With Iceni absent due to injury, Round Two was a smaller affair, with the much-anticipated Wembley Stallions – Portsmouth Dreadnoughts rematch. Both teams were eager to prove themselves the best team in the Conference, whilst Oxford and Peterborough wanted to improve on their record from Round One.
Too Close for Comfort.
Sunday kicked off with a rematch between the two conference leaders Wembley Stallions and Portsmouth Dreadnoughts. Following Round One’s defeat, the Stallions were looking to prove themselves top dog once more, whilst the Dreadnoughts simply wanted a repeat performance.
The game started with Wembley scoring themselves a pair of safeties. Portsmouth replied quickly with a score, although it was called back for taunting, as they offered the ball to the pursuing Stallion before crossing the line.
Despite assuming their seeding due to BAFA viewing there to be a strong enough link between the two, contrary to what we’ve noted previously the Portsmouth Dreadnoughts are in no way affiliated with the Portsmouth Destroyers. That said, just like in Round One, it did not look like a bunch of rookies out there!
Throughout the first half, both teams chipped away at each other. Ultimately, it came down to which team had the better defense.
Stallions’ Martika Taylor hit Portsmouth’s Abi Wade as soon as she got her hands on the ball. Dreadnoughts Charyle Mercer denied a long pass from Wembley. Stallions’ Chloe Flowers resorted to zig-zagging across the field in an attempt to find an opening in the Dreadnoughts’ defense, before finally being brought down by Harriet Amis for very little forward yardage.
Six of Portsmouth’s points came from Amber Perry with a beautiful pick that she returned to the house! Wembley pushed to catch her, but it was too little too late. With seconds to go in the first, the Stallions scored a second touchdown, but failed to convert, bringing the score at half time to 16-12 to Wembley.
Portsmouth started the second half explosively, with all players showing off their strength. Their defense maintained their presence from the first half, with Wembley’s Grace Hilbourne struggling to find any receiver who wasn’t tightly covered. The Dreadnoughts were lining up Stallions receivers before the ball was in the air, eager to make big plays.
The only time they didn’t follow through quickly enough was Wembley’s final touchdown, where despite being surrounded by Dreadnoughts, Stephanie Wyant still made the catch. After their own QB was sacked, the Stallions’ defense targeted upped their aggression, harassing the Pompey QB in the pocket, laying a number of hits. However, it didn’t stop Marie Leather from stepping up and scoring, bringing her team within two points of winning.
Portsmouth kept up their attack on Wembley for the remainder of the game; Chloe Ranger tackling Wembley’s Flowers before she even had the opportunity to leave the backfield. They recovered fumbles, they stayed on their feet when being tackled, but it simply wasn’t enough. Wembley’s Taylor prevented a final Dreadnoughts’ score. The final whistle went with Portsmouth trailing Wembley by a single point.
Final Score: 23 – 22 to Wembley Stallions
On the other field, Oxford Saints played Peterborough Royals. The Royals looked amazing in their brand-new kit. The livid orange numbers on a black background were a welcome contrast, making it very easy to read the numbers.
Oxford’s Josie McInerney clearly took a leaf out of Wembley’s playbook as she ran from one side line to the other to avoid being tackled. If the Benny Hill theme had played, no one would have been surprised. She successfully made it almost all the way down the field, but the energy was wasted, as it was called back for holding. Not to be outdone by her teammate, Saints’ Laura White made her own way down the field, and into the end zone, dragging the majority of the Peterborough team with her!
Following the touchdown, Peterborough got the ball, and made their own bid for the end zone. The plan was foiled however as Graciete Lopes first slipped in the mud, and then got tackled by the tiny but powerful, Heather Bignell. Lopes eventually gathered pace, and flight-footed McInerney for Oxford flew into her, but failed to wrap up, and so just bounced off instead. When the Royals found an open space, Saints players closed around them as tightly as Londoners hopping into a train when the Tube doors start to close.
The second half started with a fumbled snap, recovered by Peterborough’s Charlotte Fox who nearly lost her game pants in the process. The Royals’ QB attempted a very long pass, but just couldn’t manage it under intense pressure from Oxford’s defense. Peterborough’s Nina Constantine sat down Saints’ Bignell drawing hollahs from the crowd with the impressive show of resilience.
Peterborough’s Fox made a catch under pressure, and so started their war of attrition against the Saints as they slowly made their way towards the end zone. (The local soccer team started warming up on the adjacent field, with most of their players more interested in the game than their warm up). Once again Oxford’s McInerney sprinted her way into the end zone, but the extra point was deemed the result of an illegal forward pass, and nullified. Peterborough fought valiantly, Lopes recovered a fumble before taking it in for a touchdown of her own, bringing the score to 25-19 to Oxford.
As the game wore on, the Royals realized the threat McInerney posed and worked to prevent her making too much yardage. Unfortunately, Peterborough couldn’t bring it back, and lost by one touchdown.
Final Score: 25 – 19 to Oxford Saints.
Buoyed by their second win of the season, Oxford Saints faced the equally happy, conference heavy-weights – the Wembley Stallions. The Saints started their drive with their go-to sprinter, McInerney, but Wembley weren’t having any of it – the Stallions’ Demi Adesanya throwing the Oxford runner to the ground. Stallions’ Hilbourne and Flowers took turns running down the sideline, avoiding anything the Saints could throw at them. Hilbourne got Wembley’s first touchdown, but the conversion was intercepted by Oxford who made a move to return it, but were taken down almost immediately.
What followed the INT looked more like a fumble recovery drill than a competitive game. First Oxford fumbled it, Wembley’s Delta Npuna recovered it, only for her team to fumble it themselves, and have Oxford recover it for a touchdown. The Stallions replied with a touchdown of their own, which was then called back following a block in the back by Wembley’s Lina Malten.
Having had their touchdown denied, Wembley put on the burners. Angie Sowerby outpaced everyone (including the referee) to take the ball over the line to replace the TD they had called back. The ref called the conversion incomplete, despite vocal protests from Hilbourne who was adamant she’d caught it fair and square. Another Wembley touchdown, at the hands of Flowers, followed not long after. Oxford got the ball, but were unable to much with it, making only a few yards each drive.
The Saints’ Megan Brown looked like she was making a break for the end zone, but the Stallions’ Jemma Kean came in with a textbook tackle to prevent the Saints gaining ground.
Wembley’s offense returned to the field and began to dominate the game with repeated marches towards the goal line. Ny Clarke-Williamson made a beautiful ankle-high catch for yet another Stallions touchdown. This was followed by another Flowers touchdown and PAT. Oxford replied with a score of their own, which was quickly countered by another from Wembley. The Saints put one more over the line, before the Stallions chalked up their 51st point of the game. The PAT was only just successful, as Malten made a concerted effort to fall just inside the pylons as she was tackled. During the drive that followed, Oxford struggled to complete a pass, only managing to do so on 4th down. Wembley’s Clarke-Williamson smacked away any Saints player who came near her to add another TD to the Stallions already impressive haul.
Final Score: 60 – 25 to Wembley Stallions
Two ‘P’s in a Pod
Peterborough started the game with the ball, but early going was rough for the Royals. Portsmouth’s defense was ready to stop anything that came up the middle, forcing the Royals to take the outside if they wanted more yardage. This caused issues for the Dreadnoughts’ sideline, as one of their injured players had made herself comfortable but had to keep moving as Royals and Dreadnoughts alike kept flying into her.
Peterborough’s own sideline appeared to be causing them problems, as raucous shrieks of “defense” seemed to drown out calls said defense were making. This impeded communication lead made it difficult for the team to coordinate. Despite a good tackle from Peterborough’s Charlotte Fox, Portsmouth drove their way down the field, with Lucy Moss sprinting nearly the entire length for a touchdown.
Peterborough’s Fox laid an impressive tackle on Portsmouth’s Stephanie Wyant which resulted in the two players struggling to separate themselves. The Dreadnoughts blew towards the end zone with ease, with Marie Leather needing the entire Royals team to bring her down. Joint possession on the catch meant the TD was award to the offense, much to the displeasure of Peterborough.
As a result of an impressive catch from Moss, the second half started with a Portsmouth touchdown almost immediately. Isabel Clay pumped her legs, fighting the tackle to try for the PAT, not realizing she was already well over the goal line.
Appearing seasoned vets, Dreadnoughts’ defense systematically dismantled the Royals’ offence. Their tackles were low and effective; at one point, Chloe Ranger wrapped up the legs of a Royal and followed up with a textbook dump tackle that would bring the tear to the eye on any linebacker’s coach in the nation. Peterborough responded by scoring themselves a safety, however a flag on the play meant it was called back. Portsmouth replied with yet another touchdown, but yet more laundry on the field saw this walked back following a block in the back – though it didn’t stop them scoring a replacement just minutes later.
Peterborough maintained their composure, and fought ‘til the end. They prevented Portsmouth converting on their TD, and battled onwards toward the first down marker. By fourth down, they’d made it within touching distance of the end zone. A pass from Genevieve Morley to Fox just barely slipped through her hands, denying the Royals a highlight on the end of a tough fixture against the Dreadnoughts.
Final Score: 44 – 6 to Portsmouth
With the Peterborough Royals relocating to the North & West Conference for Round three, it will be interesting to see how their replacement, the Cardiff Valkyries, changes the dynamic. Cardiff have a similar record to the Royals so far this Series, but facing new teams is always challenging. (Not to mention how difficult it will be for me, coming up with bad puns involving the word “Valkyries” for my games summaries!)