BAFA National Leagues Under 17 National Plate 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 Plate finals kick off at 1030 at the Sheffield Hallam University Sports Park ahead of the National Championship tournament and see either teams who finished either second or third in their respective conferences 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

NEAAFNorth East Academy of American Football (NEAAF) Ravens

Season so far: 2nd Place North East Conference, 9-2-1

Top seed heading into the National Plate tournament is an impressive feat for any squad – even more so when you consider this year is the NEAAF’s rookie campaign!

And yet, if you speak with their players and coaches, there’s actually an air of disappointment that they didn’t achieve even more – their sights firmly set on competing for a Britbowl title this season, they were painfully lacking in personnel heading into their final tournament – seeing the previously undefeated Ravens fall to a 1-2 record in their finals three fixtures.

Hoping to have most of their roster returned to them for finals day, the Academy should be considered top contenders for the Plate title not just based off their #1 seeding, but also thanks to some of the core playmakers their roster boasts:

The highly talented Taylor Walton plays both sides of the ball to a high level and has bust some huge plays this season, while the core of the Ravens defence is their player known as ‘The Stack’ – defensive lineman Adam Heywood should offer all sorts of problems to opponents this Saturday!

Round One Opponent: Black Country Vipers

#2 Seed

Exiles OutlawsKent Exiles Outlaws

Season so far: 2nd Place South East Conference, 8-3-1

Something of a surprise attendee (and in the #2 seed no less!) expectations were that the Kent Exiles’ expansion side, the Outlaws, might take some time to get up to speed with the pace of the full contact Under 17s game.

Indeed, starting their year out 1-2, including being forced to concede at the half versus the dominant-looking East Kent Mavericks, in their first tourney was hardly the most promising start to the year for the Exiles… and yet, perhaps it was just the weathering the roster needed to mature their playmakers and spark a strong season down the stretch!

They’d follow up this opening tourney disappointment with two straight undefeated tournaments, where tough defence was key to their success – typically holding opponents to a score or less in many of their outings through their final three tournaments.

A big part of this, in more ways than one, has been the play of Nose Tackle Jess Ferguson, who the Exiles are already excited to see making the transition to their Under 19’s roster next season.

Offensively, Lineman Nathan Farmer has been key to the Outlaws grinding out wins in a competitive conference, while wideout Callum O’Neill provides the big play potential.

Their biggest frustration, perhaps as to be expected, has been the number of missed opportunities for games that plagued the South East this year –  the Outlaws awarded two walkover wins they’d much rather have fought out, meaning they enter this plate tourney with a few less games under the belt than many of their opponents.

Round One Opponent: Solent Academy Seahawks.

#3 Seed

Burnley TornadoesBurnley Tornados

Season so far: 2nd Place North Conference, 8-3-1

Picking up a draw against the Titans Southern side in their opening tournament, it’s likely the Tornados will feel unfortunate to not be competing in the Britbowl Tournament this Saturday.

The 25-25 tie against the Titans shows that, when they play to their potential, the Tornadoes have the talent to compete with any and all!

Hailing from the very competitive Northern conference, the Tornadoes season has been a mixed bag of dominant wins, mixed with some very closely fought fixtures: five of their wins coming by a score or less, but also coming far closer than any others to besting the otherwise undefeated North Champions, the Titans!

Perhaps the most impressive part of Burnley’s season was their play down the stretch – they entered their final two tournaments with a roster of only twelve active players, over half of whom were rookies, and yet still managed to hold off a late-season push from the Chorley Buccaneers to clinch themselves a postseason berth!

Hoping to have a more healthy sized roster entering the National Plate tournament, the likely key to their success is getting their offence playing up to potential.

Certainly, when their playmakers fine their groove the Tornados have blown away opposition: running back Oliver Norwood rushing for over 550yds in a single tournament, while Tom Doherty has a nose for the endzone – finding paydirt 19 times in three tourneys played!

Standout rookie playmaker, George Nicholson Wilson, is epitomising perfect tackling technique, alongside defensive standouts Rob Welti, Khan Durnall and Shane Thompson – who’s racked up fifteen sacks on the year coming into this final tourney!

Round One Opponent: Tamworth Phoenix

#4 Seed

Highland WIldcatsHighland Wildcats

Season so far: 2nd Place Scottish Conference, 8-4-0

Perennial Powerhouses in the development game, the Highland Wildcats are always contenders to hoist some silverware.

This Saturday they return to defend their National Plate title, and considering the only losses they’ve taken on the year so far have been against the defending Britbowl Champions, the East Kilbride Pirates? It’d not seem wise to bet against the Wildcats repeating their title!

Early season injuries hurt the Wildcats before they even really got their campaign underway – losing their first and second string running backs for the season in the preseason and opening tournament. As such the backfield development of Rory Grant and Alex Paterson has been all the more impressive – thrown in at the deep end the running back tandem have racked up the yards and scores this season.

Quarterback James Maclean has matured into a leadership role on the Wildcats roster, and similarly Nose Tackle Cameron Forte has stepped up to lead a defence that held their to typically only one or two scores per fixture – and that includes holding the Britbowl winning Pirates to only 12 points in the second meeting between the two sides!

Having played the same three opponents all year long, it’ll be a big mix up for the Highlanders heading to Sheffield, but if recent titles have shown anything (Highland and East Kilbride snatching the majority of silverware available in the U17s/U19s game in recent seasons) it’s that the Scots should be ones to watch this weekend!

Round One Opponent: London Blitz

#5 Seed

London BlitzLondon Blitz

Season so far: 2nd Place London Conference, 8-4-0

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It was a year of ebbs and flows for the Blitz, with surprise losses sat alongside impressive, resilient, victories.

Considering the talent at play in their conference, a winning record at all is something to boast of, and in fact the Blitz improved on their 7-5 record from 2016, in what by all accounts was an even more impressive line-up of rivals in their London conference.

Shootouts have been a key feature of the Blitz’s season – whether it be losing in the closing seconds of their opening tournament against the Hertfordshire Cheetahs, or holding off a strong second half comeback to take victory against their programme’s top rival – the London Warriors, to clinch a 38-34 win.

A key to their success has been their dynamic offence that only the Exile Rebels really seemed to have an answer to during the regular season – QB Marco Livi has been throwing darts all season long to large and talented receiving corps.

Round One Opponent: Highland Wildcats

#6 Seed

Tamworth PhoenixTamworth Phoenix

Season so far: 2nd Place Central Conference, 7-4-1

The Phoenix edged their way into the number two spot in the incredibly hard-fought central conference thanks to the most narrow of points margins – but indeed that kinda resilience has been the key to the Tamworth side’s success this season – narrow wins, narrow losses, but always picking themselves up and playing tough, hard-hitting football!

A core reason the Phoenix have been able to battle through to a National Plate berth is thanks to the leadership of veteran players on the roster – Quarterback Luke Fearn and Strong Safety Billy Elliot have led by example all season long.

Development has also played a key role in the Phoenix pulling off some of their best performances in the heart of the season – including running the undefeated Lions within a score and besting the former conference champs, the Birmingham Bulls, in every meeting between the two sides.

Rookies George Suffolk and Scott Lyness have particularly impressed at Linebacker and Wide Receiver respectively, while former Leicester Falcons RB, Al’Nas Abrams, and Defensive Lineman, Daniel Froggatt, have developed well into new roles

Round One Opponent: Burnley Tornados

#7 Seed

SOlent SeahawksSolent Academy  Seahawks

Season so far: 3rd Place South Conference, 9-2-1

It says a lot about the talent that the Seahawks have to offer that despite coming in as a third place outfit, their record betters that of many of the second place teams entering the National Plate tournament!

Indeed, they’re one of only three programmes in the Plate contest that can boast going toe to toe with Britbowl-calibre teams and coming out pretty much even-stevens – holding he Conference Champs, Cobham Cougars Blue, to a draw at the second time of asking, while missing out against the second-place Buckinghamshire Wolves by only a single point early in the season.

Indeed to Head Coach Russ Hewitt the development of the roster has been clearly visible, leading up to the Seahawks putting in a dominant 3-0 performance in their home tournament!

Core to the Seahawks success has been the leadership from the team captains, both on and off the field.

Quarterback and Captain Louis Benzy heads up a talented offence that really seemed to find its form as the season went on – putting in its biggest performances in the final two tournaments.

Similarly, Linebacker and Captain Toby Naylor has led the Seahawks defence to hold some of the top offences in the league to their lowest outputs.

Solent have worked hard to try to ensure as much of their roster as possible got game time this year, which alongside plans for a camp day to prep ahead of this crunch-time tourney means their full roster depth should be ready and raring to go come Saturday – including their wide breadth of standout players on both sides of the ball (including LB Rowan Milner, Defensive Backs Sam Gee, Andrew Banda & Kieron Johnson, plus Defensive Tackle Oliver Raven, while on offence Wideouts James Rooney & Jack Pear, RBs Dominic DeMonte, Scott Olive, Joshua Scott, Centre Aaron Smith & Tight End Mike Stringer – Coach Hewitt had a lot of praise to go around!)

Despite their low seeding, don’t be surprised to see the Seahawks competing right into the late stages of this weekend’s tournament!

Round One Opponent: Kent Exiles Outlaws

#8 Seed

Black Country VipersBlack Country Vipers

Season so far: 3rd Place Central Conference, 7-4-1

And the 8th team rounding out the postseason contenders is the Black Country Vipers who had to wait until the very final day of the year to learn whether they’d made it to playoff balling!

Narrowly missing out on the number two spot in their own conference by a mere 5 points in the head to head (having gone 1-1-1 against the talented Tamworth Phoenix) the Vipers nervously awaited the South East Conference results in late July to learn they had edged out the Essex Spartans into the final postseason berth – an impressive achievement in the midlands’ outfits rookie season, and especially when entering the hotly contested Central Conference!

Head Coach Tom Edmonds couldn’t be prouder of his players in their very first season in the league – noting that making it to the National Plate tournament reflects the very special group of players the Vipers roster boasts.

It’s telling that the Vipers came closer than any others to besting the undefeated Birmingham Lions during the regular season – missing out on breaking the Lions unbeaten streak only thanks to a final-seconds hail-mary score from the conference champs – but perhaps their most impressive achievement was opening the year 3-0 in their home tournament – a statement performance that turned heads across the Under 17’s game!

As ever, Coach Edmonds emphasised it’s been a united team effort for the Vipers to come this far, but particularly highlighted ironmen Louis Gallagher and Kieran Roberts-Woodall who’ve made big players all season long on both sides of the ball.

Noted by opponents this season for their physicality, the Vipers have a lot of dual eligibility athletes and so few groups of players can boast having as much balling under their belts this summer as the Black Country players – on offence Arran Hudson, Josh Hunt, Michael Brown, Cy Roche and Kian Whitely can all be counted on to make big plays, while on D Joe Coleman, Ethan Sin, Theo Eddy, Max Reynolds and  Jack Marks are big hitters to watch out for.

Round One Opponent: NEAAF Ravens

 


And there you have it, the best young ballers of the Britball Nation will head to Sheffield this Saturday, and certainly we’re not brave enough to make bets on who will emerge triumphant – are you?

Why not let us know which young teams you think will be hoisting silverware in either the Plate or Britbowl tourneys in the comments down below?

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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