Saturday afternoon saw the Solent Thrashers emerge as the Division One National Champions, as their dynamic ground attack got the better of the Sandwell Steelers. Standout running back Adam Bowley accounted for all three of Solent’s touchdowns as strong work from the Thrasher offensive line, and his nigh-uncatchable pace, allowed him to pick his way through one of the top defences in Division One.
With both sides’ defences getting the better of their opposing numbers for much of the day, it was apparent that each offence would lean on their playmakers to pick up points in this one.
Though the Thrashers leapt out to an early lead on just their second offensive snap – Bowley breaking 28yds down the right sideline for a score after a poor punt set the Thrashers up right outside the redzone for their first offensive series of the day – the Steelers didn’t take long to bite back as Tristan Varney connected with favourite target WR Rowan Huggins over the middle for a near-50yd gain, setting the midlands outfit up inside the Thrashers’ redzone.
Holding out for three downs, it looked as though the South coast defence might well hold firm, only for a fourth down gamble that saw Varney hook up with Huggins once again, this time for a score on a slant, tying things up.
Though both offences would continue to move the football, each taking a further trip inside the 10 of their rivals, we’d have to wait until the second half to see a further score. Sandwell came out fast in the second half as the kick return set them up just inside Solent territory from the get go, and just three plays later the Varney-Huggins connection saw the Sheffield University Sabres’ wideout break away from the Thrasher defenders for his second score of the day.
Indeed, the momentum seemed to be swinging the Steelers’ way throughout the third, but they were unable to capitalise from two further trips deep into the Thrashers’ redzone – as the teams traded turnovers the Steelers saw a field goal attempt sail wide left, and a having set themselves up with 1st & goal at the 4, instead went backwards and came up empty handed.
Well into the fourth quarter, a good punt return from former Bournemouth Bobcat Jean-Alexandre Geas set Solent up with decent field position and they wasted no time capitalising on it: Quarterback Brad Sawyers finally found some success against the Steelers ‘Legion of Swag’, using his arm to move the Thrasher offence into Sandwell territory, before Bowley again turned on the afterburners from 32yds out to even up the score!
Sandwell looked for a swift response, but having been harassing Varney all day long Defensive End Jason Oluwa caught a piece of Varney’s throwing arm on a 2nd & 9 well into Thrashers territory, and the errant pass was snagged by Linebacker Dan McMillan.
Sensing the momentum swinging in their direction the Thrashers put together a long clock-killing drive of their own down to the Steelers’ 14 – Adam Bowley taking handoff after hand off, and big hit after big hit from the Sandwell D, but nonetheless driving steadily into Steeler territory.
With the southerners setting up for a go-ahead field goal, defensive back Peter Roden came flying unblocked from the far left side of the line and threw his body in the way of the kick, giving Sandwell an opportunity of their own to wrap up a win and avoid overtime.
The Thrashers D were having none of it however, and penalties and strong defence once again saw Sandwell lose yards on their possession, forced to punt from inside their own endzone, allowing Solent to start possibly the last drive of the game from within the Steelers’ half…
With Bowley having limped off the field at the end of the Thrashers last drive it looked like Solent would have to fight for the win without their key playmaker.
Runner Tom Davies stepped up to the plate and earned a first down, but with the clock ticking away, Coach Rains opted to take to the air. Sawyers took a long shot into the Sandwell endzone, and was rewarded when what initially looked as some superb defensive play by Steelers DB Gareth Thomas, was instead flagged for PI, moving the Thrashers deep into Sandwell territory.
Perhaps smelling blood, a bruised Bowyer returned to the backfield and while he was initially held to only a short gain on his first rush, the second saw him weave through the Steeler’s D for his third rushing touchdown of the day and Solent’s first lead since the first quarter!
With mere seconds on the clock, the Steelers had no choice but to go all-out with their passing attack… but it wasn’t to be. Starting from their own 10yd line Varney’s second shot downfield was picked off by Alex Veitch and the Thrashers were able to kneel out the win – the first southern Div One championship since the Bury Saints edged a win over the Edinburgh Wolves in 2016.
Gameday Stats incoming…