BAFA National Leagues Under 17 Britbowl Preview

The Under 17’s National Plate and Britbowl tournaments get underway this weekend, seeing sixteen teams descend on one location in what should be an absolute extravaganza of Britball!

The National Championship Britbowl Tournament  kicks off at 1500 at the Sheffield Hallam University Sports Park following completion of the National Plate tournament and sees the seven conference champions, as well as the top second place team across the league, take to the Gridiron in some five on five full contact action!

Full details of the day can be found in the BAFA official tournament Schedule: U17 Championship and Plate Finals 2017

Ahead of the tournaments getting underway, let’s take a look at each of the teams taking part, how their seasons have gone so far, and which ballers to look out for on Saturday!

#1 Seed

Exiles RebelsKent Exiles Rebels

Season so far: 1st Place London Conferece, 12-0-0.

Emerging undefeated from what is likely the toughest conference in the Britball Nation, the Rebels battled through a number of  hard fought contests to earn the number one seed going into the Britbowl Tournament. They best the London Warriors, unlucky to have missed out on playoff football themselves, by only a single point on two occasions, proving the Rebels are capable of battling through the tough match ups to earn the Ws.

Quarterbacks George Reynolds and Sam Pantlin provide a one-two punch under centre and Wide Receiver Connor Gannon has racked up the points this season, proving the effectiveness of the Exiles’ passing game.

However, the key to their #1 seeding has been a resilient defence. Nose Tackle Sean Lewis has been outstanding all season long – his ability to control the centre of the field sees him headed to the outstanding Filton Pride football programme next season – and Linebacker Harrison Hill has been a tackling machine!

Though their twelve game season the Rebels managed three shut outs, four single-score-conceded games, and so far this year are yet to concede more than two TDs in any fixture – an incredible achievement that earned them the #1 seeding.

Their accomplishments are made all the more impressive when you consider this is the first year the Exiles have entered two teams into the Under 17s league, spreading their eggs amongst two very successful baskets so far!

Round One Fixture: vs Buckinghamshire Wolves

#2 Seed

EKPEast Kilbride Pirates

Season so far: 1st Place Scottish Conference, 12-0-0

The 2016 Britbowl Champions return to the tournament to defend their title, and this time they enter the finals off the back of a perfect season!

In the undersized Scots conference they knew their biggest threat was always going to be from the perennial development ball powerhouse, the Highland Wildcats, but this year the Pirates established themselves as the top scots with four straight wins over their longtime rivals, including making history with their first away victory over the ‘Cats in their own stomping ground.

When asked for their key playmakers, the Pirates played coy with us, and perhaps rightly emphasised that this season’s success has been a full team effort.

Again, the key to their strong seeding has to be the defence, conceding precisely 100 points across the twelve-game season, including an impressive three shutouts and only conceding more than two scores on two occasions.

Round One Opponent: vs Leeds Academy Assassins

#3 Seed

EKMEast Kent Mavericks

Season so far: 1st Place South East Conference, 12-0-0

The Mavericks boast one of the most dominant seasons of our conference Champions, no opponent coming within a score of them in any of their fixtures this year. Coach Ray Allen‘s side held the top seed through the majority of the U17  season, before a flurry of scores conceded in their final tourney, combined with a few too many walkover wins against their troubled conference rivals, saw them slip to the #3 seed in the final week of their campaign.

Piling up the points this season, the Mavericks have succeeded thanks to an incredibly talented receiving corps, headed up by Adam Robinson whose gift for making grabs sees him headed to Bristol Academy this September, where he’ll join QB Alexei Maraldo and Linebacker, Joe Christian (who was also offered a spot at Clearwater Academy, Florida!).

Another spark in their on-fire offence this season, former-cornerback Liam Tucker Smyth hopped across to running back and took to it immediately – notching up 11 TDs across the final two tourneys of the Mavs’ campaign.

With the majority of their roster having two full seasons of Youth balling under the belts, East Kent have their sights set high in this tournament and have been prepping hard to avoid the ‘slow start syndrome’ that plagues many programmes in the Under 17’s game.

Round One Opponent: vs Manchester Titans

#4 Seed

LionsBirmingham Lions

Season so far: 1st Place Central Conference, 12-0-0

The Lions may have earned themselves an undefeated season, mirroring that of their Under 19 brethren, but it’s almost certain few teams have fought harder for their perfect record than the Lions.

Their season started with great gusto, three comfortable wins from their home tourney to open the year, but things quickly tightened up in the highly competitive Central Conference – four of the Lions twelve wins this season game by a score or less!

This tenacity to eek out tight wins has become the core of the Birmingham outfit, as Head Coach Justin Lester notes – the highlight of the entire season was the Lions being flagged for the whole team running to the end zone to celebrate the go ahead score with three seconds on the clock versus the Black Country Vipers – an impressive come-from-behind victory for the Lions.

Posting up hefty point tallies in each tourney, the Lions offence has spread the pigskin around with all but two offensive players finding paydirt this season – impressive considering the Lions boast one of the bigger rosters in the U17 game. That said, stand out weapon for the team has been Jeremie Kwanzambi Beni –  at only 15 and in his first year in the sport, there’s almost certainly a bright future for this young baller.

Similarly, the stand out from the defensive unit is another rookie, Alex Scott, whose developed within the Lions programme from a raw talent to a monstrous tackler – laying the boom that has allowed the Lions to out-muscle many of their opponents in clutch situations.

In only their third season hosting a youth team, it’s an achievement even making the finals for the young Lions,  however given the tenacity they’ve shown all season long? Even being the youngest roster entering the final tourney (sporting no dual eligibility players) the Lions have the talent to challenge for the top spot.

Round One Opponent: vs Cobham Cougars Blue

#5 Seed

CobhamCobham Cougars Blue

Season so far: 1st Place South Conference, 11-0-1

In their first year with two teams entering the youth game, it says a great deal about the Cougars programme that they’ve successfully fielded two rosters of 20+ players while at the same time defending their conference title!

Making it all the way to the Britbowl Final fixture in 2016, the Cougars have aspirations to go one step further this campaign – and following a dominant eleven win season, they certainly look to have the firepower to achieve their goal!

They boast the third most prolific offence across the seven conferences – particularly impressive when you note the standard of some of their conference opponents this season. The South conference is one of only two to boast three playoff teams heading into the finals and thus the Cougars can boast wins over postseason calibre opposition already this year.

They came close to surrendering their perfect season when they faced the up-and-coming Solent Seahawks for a second time this year, the 26-26 tie only possible thanks to the incredible athleticism of Cameron Sherriff, whose hurdle-for-a-TD we shared earlier this season.

Indeed, Cameron has had an all-out impressive year, alongside ballers Jacob Barlow and Max Trachtenberg. One big playmaker that will surely be missed however is Henry Ryan who took a serious knee injury this season and won’t make the finals.

With a coaching staff centred around Kingston University Cougars coaches, there’ll be a lot of familiarity with their first opponents of the day – the Birmingham Lions. With their focus firmly on taking the day a fixture at a time, will this familiarity allow the Cougars to upset the seedings?

Round One Opponent: vs Birmingham Lions

#6 Seed

TitansManchester Titans South

Season so far: 1st Place North Conference, 11-0-01

Another conference Champ with a draw the only ‘blemish’ on their otherwise perfect season, the Titans are yet another huge success story of a programme having simply too many young ballers to field a single roster.

The Southern Titan’s undefeated year was not without trials and tribulations however – alongside their tie to the impressive Burnley Tornadoes, the Titans also saw two of their early season wins come by just a single point! Edging out the Chorley Buccaneers and their Northern brethren 14-13 and 20-19 respectively.

Proven they can battle through the tough fixtures, the Titans offence has been key to keeping them ahead of the curve in a high-scoring northern conference.

Running back Tom Jones boasts a patient running style that allows him to bust big plays, while James Gordon’s cool and calm leadership at quarterback has allowed the Titans to stay in touch in the tight games. Rookie wideout Max Gracie-Ainscough has stepped up to replace graduations – making clutch grabs under pressure so far this season.

Ryan Weaver heads up a D that has kept the Titans in every game of the season, while HUDL-addict Gideon Blackstone providesthe brains of the defence, and Frazer Green the ball-hawking turnover potential!

All that said, one big frustration for the Titans coming into this tournament is that they’ll be missing a large number of their key starters. With many teams struggle to recruit sufficiently sized rosters coming into the season, this led to delays to the release of fixtures – as such the Titans will be missing fourteen players this Saturday, including key players on both sides of the ball.

Nonetheless, Head Coach Jonathon Homer says the Titans are in it to win it.

Round One Opponent: vs East Kent Mavericks

#7 Seed

AssassinsLeeds Academy Assassins

Season so far: 1st Place North East Conference, 10-1-1

The only conference champ to have suffered a loss this season, the Assassins may enter the finals as the seventh seed, but they also boast the #1  offence in the country – rounding out their year just shy of 500 points on the season!!

They kicked the year off with 61 points against the Giants, and followed this up with an unheard-of triple #50burger tourney in their second outing of the year!

Still, it’s not all been clear sailing for the Assassins, who were held to a tie in their opening tournament by the impressive rookie outfit, the North East Academy, and then subsequently fell short against the Ravens in the third tournament of the year – managing only 13 points of offence in this fixture.

That said, it shows their season-defining fortitude that when the two teams met for a final time on the last day of the regular season, the Assassins emerged with a comprehensive victory that earned them the conference title.

The team’s motto this season has been #OneTeam, so perhaps it’s not surprising that they’ve not dropped any names our way of particular players to watch out for, but considering the scorelines they’ve wracked up on the year, we expect just about every baller on the offence is worth watching out for!

Despite being seventh seed coming into this tourney and facing the defending Champs in round one, the Assassins have the offensive potential to put up big points and could yet run away from opponents in what is the first experience of a finals tourney for most of their roster.

Round One Opponent: vs East Kilbride Pirates.

#8 Seed

WolvesBuckinghamshire Wolves

Season so far: 2nd Place South Conference, 11-1-0

The only second place finisher to earn a spot in the Britbowl tourney, the Wolves will be coming in as underdogs (pun intended) but that doesn’t mean they should in any way be counted out early.

They’ve already faced postseason-calibre opposition this year, taking a win and a loss against the likes of the Solent Seahawks and Cobham Cougars respectively, so there’s every potential for the Wolves to cause some upsets this weekend.

The key to their season has been a highpowered offence – only held under 30 points in three fixtures this season, including their oh-so-narrow 22-21 victory over the Seahawks in Tournament One that would turn out to be crucial in seeing the Wolves through to the Britball tourney in a highly competitive South conference.

Sadly we didn’t hear back from the Wolves ahead of this weekend’s fixtures, so they’re something of a mystery coming into the tournament… But facing the #1 seed Rebels gives them a chance to shake things up right off the bat!

Round One Opponent: Kent Exiles Rebels

 


Speaking with coaches and seeing results across all seven conferences this season, what’s perhaps most exciting going into this one is that there’s really every chance of any of the eight teams headed to Sheffield emerging triumphant!

While it’s easy to see the Pirates retaining their title, it’s worth noting they earned it while playing from a low-seeding in 2016, so expect the unexpected this Saturday in Sheffield!

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Nick

Nick 'Willy Tee' Wilson-Town hails from the South West where he's spent the last decade bouncing around various teams at the university and senior level. He came to fame on the now departed unofficial forum thanks to his regularly irreverent Uniball predictions and general 'BUAFL wafflage'. Follow him on twitter @WillyTee1