conference qualifying for the post-season, it was a much tighter affair as Tamworth lost again to the Warriors, this time 14-9.
It was a different semi-final opponent in 2016, as Tamworth were crowned Premier North champions and earned a home semi-final clash against the second placed London Blitz from the Premier South, but the ‘Nix were outclassed in a thumping 12-41 defeat.
Another perfect regular season in 2017, Tamworth again dominated their conference correspondents. Under the guidance of Coach Dan Smith, the offense has been scoring for fun, with Tamworth averaging 49.4 points per game in the Premier North. Uniball and National Leagues veteran RB Adam Hope has battered his way through opposing defenses, with Elliot Walters picking up a number of scores on the ground too (and perhaps more proudly, being mentioned in every single prediction piece this season…). There’s also the small matter of former London Blitz RB Deji Ali, too. And that’s not even the entire stable of running backs at Tamworth’s disposal.
Through the air, QB Pat Daley has been a revelation all season. Oscar Russell – from University of Birmingham Lions – has ably stepped in when given game time, too. Star receivers James Hossack, Marcus ‘Patches’ Boswell and Will Hussey have been burning opposing defenses throughout the campaign – the latter two even seeing some time at DB on the final Warriors drive in the semi-final.
Speaking of defenses…DC Jason Scott has put together one of the most talented defensive units in the country in his time with the ‘Nix.
Jason Scott is one of the best coaches in the UK and having him build the defense that’s been our calling card has set the platform for what we do – Head Coach Martin Hilton
Giving up on average less than eight points per game (7.9), the ‘Nix defense – led by stalwart Stephen Gregory and Wayne Drew on the defensive line – shutout three opponents during the season and restricted the potent Nighthawks offense to just three points in the regular season finale.
Linebackers Jake Harbon and Raphael Omozusi – who scored the ‘Nix’s first defensive touchdown on a fumble recovery against the Pirates – are hard-hitters on the front seven, whilst CB Dan Hampton provides experience to a ball-hawking secondary that includes former Coventry Jet Oli Campbell at safety.
For the Blitz, this is what, the twelfth successive Britbowl? Head Coach Damian Anderson leads his side in to yet another final, but things couldn’t be more different this time around. Having squared off against the London Warriors the last few years, Coach Anderson faces a new final foe in the Phoenix. Although they have recent history having defeated Tamworth in the semi-final last season, the Blitz squad has changed somewhat since then.
In an interview for DB Dotun Ademiju’s #BritbowlXXXI blog, Coach Anderson confirmed that roughly 18 starters or big game contributors had left the 2016 squad entering the new campaign. This forced some of the rookies and younger players to step up to the level expected when playing for the side.
Still, a number of veterans returned for another campaign that saw the Blitz finish as Premier South champions with a 9-1 record, with the only defeat coming in the second of three games against the Warriors in early July. They avenged that defeat with a convincing display four weeks later, beating the Warriors on their own turf, 40-21.
QB Joe Thompson led Offensive Coordinator Stuart Miller’s unit to 39.8 points per game. Behind veterans Alex Davies, Olly Sunmola and Matt Meyer on the offensive line, the running back group of Temi Oduyemi, Dwight Caulker, Glen Toonga and Gabriel Quartey produced a punishing ground game all season long.
On the other side of the ball, Defensive Coordinator Duncan Burnford has assembled a unit that includes Ronel Daley-Thomas, Jamie Charles and Deejay Ogunkolati on the defensive line, Eddie Cheadle at linebacker and a scarily talented secondary including Enoch Hankomno, Jose van Oosten, Dotun Ademiju and Dimeji Ademiju.
In an interview with Double Coverage ahead of the final, Coach Anderson was asked which coach(es) he admired the most;
If we were to keep it closer to home and BAFA, then I’d say I admire the coaches I coach with currently, as I know how many hours they put into preparation. Duncan and Stuart Miller put a helluva lot of time and effort into preparing our team and making my job a lot easier.
Based on the respective seasons to date, we expect both Tamworth Phoenix and London Blitz to put on an incredible show at #BritbowlXXXI!
It looks like #TeamDC are leaning towards the Blitz being crowned champions for the first time since 2012. With 8 votes in favour of the London side, our writers believe the Britbowl experience of the Blitz will win out over the ‘Nix, who pick up four votes. Either way, we’re expecting a great game!