Sussex Thunder @ Kent Exiles
We’re headed to the SFC1 for this week’s Game of the Week as we take a look at a pair of teams that became very familiar with one another last season in a couple of cracking match ups. Keeping the rivalry alive, with both programmes having earned promotion back up to the first division, these two teams on the rise have already put together a real corker of a game, when the Exiles travelled to the Thunder in week four.
Who are they?
Leading into this season this pair of programmes have displayed some uncanny similarities, culminating in an oh-so-close match earlier in the year that sets up this game to be a real grudge match with potentially great ramifications for standings in the division.
Both these programmes are newly returned to the first division having found themselves starting from scratch in 2015, building back up from the bottom tier following demotion for the Exiles and a year out for the Thunder, who withdrew from the league in 2014 due to veteran losses.
Both programmes clearly proved they were a cut above the rest of the basement tier last season as they each pounded their way to 9-1 records, their only regular season losses coming against one another. When not knocking each other around the Gridiron, the Exiles and Thunder had average margins of victory of 44.8 points per game and 43.25 points per game respectively and entering the postseason both teams brushed aside their quarter final opponents with unerringly similar dominance – Exiles 58-12 London Hornets, Thunder 50-13 Oxford Saints.
Unfortunately for both programmes, their postseasons both ended in similar ways as well – both losing out in the semi-finals by the smallest of margins – Kent pipped by a single point by an on-form Bristol Apache team, 35-34, while Sussex lost out to an up-and-coming Bury Saints in triple overtime, 22-20.
While it looks fairly clear that similarly newly-promoted Bury ‘USAF’ Saints already have the division crown all-but wrapped up, both Kent and Sussex have so far edged victories over the other SFC1 teams. As such, both Head Coaches still have their sights firmly set on postseason balling, and with the return of HC Ian Ellis (Div One Britbowl Champion HC and former Tampa Bay Buccaneers Coaching Assistant) to the Thunder, they certainly have experience up top to turn this season around. For either team, winning out the season from this point on (outside likely second losses against Bury) would pretty much guarantee playoffs for the victor of this match up.
When last they met…
Week four and while Sussex were coming off a drubbing at the hands of the Saints, the Exiles were riding high having impressed in their return to Div One ball with a comfortable 32-6 win over the Colchester Gladiators.
Perhaps over-confident, the Exiles offence was a shambles through the first three quarters of the game, notching up six turnovers and heading into the fourth quarter 13-0 down, Thunder QB Jaden Ellis hooking up with Andy Miles and Tom Kelly for scores. However, veteran Quarterback Zac Ritchie displayed that most important of QB traits – a short memory. With the Exiles’ ground game stuttering, Ritchie shook off his five picks thrown up to that point in the game, and instead led the Exiles on two aerial-attack-led scoring drives with TD passes to Ben Griffin and Adam Lillis to give the Kent team a one point lead with the clock winding down.
The drama didn’t end here however as the Thunder immediately responded with a swift 47-yard drive, setting up a 28 yard field goal attempt with just three seconds on the clock! Stepping up to the mark, the Exiles’ special teams came through for them as a high snap gave Charles Mulvihill time to get through and block the kick.
If we can get a repeat of this nail-biter? Should be a heckuva game!
You can watch highlights of the game on the Sussex Thunder YouTube channel.
What to watch out for:
- As mentioned above, veteran QB Zac Ritchie is a reliable and steady hand under centre for the Exiles – having amassed over 10,000 yards and 140 TDs as an Exile.
- Exiles Juniors’ product, Gabriel Quartey heads up the ground game, and despite struggles against Sussex last time around has already racked up 600 yards and seven scores going into game six.
- Defensively, linebacker Joe Alexis has been a tackling machine through the Exiles’ first five games, notching up 50 stops as we reach the midpoint of the season. Meanwhile Phil Dewhurst, fresh off the back of a transfer from the ailing Hertfordshire Cheetahs in the offseason, has had an immediate impact and leads the team in sacks with four QB take downs.
- Should the Thunder be tempted to take to the air, they’ll need to be wary of Kentish defensive backs Richard Matkins (Brighton Tsunami) and Jay Henderson have each snagged themselves five picks coming into this game.
- Of course, as proven by the five picks in week four, the Thunder are not without their own defensive weapons! Thunder youth graduate Dan De Lucia has been balling out at the safety position.
- Similarly, youth programme product Tom Kelly has become a real threat on the outside, burning the Exiles’ secondary for an 80yd score when these two teams last met. Combining his pace with the grit and experience of veteran inside receivers Adam Fishlock and the newly returned Britbowl 2012 vet Andy Miles and the Thunder have an aerial attack that can steal a score out of thin air.
- Defensive lineman Micheal ‘ATL’ Kikiowo is coming off a career game against Hertfordshire last weekend, dominating the Cheetah O-line throughout the match up and earning MVP honours.
- And if the tense rivalry and playoff ramifications hasn’t sold you on this game yet? Did we mention that for those attending the game at the Exiles home ground of The Beaverwood Club (no, really, that’s its actual name), there’ll be a bar, BBQ, in-game commentary, club shop and even a bouncy castle for the kids (no, not the players. Looking at you, Maidstone Pumas!) for the low low entry fee of thruppund! (Eds: £3. Stop trying to coin new phrases. No pun intended.)
What do they have to say about one another?
“We know lots about the Thunder having played them earlier in the season, and last year in D2. They have a good defence, and an offence that can adapt and move the ball in a variety of ways. They also have play-making veteran players.
We know it’s going to be a hard hitting game, and the winner will be the team making the least mistakes
We’ve faced one another 12 times in the past (since our first meeting in 2003), and the record is tied at six wins each. An average of just under 50 points is scored in each game, so it should be a cracker to watch!
Ian Ellis – Head Coach, Sussex Thunder:
“This will be our fourth game in two seasons against the Exiles, with the last two games being decided by a total of three points. Both games will be remembered for 4th quarter comebacks, so we will have to be ready to compete on every play regardless of the score.
This could be a defining game for our season. Win and we have a chance of finishing above the Exiles and in a playoff position. Lose and we’re then hoping on results to go our way.”
And what do we think?
Argh, last week we set a pretty high standard of accuracy that’ll be tough to match, especially when you’re talking about two programmes that have decided their previous two outings against one another by the narrowest of margins!
Looking at common opponents, the Exiles certainly outperformed Sussex in their respective losses to Bury, putting up 21 of the meagre 27 points the Saints have conceded thus far… However Kent just haven’t looked the same since that match up, with a far more pedestrian win over Colchester in week seven than they managed in week one – did they pick up some niggles against Bury’s ‘high flyers’? (pun intended!)
Both teams’ most recent games were against the Cheetahs and the scorelines were so similar that combined with their performances last season? I’m beginning to wonder whether these two teams are actually the same guys that just change uniforms. Don’t ask me how they then have game tape of playing against one another. Probably time travel. It’s always time travel.
Hmm. Kent seem to have more juice in their tanks when playing at home so far this year, so we’ll give them the nod in what we hope will be a real zinger of a game!
Kent Exiles 20 – 18 Sussex Thunder