The final Junior game of the season saw a Midlands derby between the Nottingham Caesars and the Birmingham Lions. The game would determine who was placed third in the country and would also afford a final chance for silverware for many of the participants. After a hard-fought contest, the Lions came out as victors, though only by the narrow margin of 20-16.
The Lions offense came into this one with a point to prove, having been uncharacteristically shut out in their semi-final, and prove it they did. Whilst Birmingham may not have accrued the points that they are accustomed to, they were in fact the first offense this season to manage to score more than two touchdowns against the tough Caesars defence. Led by dual-threat Quarterback Rohan Sandhu, who had one rushing and one receiving touchdown, the Lions were able to find chinks in the Caesars armour and march the ball upfield. Final-year ‘back Emmanuel Bawa too had an excellent game, in equal parts because of and despite the greatest efforts of Karol Kolbiarz, combining power and pace to amass a score of his own, along with playing a crucial part in keeping the Caesars defence honest and alert.
However, whilst conceding three touchdowns was alien to them, the Caesars defence played a vital role in keeping the game alive and competitive. Rookie linebacker Bradley Martin turned in another excellent performance, maintaining discipline to limit Sandhu’s threat as a runner. Fellow rookie Luca Melero also had an exceptional outing, with great coverage and danger of his own, showcased during his returns on both special teams and after an acrobatic interception.
The Caesars offense, meanwhile, flashed but could not find a way to consistently get past the Lions D. Running back Robin Carreras ran hard, finding occasional creases, but could not find his way into the end zone. The Caesars passing game was sporadic too. Quarterback Tom Henley did have one very impressive pass to rookie receiver Alex Stocks, however, as he found him in stride for a 70-yard touchdown, along with trundling in a score on the ground of his own.
A big reason that the Caesars’ O struggled was the Lions linebacking corps, particularly Michael Wathen. The first-year player certainly lived up to his billing, going side-line to side-line to scythe down ball carriers all day. The young ‘baller capped off his performance with the game-sealing interception on the Caesars final drive, on his way to deservedly winning the MVP award.
All in all, it was an impressive day for Midlands football. Whilst anything less than a National Championship is always a disappointment for the Lions, winning a competitive game and coming away with silverware is still a great accomplishment. Meanwhile, for the Caesars, they come away disappointed at the result, but proud of the accomplishments they have had, coming from an 0-6 team in 2014 to back-to-back Plate runners up.