Bristol Barracuda @ Plymouth Blitz
We’re headed down to deepest darkest Devon for our Game of the Week this week, and totally NOT because we weren’t able to get in touch with Bath and Hertfordshire in time to make them the chosen fixture… … …
Actually, that’s a lie.
Blitz now play their home games in Cornwall.
Who are they?
As two of the older programmes in the region, these two teams have developed an impressive rivalry over the years as they battled to keep their heads above water in the ever-competitive South West.
The Blitz hold the dubious honour of being the last ‘Original SWACcer’ (Blitz, Bullets, Cobras, Killer Bees) remaining in the bottom tier. Having only seen playoff football once in the BUAFL/BUCS era they will be looking to take advantage of the new tiered structure to post their first ever perfect record. Certainly, their four victories last season included wins over their new conference-mates, but many of these came right down to the wire – requiring Head Coach Craig Proto’s side to pull out rather too many fourth quarter heroics for the Blitz to feel overly comfortable sat atop the conference.
Similarly, slow starts to games have plagued the Blitz this year, having to come from behind to defeat the on-form Gloucester Gladiators in week five, and waiting until the second half to put any points at all on an unimpressive Bournemouth team last weekend. Against a ‘Cuda side gunning for vengeance, a slow start could spell the end of Plymouth’s postseason hopes.
Bristol, having shown greater consistency through the years than their Devon rivals, came into the season hotly touted favourites for the conference crown. An early domination of Bournemouth in week two certainly seemed to confirm these predictions, but then an unexpected thumping at the hands of Gloucester saw the Barracuda’s stock tumbling – right out of the DC power rankings.
They recovered quickly, delivering a 54-0 spanking to a battered Bath Spa Bulldogs team, and will look to ride this momentum into this decisive game. A loss for Bristol would mean their hopes of promotion shrink significantly, so new Head Coach Ben Cooper will be looking to get his team off to a fast start when they hop across the bridge into Cornwall on Sunday.
When last they met…
The game came right down to the wire, much as it had the year before as well. Digging out our synopsis of the final minutes from back in February:
“1:20 on the clock and Plymouth Blitz go 25-21 up.
Cuda respond with an impressive drive down the field, Clay Rust hooking up repeatedly with Alex Decaro, rounding it off with a score, plus PAT: 25-28.
19 seconds left on the clock and Blitz’s Jo Soden’s kick return busts outside and gets down to the 15yd line, 8 seconds on the clock.
Play-action pass to H-back Harry William Alexander takes it to the 2 yard line, 2 seconds on the clock…
Finally, Blitz QB Fen Trudgian drives up the middle for a score by a matter of inches and the game’s called with no time remaining!
Final score Blitz 31-28 Cuda.”
This rounded out the season with both teams finishing 4-4, and allowing Blitz to edge out Bristol for fifth place in the conference.
What to watch out for:
- Across both teams, of the offensive stars mentioned in the nailing biting final minutes of last year’s game, only Blitz QB Fen Trudgian remains on this season’s rosters. The Bristol Academy-produced fullback-turned-quarterback often draws curious looks and even jibes from opposing sidelines when he steps out under centre… But these quickly quieten when he trucks a defensive tackle and starts outpacing the safety.
- A stable of deceptively rangey (read as: short) veteran wideouts mean Blitz are not without a passing game when the weather allows, and GB U19s Lions Linebacker Luke Holloway has become a playmaker on both sides of the ball – leading the Plymouth ground attack.
- Graduations left Plymouth looking thin on defensive playmakers heading into the year, but all-rounder Jordan Newton has stepped up to lead a defence that’s achieved three shutouts on the season so far.
- Meanwhile, in the trenches veteran ironman Lineman Adam Havelock will be hoping to hold firm against a Bristol O-line that’s led the ‘Cuda rushing attack to 150+ yards in each game this year, and protect the Blitz offence from Bristol’s rookie wrecking ball, Jake Goodwill, who’s recorded multiple tackles for a loss in each game this season.
- Under the mentorship of veteran wide receiver Luke Carter, Yemi Falana and Mo Yaha head up the highly effective ‘Cuda ground game and provide a balance to QB Lucas Abegglen. Abegglen, stepping up after the departure of NCAA-experienced and All-DC QB Clay Rust, has some big shoes to fill this year, but has shown an eye for the endzone in his games against Bournemouth and Bath Spa.
- Defensively the ‘Cuda are led by veteran LBs Jordan Mclean and Ant Asindi who between them account for over 50% of Bristols tackles through their first three games. Rookie safety Marcus Kenmir already has multiple interceptions on the season, including one returned for a pick six.
- Finally, Bristol have a large and dynamic coaching team, so look for them to be able to make adjustments as the game goes on – this one won’t be over until it’s over!
What do they have to say about one another?
Blitz HC, Craig Proto:
“Bristol always produces a good team that are ready to play. Last year they had a great offensive unit which has carried over to this season so they will always be a challenge. It will definitely be a tough physical game this weekend with both sides wanting to set themselves up for a great second half of the season. We have to execute properly on every snap against a good team such as ‘Cuda.”
Barracuda HC, Ben Cooper
“We know [Plymouth] are tough team and that to further our aspirations we have to win this game.
I have complete confidence in my team that they will rise to the occasion and deliver the performance they know they are capable of and as a head coach I am incredibly excited for the stage which has been set for them to shine on.”
And what do we think?
Cuda’s loss to Gloucester would appear to make them underdogs here, but if you look at how they bounced back with their trouncing of Bath Spa, it’s clear they’ve stepped up their game.
With the history between these teams, you just know Bristol have had this game circled on their calendars since the preseason and are riding a wave of momentum coming off their fifty-burger victory, while Plymouth struggled to get moving in Bournemouth last week. ‘Cuda certainly look like the most on form team coming into the game.
In our mind, this game will likely be decided in the first and fourth quarters:
Do Plymouth come out of the gates sluggish as they have in pretty much every match up so far this season and let this dynamic Bristol offence take advantage?
Will Bristol be able to fend off any possibility of fourth quarter heroics from a Blitz team that’s implemented three fourth-quarter comebacks in their last six games?
Looking at the numbers, we’re going to give the edge to Blitz, but don’t be at all surprised if Bristol come out of the gates fast and overrun a slow-to-get-going Plymouth team, leading to some great second half of the season conundrums for our tables and tie-breakers guy.
Blitz 26-21 Barracuda