#Britbowl32 | Division One National Final Preview

Leicester Falcons vs Kent Exiles

The British American Football National Leagues will come to a close on Sunday with the Division One National Final, as preseason favourites for promotion, the Leicester Falcons take on a Kent Exiles team that’s really found its form down the stretch!

Let’s meet the teams:

The Falcons

While the Falcons have nominally been in the league since 2006, this latest iteration of the programme really only emerged following the 2012 campaign where the club was rocked by an ineligible player scandal that ended up with the club forfeiting the bulk of their season and dropping down to the bottom tier of the game.

Rebuilding from the ground up, the Midlands outfit have worked hard to redevelop their programme in a sustainable and outwards-facing manner, particularly in the last couple of seasons being at the leading edge of branding and self-promotion within the British game, while also finding significant success on the field of play.

Building on close links with the University of Derby, the Falcons have not only developed an experienced coaching staff that has considerable overlap between the two teams, but also been able to benefit from the University’s investment in Sports Scholars in American Football, bringing a wealth of experience and talent to the Falcons’ roster each summer. Braves’ alum Marcus Peterson, who had also spent time training with the Falcons before heading back stateside was recently announced on the LA Chargers NFL roster, and standout ballers Taylor Brown and Kyren Watts look to be settling in for the longer term with the Falcons. Building their way towards sustainability, the Falcons entered the fray in the U17s game this year for the first time, with plans to continue expanding the programme moving forwards.

Photography (c) Melissa Elizabeth Sarson

Fast forward to 2018, and many by now may have expected the Falcons to have been playing their first season in the top tier this year. However, a narrow loss to the Titans (who went on to have a highly successful first premiership season) meant the Falcons had to take another, this time successful, crack at promotion this year.

With a talent-stacked roster – including being one of a mere handful of non-premiership sides to send players to the GB Lions Euros roster – and innovative new ways of structuring their programme and player-participation, the Falcons hit the ground running this summer, opening their campaign with a statement 12-25 win over their #1 conference rivals, the Sandwell Steelers and never really looking back from there.

They romped to a 10-0 regular season, made short work of the Wolverines in the first round of playoffs, but looked like they may have stumbled at the final hurdle once again when the Northumberland Vikings took an 7-8 lead over the Falcons in the fourth quarter of the northern final!

The Falcons weren’t to be denied however as Joe Brammer handed off to Tolu Ogundana on the second play of the following Falcons’ drive, bursting to the outside and turning the corner for a 40-yard go ahead score that sealed the deal on promotion for the Falcons.

Club Chairman Guy Kersey spoke with DC, and noted how important this season has been for the programme:

“2018 was a pivotal year for us, we went into it with a new off-field philosophy and structure, removing subs and building a more commercial structure. This was great in helping us recruit, in comparison to 2017 we have a lot more depth in all positions. With the addition of Onside Productions we have made a concerted effort to raise the profile and brand of the Leicester Falcons.

On the field we have been dominant and with only Sandwell challenging us in the regular season and with both of the games against them we felt we put on some great games with a healthy rivalry between us. The NFC final was a nail-biter and we had to dig deeper than all season. But we ended up on the right side of that one”

Photography (c) Melissa Elizabeth Sarson

Looking ahead to this weekend, Kersey knows any North vs South game could come with surprises as the two teams venture into the unknown:

“The final will be a great game against a somewhat unknown Kent Exiles, They have battled all year and have a talented squad. We will need to use our full squad this late into the season if we are to finish with a perfect 13-0 season.”

One to watch

The Falcons have a roster brimming with talent, including as we noted some experienced ballers from the other side of the pond. Taylor Brown has been assessed by some as the most talented baller in all of Britball, and he’s certainly amongst the hardest working. Defensive Lineman Jamaal Fredricks has certainly been a boon, earning his first GB stripes this summer, and DC Wayne Gumbs defence has excelled pretty much all season long – even through the playoffs, the Falcons have allowed only three multi-score games so far this year.

However, with the Falcons leading the D1 offensive rankings with 376 points scored across nine games played? We couldn’t help but pluck for an offensive player as the man to look out for on Sunday. Quarterback Joe Brammer or favourite target Alex Preece were tempting options, but ultimately we plucked for the Falcons’ record-breaking rusher this summer – Tolu Ogundana. The dynamic back has posted up crazy numbers on offence this year, and stays fresh thanks to the Falcons vaunted 1-2-3 punch of Ogundana, man-mountain Marcus Francis and wrecking ball back, Adam Gumbs.

 


The Exiles

A storied programme, the Kent Exiles have been at the heart of football in Kent for over a quarter of a century. They’ve had their highs and their lows, but where they’ve come to excel in recent seasons is their ability to develop into one of the Nation’s most sustainable and resilient outfits – built from the ground up as a grassroots programme that’s showing the merits of its methods as it finally earns top tier football for 2019 – echoing the astounding success of the programme’s U17 and U19 teams in recent years.

Coming into 2018 the Exiles were no strangers to postseason football – they’ve had deep playoff runs for three straight seasons coming into this one, earning promotion into the middle tier in 2015, which they followed up with an immediate trip to playoffs in their first year in D1 – losing out in the semis to Edinburgh. 2017 saw more of the same pain, as the Exiles fought their way through a hotly contested SFC 1 East to see a second straight Southern Final appearance, only to be ousted by a gotten-hot London Olympians.

As such, it was perhaps a moment of redemption when the Exiles finally found success in their third-time’s-the-charm shot at promotion earlier this summer, besting the hotly-favoured Solent Thrashers in torrid conditions to finally earn top tier balling.

Photography (c) Malc Fell

Of course, it was no simple road to this Sunday for the Exiles as the SFC 1 East once again proved to be the most tumultuous conference in the National Leagues this summer! As in 2017, overlapping head-to-heads meant the final standings in this conference came down to the final games of the year, with three teams wrapping up their campaigns tied at seven wins and three losses.

Still, as has been true throughout their entire season, resilience was the key to the Exiles’ advancing where others faltered – they wrapped up the year with the #1 defence in the middle tier, cementing their ability to keep opposing offences in check with the hard-fought 6-10 win over the Thrashers to book their place in the Premiership.

It’s no coincidence that this southern championship team boasts eleven players that are ‘graduates’ of the programme’s U17 and U19 squads, and so win or lose on Sunday the Exiles are walking, talking, tackling proof that grassroots development is a proven route to success in Britball.

Speaking with DC, Head Coach John Moore, emphasised that the Exiles success this summer has been the results of years of hard work building up to this point:

“Earning promotion this season is the culmination of three years work. Making the previous semifinals and just missing out on promotion by one game the previous two years only hardened our resolve to finish the job this year.

Another season in the ultra-competitive Eastern Conference where three teams finished on 7-3 highlighted the small margins for error at this level. We have learned that if we don’t show up for every play it can cost.

I think though that our playoff victories show what we can do. We dominated Sussex at home and then got the job done in the Monsoon Bowl at Solent. That last victory included a last-minute stand from our defence with Solent at first and goal on our 2yd line.

The majority of the players on this team have returned from previous years and have been through the defeats and learned from them.

We have eleven in the adult squad who have played for the Exiles at Youth and Junior and we have added to this mix recruiting some great athletes like. Waking up on the Monday after the victory at Solent and the realisation that we will be playing the Warriors and the Blitz in six months time brought home the achievement. We are excited about getting to the next level and preparation for that has already begun.”

Photography (c) Kieron Hyams

Looking ahead to this weekend, Coach Moore emphasised that the programme as a whole are pretty used to competing for silverware… but that doesn’t make this opportunity any less special:

“Britbowl fever has once again gripped the Exiles organisation. Our youth and junior teams are no strangers to the occasion and now it’s the adult team turn!

We are coming strong with a full complement of players and we intend to have some serious fun. With Double Coverage’s help the exposure of these events is bigger than it ever has been. We can’t wait.

Leicester are obviously a very good team, that’s there for everyone to see on Youtube. Myself and HC Noel Cassar were exchanging messages around midnight after our respective victories over Northumberland and Solent, passing on congratulations and arranging film swaps.

Until North plays South no one really knows where the strength lies. They are unbeaten, we have tasted the pain of defeat. I’m sure many will have us as underdogs but then we usually are and that’s just how I like it.

I’m very proud of what we have accomplished this year. On Sunday we prepared at our home ground Beaverwood surrounded by all sections of the club. Kids flag, Youth, Junior and Adult Women. All practising in preparation for the next season. The club is strong, we just have to bring home the trophy. No pressure.”

Ones To Watch

The first temptation when looking for ballers to watch out for has to be to select a standout from Defensive Coordination Jason Pearson’s defence. Defensive Captain Miguel Pascal-Johnson lead the team in tackles this year, and Nick ‘Pick Nick’ Meyer has now hauled in eleven interceptions on the year, including two crucial postseason picks…

However, we’re suckers for a stats sheet, and the numbers put up by Running Back Dan Exell, particularly since hitting the postseason, have been utterly impressive. Through two postseason fixtures, the former Bath University Killer Bee has stung opposing defences for over 380yds… In two games!

His strong running is complemented by an effective passing attack led by former GB U19s QB James Cook, who hooked up with favourite target James Bertram-Smith nine times in the Exiles’ rout of the Thunder in the first round of the postseason.

 

 


By the Numbers

Looking to the numbers and the standout difference is the Falcons’ ability to post up big numbers this year, averaging nearly 40 points a game through their eleven fixtures, compared to the Exiles’ still respectable 25 points per game.

Of course, it’s an easy argument to make that the Exiles certainly had the more hotly contested conference during the regular season, so it’ll be interesting to see how each offence performs when they come up against what may well be the best defence they’ve faced so far this season.

When last they met…

Umm… pass?

Answers on a postcard for this one guys as while there’s a very good chance these two storied programmes have met previously, our archive still has a LOT of work that needs doing and we couldn’t find anything through our tried and tested research methods. (Google).

And who’s taking home the trophy?

You’ve got to think the Falcons are coming into this one as favourites, based on record, numbers and reputation. Certainly this time last year the Titans put on quite a show squaring off against the Olympians, but the reality is that when North faces South for this National Title? We know very little until the teams step out onto the Gridiron!

Even so, we asked both our BAFANL office and the entire Britball Nation for their thoughts:

Spoiler

That’s a pretty strong statement from the team in favour of the Falcons, even though the Northern side struggled far more than expected in their Northern title game, barely edging past the Vikings despite being significant favourites.

Only SFC1 East correspondent Stewart Hill stuck with his conference’s Champs – and perhaps the man who knows the Exiles best will be proven an oracle this weekend?

And while it’s not quite as one-sided, we still see three-quarters of the poll go the Falcons way, taking 74% of the picks.

Whichever side comes out on top, the biggest prize is already in the bank… but don’t expect that to stop this being a corker of a matchup on Sunday!


Remember, you can get involved with Britbowl XXXII yourself! Either head to the game, hosted at John Charles Centre for Sport, Leeds, or watch live online, brought to you by Onside Productions!

 

 

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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