#BNAs2017 | Underdog Victory of the Year

University of Nottingham 27-28 Leeds Beckett Carnegie (BUCS)

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Undefeated favourites for promotion, the University of Nottingham had cruised their way through the regular season. Boasting a huge roster, including British and American scholarship players, Nottingham had spent much of their season repping their depth once they built up healthy 30 point leads.

Reaching the Northern semi-finals, they faced a Leeds Carnegie side that hadn’t even managed to make it out of their own conference unscathed – falling twice in the regular season, and struggling for numbers, hitting the postseason with only 26 active ballers on the roster… But what ballers.

Both teams started the game with power running Football. Nottingham leaning on Sports Scholar Jacob Amadi to move them up and down the field with ease in the first half. Carnegie were able to move the ball on the ground as well, and took a lot of time off the clock.

The two sides traded scores, Nottingham holding a 20-12 lead the half, before the Leeds D solidified in the second half, holding Notts scoreless for a full half of football for the first time all year long, while picking up a score and conversion of their own to push the game to overtime!

Notts possessed first, and with an impressive drive they cracked through the Carnegie D, scoring and kicking the PAT to give them a 7 Point lead.

With the newer overtime rules, Carnegie would have one chance to score back, else bow out with heads held high for their valient effort, taking the preseason promotion faves to overtime.

Carnegie drive for a first, but stutter on their second set of downs… At 4th and 6, it looks like it’s over, only for a flag to be seen lying on the ground where a Notts player had lined up in the neutral zone. They don’t miss out on the second opportunity at 4th and 1, and a rush from Spencer Hind sets Leeds up at the five.

Chris Winrow punched in the score behind the big Beckett O-line, and then Head Coach Dale Bottomley, with his team on the sideline let the players make the final decision… 1 pt or 2?

With a balls to the wall effort, Carnegie punched in the 2PAT, Winrow bouncing off tackle to the right before crossing the plane – needless to say, the sparsely populated Carnegie the sideline went wild!

Tamworth Phoenix 38-34 London Warriors (Adult)

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A Northern Premiership team hadn’t made it past the Semi-finals since… well, it’s been a while!

Sure, the Phoenix were coming into playoffs off their most dominant season to date. – Undefeated, largely unchallenged, with the #1 defence and offence in the top tier, the Phoenix were on fire…

But they were taking on the four-time back-to-back-to-back-to-back National Champions, the London Warriors, and let’s be honest? Few outside the Phoenix Phamily itself were giving them much of a chance.

As many expected, the Warriors drew first blood, Dwayne Watson driving the rock down the field and punching in the score… But the Phoenix clearly weren’t phased.

Patrick Daley was on point, driving his offence down the field through the ground and the air, connecting with Ben Burslem and Will Hussey for a brace of scores each – 28 unanswered points from the Phoenix, and the score updates on Twitter were turning heads across the Nation – the game was yet to reach the half, but it appeared Tamworth already had the upset in the bag!

Perhaps against a lesser programme, that might have been true… But this was the Warriors. Seasoned campaigners, and they weren’t about to let their stranglehold on the top of the British game go without a fight!

The Warriors punched back with two scores before the half (28-21), and opened the third quarter with another score, but crucially missed the conversaion, leaving them trailing 28-27.

The Phoenix offence went back to work, but were unable to find paydirt, electing to take 3pts from Alex Lenkowski’s leg to extend the lead to four.

Both Ds continued to ramp up the pressure, before a short field and strong running from Watson allowed the Warriors to punch it in from the 1yd line, retaking the lead, 31-34, but only briefly – Daley found Hussey once more to retake the lead, 38-34, and cling on to it with clutch plays from Phoenix D, big plays from Chris Thacker, Andy Mortimer, James Ramsay and Ant Naughton closing downs the Warriors long shots and sealing the deal on Tamworth’s first trip to Britbowl.

 

Hyde Park Renegades 20-13 Coventry Cougars (Opal Series)

Photography (c) Gio Forino, via FlagFootballWorld.com

 

The headline match up of the Opal South third round, two undefeated teams go head to head – the venerable champions, facing down the young contenders to see who’ll be headed to the Opal postseason at the top of the table, with the cushiest route to an Opal title.

The reigning champs, the Cougars, drew first blood with an early score, GB Women’s QB Millie Barrett dropping a long shot into Grace Conways outstretched arms.

Ds were on point however, as in contrast to the freescoring performances each team had put together against the rest of their southern rivals, neither side was able to find paydirt through the remainder of the first half – the Renegades only able to put up a single first down!

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However, the rookie Renegades came out swinging in the second half, a long shot from former GB Lion Angelie De La Cruz set the Renegades up to punch in their first score. The Cougars clawed right back, but failed to convert, which allowed the Renegades, now clicking through the air, to edge a narrow lead with their second score, and a bold 2-point conversion, De La Cruz connecting with Emma Taylor to lead 14-13 with mere minutes on the clock.

Still, the Cougars had a chance to close out the game with a score, but the Renegades secondary came up clutch, with a pick setting up a score to extend their lead, and a second pick to close down the game.

It was the first regular season Opal Series loss in memory for the Coventry Cougars… though they’d get their revenge when it mattered most in the Opal final a few weeks later.

Finland 21-27 Great Britain (Women’s World Championship)

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Photography (c) Geoff White, via Facebook.com/BAFAWomen

 

Despite coming in to the Women’s World Championships with a 6-1 international record since their founding only a few years before, few would have expected the fourth seeded GB Lions to make much of a splash in their opening World Championships fixture…

Day one of the tournament, and the young GB side faced the top team in Europe, Finland.

Four years previously, when Finland themselves had hosted the Championship, the Lions didn’t even really exist as a programme. Coach Jim Messenger alone had headed across to observe the shape of the international women’s game and inspire development back home. Two years after that, the Lions had entered their first major tournament, the 2015 European championships in Spain, and lost out to the European champs to the tune of a 50-12 shellacking!

As such, the fixture opened up as many observers might’ve expected, with Finland driving down the field to score on their opening series to take a 7-0 lead.

However, GB struck right back with a huge run from Ruth Matta down the sideline for a score. This massive play seemed to rouse the Lions, with the defence in particular finding impressive form, harassing Finland’s QB, Jonna Hakkarainen, on every snap – forcing multiple sacks and wayward passes.

Two receiving touchdowns sandwiched the half for GB –  two Tornadoes clearly in sync as Sydney Green hooked up with Jessica Anderson ahead of the half to put GB a score up, before starter, Birmingham’s Jo Kilby, repeated the feat right out of the break, once more connecting with Anderson to seemingly give the Lions a comfortable lead. Finland bit back with a score, but the constant pressure from the GB defence paid dividends, when an errant pass found its way into the arms of Linebacker Lucy Kirk, who promptly returned it the distance, earning herself IFAF Player of the Game honours in the process!

However, into the fourth and Finlands offence was driving hard, unwilling to relinquish their place atop the european game without a fight! Hakkarainen found Emmi Jam for a 20yd TD pass with 3:09 remaining to bring the Fins within a score, and they quickly forced a 3 & out to give themselves a shot at the victory.

Sari Kuosmanen had a spectacular catch to take the ball within Great Britain territory before Hakkarainen connected with Sanni Seppala to place the ball on the 5 yard line with mere seconds remaining…

But the Lions D held firm, swarming the Finnish offence as the final seconds ran out for a historic victory!

 

And the winner is…

Spoiler

Tamworth Phoenix 38-34 London Warriors (Adult)

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The Phoenix’s historic first Semi-Finals win took this one, with a strong second place finish from the Carnegie boys, over Notts.

It’s tough to emphasise just how much of a game-changer this win was, reshaping the Britball landscape.

We’d been burned only the year before, when a promising-looking Tamworth side had been ignominiously dumped out of the postseason by the Blitz, so the truth was few outside the Phoenix themselves really expected Tamworth had the fortitude to take on the mighty London Warriors. Even with the impressive first half scoreline, once the Warriors found their feet and started scoring back, it looked likely it was all just a ‘blip’ on the Britball Radar… But no!

As they’d go on to prove the following week as well, against the Blitz at Sixways Stadium, this was a Phoenix side that knew how to lead, but also how to fight back through adversity.

Odds are, this semi-final win taught the Phoenix a lot about themselves, and provided perfect preparation for their back and forth Britbowl victory – a game that was also a potential candidate for this list!

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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