Every year, we get one or two results in each formatof the game that nobody saw coming. In 2016, we were treated to some real shockers, so let’s see who is in the running for Underdog Victory of the Year:
The nominees are: London Blitz 14 – 17 Bristol Aztecs (Senior), Birmingham Lions 7 – 10 Bath Killer Bees (BUCS), East Kilbride Pirates 7 – 55 Tamworth Phoenix (Senior), Highland Wildcats 8-24 East Kilbride Pirates (Junior)
London Blitz 14 – 17 Bristol Aztecs (Senior)
For worryingly many years now the Premiership South, and indeed many would argue the National Championship title itself, has appeared a two horse race. While the Bristol Aztecs had long established themselves as a regular in the #3 spot, a ‘best of the rest’ behind the London Warriors and London Blitz, it had been many years since any prem team took a win off one of the big two London teams (except one another).
Despite making the trip across to the Blitz’s temporary home at the University of Hertfordshire, the ‘Tecs clearly travelled strong. Many teams might have crumbled when starting QB, Gareth Thomas, went down in the 2nd quarter – Thomas was having his best year to date in the Prem South. Up stepped former Swansea Titans Quarterback Simon George, who harnessed the Aztecs offence on a number of crucial clock-killing, point-scoring drives. Big credit however also needs to go to the Bristol D, who balled out and rode out the storm to secure a 17-14 win – the Blitz’s first loss to a team other than the London Warriors since the days of the Coventry Cassidy Jets.
Birmingham Lions 7-10 Bath Killer Bees
On the face of it, the Killer Bees were regarded as the latest Christians to be fed to the Lions in the arena of xpLosION.
Uniball’s #1 team’s showpiece event typically follows the same format every year: A mid-table team takes the trip to Brum, and in front of the largest crowd any Britball event attracts, are sacrificed on the Altar of Football to keep Lions’ Head Coach Wayne Hill’s cheeks rosy, and skin smooth. Perennial Premiership mid-tablers, Bath, weren’t expected to pose much of a threat, having lost out to the Lions 9-27 and 41-8 in 15/16.
An early miscue from the Lions Special Teams gave the Killer Bees first blood when a muffed punt snap set them up in field goal range, and then whether it was a Lions choke, over-confidence on Birmingham’s part, or just the surprisingly stout Bath defence, the Killer Bees constantly bent but rarely broke, absorbing huge rushing plays from Elliot Walters but never allowing the Lions’ passing attack to find a rhythm.
Indeed, it was the Bee’s defence that made the key play, with Ikem Okwudiafor intercepting Sammy-Lee Baker to grab a decisive 65 yard pick six. A final-seconds decision to try for the TD rather than kick to take the game into overtime saw the clock run out on the Lions, the Bath sideline explode, and the post-game fireworks become an oddly sombre affair for the shell-shocked xpLosION crowd!
East Kilbride Pirates 7 – 55 Tamworth Phoenix (Senior)
Given the way that Tamworth had recruited over the winter, beating East Kilbride wasn’t, in isolation, an earth-shattering moment.
However, the nature of the result – the Pirates’ first home loss in donkey’s years, and a humiliating 50-burger to boot – signalled a seismic shift in the balance of power in BAFANL’s Premier North. The Phoenix went on to sweep the division, while the Pirates fell out of the play-off berths for the first time in eight years.
The Pirates had clearly gone a long way to righting the ship by the time these two met again in Week Nine, losing out by a mere 2 points in a 15-13 loss in their trip to Tamworth, but it doesn’t take away from the number of eyebrows that were raised in Week Four when this result was shared, and only served to power the hype train that we might finally have a northern contender for the Britbowl once again…
Highland Wildcats 8-24 East Kilbride Pirates (Junior)
This significance of this scoreline may be lost on many, and indeed this fixture alone is perhaps not a true contender for the award – however, when you consider what it represents? The ramifications for the Youth and Junior game are huge!
Recent seasons have established the Highland Wildcats as a powerhouse of youth and junior Britball, but this year saw the Wildcats face strong competition from their fellow Scotsmen, and this early season clash was the first of a number of surprise results from games between these two impressive programmes that saw the Pirates overtake the Wildcats as Scotland’s premiere developer of young ‘ballers.
The Wildcats would go on to tie the next meeting between these two, and perhaps that result is equally as significant as it even more deeply represents that two of the Nations’ top development programmes are now north of the wall, with these two teams hoisting three of the four available pieces of silverware for U19 and U17 balling (and EKP placing second in the other one!). While other Scottish programmes seem to be struggling to establish their grass roots efforts, the ability of these two teams to continue to push one another at the top of the U19s’ game should do wonders for growing the game in Scotland.