Glasgow Tigers @ Newcastle Vikings
The NFC2North represents one of only three Britball conferences that still have all their playoff berths up for grabs and this weekend the two favourites for these much-desired trips to the postseason will meet. For Newcastle it’s win and in, while Glasgow would only need a week 17 victory over the 0-6 Carlisle Sentinels to secure their berth.
With both teams heavily favoured to win their remaining games, victory here more than likely also secures a conference crown.
Who are they?
The Newcastle Vikings are one of the hottest young programmes to enter the National Leagues in years. Established in 2014 they took the third tier by storm in their first competitive season, going 8-2 and narrowly missing out on a winning their conference in their opening season, and making it all the way to the Division Two semi-finals before a strong Sandwell team (set for their second straight conference crown) ended their impressive rookie run.
With their strongest conference rivals from 2015, the West Coast Trojans, having moved up a tier in the offseason, the Vikings must have considered themselves to have a great shot at earning their first title, even after some painful offseason departures as some of their core Uniball players graduated and spread their wings into the scary adult world of jobs and bills (eugh!). Indeed, it all seemed to be going to plan as they entered the midpoint of the season undefeated.
Then, perhaps a little rusty from a couple of byes in a row, the Vikings welcomed the Aberdeen Roughnecks to their home ground and suffered what must have been one of the most demoralising Britball losses so far this year. The tenacious Roughnecks have been fighting hard all season to keep pace with the conference leaders following a disappointing season-opening loss, and indeed each of their three losses coming into the game had come by a score or less. Newcastle looked to have earned themselves another narrow win when, with the clock all but run out the Roughnecks found their way into the endzone to tie the game up 13-13. With no time left on the stopwatch the Vikings were left shellshocked as the PAT sailed through the uprights, allowing the #NeverSayNever Roughnecks to walk away 13-14 victors!
Some programmes may have taken such a loss hard, heads dropping as their perfect season was quashed in the most dramatic of fashions… But for Head Coach Matt Long and the Vikings it looks like the loss was a much needed reality check as they finally re-found the offensive overkill mentality that saw them earn such success in their rookie season. The unlucky Carlisle Sentinels who got in their way the following weekend were lashed with the Vikings’ second highest competitive offensive output, a 75-0 thumping, and so the Newcastle team will be coming into this match up with great momentum even after their bye week.
Glasgow meanwhile have bounced back strong from a disappointing 2015. Very much a rebuilding year, the Tigers went 5-5 last season and didn’t really seem to find their form until the latter part of Britball2015, where they suddenly clicked into gear on offence and started handing out some heavy defeats – included a shock win over the conference champs! The Tigers put up near as many points on the Trojans as they had conceded in the eight preceding games combined, ruining the Trojans’ perfect season with a surprise 30-36 win! (We’ll maybe not mention that the Trojans took their revenge, and some, the following weekend…)
Entering 2016 it’s been the Tigers’ defence however that has put them in such a strong position as we approach the closing weeks of the season. Defensive Coordinator Thompson “TOPO” Sunnerton’s defence has yet to concede more than a single score in any game so far in 2016 and indeed it was the Tigers’ offence’s inability to find paydirt against Newcastle that means the Tigers come into this matchup currently trailing in the head-to-head stakes…
When last they met…
As noted above, these two teams have already met once in 2016. Despite the staunch Glasgow defence keeping the Vikings to only a single score (tying for the Vikings’ worst ever offensive output) the Tigers lacked the bite on offence to take advantage and were completely shut out of the endzone.
Both teams look to be displaying better form on offence coming into this match up, the Vikings pillaging 75 points from the Sentinels, while the Tigers also have put up a fifty-burger of their own this season – though it’ll be interesting to see whether they can find that form given the five weeks that have passed since then and the more pedestrian offensive performance they put out a couple of weeks ago against a similarly defensively-minded Dundee Hurricanes.
What to watch out for:
- Vikings QB Nick Whitehead (Sunderland Spartans) is beginning to build chemistry with his receiving corps – throwing for an Abe (Eds: four scores) against the Sentinels in week 13, veteran Uniball Wideout Jordan Matthews (Loughborough Students) being his favoured target.
- Runners Jonny Mbuyi (Sunderland Spartans) and Taga Diegbe head up the Vikings’ bread and butter ground game ahead of a dynamic stable of running backs. The Vikings’ ability to manage the clock has played a bit part in them currently boasting the third lowest points conceded per game in the second division.
- Of course, that’s not to take credit away from Newcastle’s defence, who along with a shutout put up four, yes four, scores of their own against Carlisle – Dick Carr picking up a stripped ball and taking it in for six, alongside three interceptions taken back to the house! Two of these pick-sixes came from ironman WR/DB Junior McDonald who had also notched up a receiving TD in the first half just for good measure!
- The core of the Vikings’ D is built around experienced ballers from the local Uniball teams (Damyan Georgiev – Newcastle, Tom Andrews and Conor Joyce – Northumbria) and transfers from other programmes eager to join the Viking family. Recent additions to the senior roster from the Club’s Junior squad also serve to display the programmes sustainability.
- Meanwhile Glasgow have ground out their wins through the tough running of Kris Kroi and Andy Reid, alongside a willingness to mix it up in the backfield with a selection of reverses and receiver rushes in the playbook.
- It will be interesting who steps out under centre on Sunday as while QB Callum Pattison led the tigers through the early part of the season, veteran incumbent Darnell Starks returned from the back injury that had kept him out all season midway through the Northumbria game in week ten. Starks started the following fixture against the Hurricanes, so look for the veteran dual-threat QB to rebuild his connection to favourite targets Robbie Gould and Scott Vallance.
- Of course, as we noted, it’s the defence that have really allowed Glasgow to hold onto their strong position in the conference. We mentioned Newcastle had the #2 D in the tier? Well, the Tigers have #2! Their ability to create turnovers has allowed the Tigers to typically dominate the game clock and field position. Safety Scott McIntosh is averaging near to a pick-per-game coming into the match up and LB Mark Chalmers is putting up career numbers as he makes tackles across the breadth of the field.
What do they have to say about one another?
“In the first game at Lochinch we scraped a 7-0 victory – it was a tough old defensive battle – I think we will be in for more of the same – one score either way should win it.”
“The Tigers and Vikings met earlier in the season and a tough defensive battle ensued , and while the Newcastle lads came out on top it was only by a single score. A huge Vikings defensive stand from inside their own 10 yard line proved to be decisive – will this week’s game be a defensive dream?”
And what do we think?
Well, we’d probably be inclined to agree with the teams themselves – this is set up to be a day dominated by the respective defences. Indeed, it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Ds actually posted up as many points as the offences in this match up!
We think the Tigers deserve their #1 spot on the Div2 defensive rankings, but Newcastle seemed to get some of their spark back after the upset loss against Aberdeen caused them to shake off their complacency.
There won’t be many scores, but we’d expect the Vikings to ride their momentum to victory and secure their postseason berth on Sunday.
Newcastle Vikings 15-8 Glasgow Tigers