By Thomas Henley.
The East Kilbride Pirates will face off against the London Blitz this Saturday at Sixways stadium, and we are certainly in for a show.
After a successful year for most teams at the junior level, these two have trumped the competition in the playoffs, with the Lions’ pride being damaged after a blitzing of 0-34 by the London side in the southern semi-final (I’m sorry for the puns), and the Pirates physically dominating the Caesars, 20-12!
The junior Pirates remain the only undefeated side in the U19 competition, and are ready to play their second straight Britbowl – having made their first appearance in the fixture in 2016.
Coach Matthew Davies’ ballers will want to right the wrongs of last year, developing into the most physical team at this level, in particular a defensive line that’s devastated opposing offences this year. The defence love the physical nature of the game, with a cast featuring Kyle Gould and Craig Sanders causing nightmares for opposition quarterbacks – something I can personally attest to!
The offense will benefit getting to play in dry conditions this weekend as they venture down to Worcester, with quarterback Sam Montgomerie leading the charge, the charismatic talisman is a well-refined passer, as well as a threat on the ground, nabbing the only offensive score against Nottingham with his feet. If the Pirates want to move the chains this weekend, the run game must be established against the athletic Blitz, so watch out for Jack Hunter causing havoc in between the tackles.
A testament to Davies’ abilities as a coach comes in the third phase of the game, special teams. This year, EKP have ran back a score on specials in every game, except one, the semi-final (though even there a score was called back due to a block in the back!) Nevertheless, it is clear, this East Kilbride special teams unit is certainly special, perhaps the best ever at under 19 football?
Redemption. That’s the aim of the Blitz this year, although many teams would not consider a two loss season in 2016 a failure, the London outfit do. The previous U19 Champions’ mindset has been successfully rebuilt by Coach Henry this year, with the only blemish being a narrow loss to Birmingham early on in their campaign. Henry challenged his men to “improve as a team” and push “not only for the playoffs, but for a national title” in 2017, and they have not disappointed.
Whether or not they win on Saturday remains to be seen, however, the Blitz will give their all. Without a doubt, London have the strongest running game in the league, led by speed demon Aaron Mahoney-Jones, who is surrounded by an outstanding O-line and an incredible fullback in Jason Soetan. If EKP do manage to stall the Blitz’s ground game, watch out for QB Jake Barnes, the gunslinger has thrown ten scores this season, so the passing game is still very much a threat to the Scots’ title hopes.
The defensive unit is led by cornerback, captain and the “emotional leader” of the team, Kobi Champion. Shutting out the Pirates will be a difficult feat, but with the passion he plays with, Champion will be wanting a champion’s performance (once again, sorry for the punnage). A special mention most go to London’s offensive coordinator, Chris Swann, who is recovering from surgery, so will be hobbling around the sideline, however, commitment like that, from a player or coach must be applauded!
It is interesting how the best senior team in Scotland and the senior Blitz both have junior teams competing at a high level – highlighting the importance of junior teams, in terms of developing home-grown talent.
This game without a shadow of a doubt will be won in the trenches. If the boys north of the border can shut down the running game, the Pirates’ offence should be able to finish off the task at hand. Unfortunately, this running game is like no other they have faced, with a perfect compliment of speed and power, its hard to imagine a total shutdown of the ground game.
With the Blitz having an extra week of recovery and preparation, this game is too close to call, all that is certain? It will be one to remember.