Game of the Week | BAFA NL ’19 Week Eleven: Titans vs Nighthawks

Manchester Titans vs Merseyside Nighthawks

By George Buksmann

Coming off the back of a stunning 21-0 win over Tamworth Phoenix, this week the Titans face the Nighthawks in what looks to be a hotly contested rematch.

Tamworth’s first regular-season loss since 2015 now sees the top three teams in the conference grapple for the number one seed out of the North – a valuable commodity that’ll force one of the big London sides to take a lengthy trip north.

Last time these two met, Merseyside came away with an explosive 50-33 victory, but with the Titans riding high after their huge Week Ten win, surely the Manchunian side will be looking to turn that around this week!

One thing’s for sure – each time these two teams meet, there’s sure to be fireworks, such as when the ‘Hawks pipped the Titans to the post with this Hail Mary go ahead in 2018!!!

Nighthawks to flex their strength?

Merseyside have put up some clinical performances during this season and their offence has proven that they are capable of running up the score, most notably in the earlier meeting of these two teams.

“The Titans win over the Phoenix certainly opened some eyes in Merseyside,” said general manager Pete Horgan,

“Our thoughts, however, turn to the task at hand, and it’s business as usual for us. We know what we need to do to control our own fate, and that’s certainly what we’ll look to be doing.”

Since the teams last met Merseyside have seemingly improved across the board, putting up two more wins including a shutout victory over the Giants, with Horgan emphasising the rise of their younger players.

“The young players that we have, have been bedded in and they’re starting to show glimpses of what we expect from them. For the first game in a long time, we have most of our guys available, bar a few knocks, and the togetherness and resilience are really starting to shine through now.”

Yet, the impact of the fixture does not appear to be playing on the minds of the Nighthawks, they are focused on their own game.

“We’ve studied a lot of film of Manchester and we’ve been able to see why they have been shutting teams out,” Horgan said,

“We don’t expect anything different from Manchester though, and we know what Coach Birds will bring to Sunday’s game.”

Quarterback Harry Routledge has been the key for Merseyside’s offence so far this year, as the international-calibre wide receiver turns his athleticism and confidence to the quarterback role, ably supported by an impressive backfield that give the Nighthawks not just a one-two, but one-two-three punch!

Linebacker Mike Bassey has been tipped to pick up where he left off last week making more ruthless plays.

“We’re really looking forward to the test that Manchester will ultimately bring on Sunday, and I’m sure it’ll be a real highlight in the fixtures this weekend.”

 

Titans remain focused

Manchester may have pulled off one of the biggest upsets just last week but that has not swayed the focus of Head Coach Pete Birds and the rest of his team.

“Regardless of previous results, Merseyside versus Manchester will always be competitive. I’m expecting Merseyside to absolutely bring their A-game and we will see how we match up against them.”

The Titans need to bring home a victory this week to balance out the head-to-head versus Merseyside, which could prove pivotal towards the conclusion of the season.

“It’s not a loss that defines your season it’s how you react to it,” said coach Birds,

“We found a new togetherness and drive following the Merseyside game which showed how hungry the players were.

“I Personally feel that we will bring something more to the fixture than the previous. If we show the hunger, fight and togetherness we have shown then we will always give ourselves a chance. Merseyside will be at their best as usual. The games between the two teams are always competitive throughout and are often close or nail biters. Fully expecting Merseyside to be at their best.”

One of the keys to the Titans shock win over Tamworth was their ability to actually field their healthiest roster so far this season – particularly on offence where a number of key playmakers returned to the field against the Phoenix, allowing much greater flexibility to the Sam Bloomfield-led offence. The Titans’ offensive line looked the best it has all year, allowing the ground game to develop with Ryan Newton and Jonathan Pan Gago able to gain good yardage and keep the Titans in control of the clock.

Coach Birds has praised Mustapha Camera for growing in stature as part of the defence and getting better every game. Similarly,

 

Who wins?

Good question. Quite frankly both teams are more than capable of snatching the victory here and it is quite simply a question of which teams shows up on Sunday.

Both are well matched with strong defences and offences capable of posting up big numbers when they play to form.

Both teams will also be very aware that there’s an awful lot riding on this match up – given the Phoenix’s stumble in Week Ten, there’s the very real possibility that the victor of this game could actually contest the Northern crown this year, let alone both teams’ hunger for postseason for another year of postseason football.

It’s not an easy choice this week, but I am going to slightly lean towards Manchester based on riding the momentum of their game-changing win over Tamworth… and that this win actually means slightly more to them than Merseyside – both needing to even out their record with the Nighthawks, but also stay level-pegging with the Phoenix.

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