It's a HUGE match up in the north this weekend as the two undefeated teams from the regular season finally meet to determine who'll be attending which National Finals before the month is out.
First and foremost, it's important to recognise that both sides coming into this game are already winners - undefeated regular seasons for both the Pirates and the Caesars, and the eventual difference between them that gave the Pirates the homefield advantage for this fixture? A mere 2 points conceded during the regular season!
Alongside unerringly similar 2017 seasons, the backstory for both this outfits is also strangely similar!
Both programme's success this season represents a steady development over recent campaigns. Only a few years back neither side were considered contenders, but consistent development saw both play playoff football in 2016!
For the Pirates expectations were always going to be high this year. They made it all the way to the National Championship game in 2016, before narrowly missing out to the Kent Exiles.
Similarly gutted to miss out on Silverware, the Caesars snuck into postseason balling off the back of a shaky 3-3 2016 campaign, but surpassed all expectations in the playoffs to best the London Blitz on their way to similar single score loss in the National Plate final versus the Highland Wildcats!
However, the Nottingham side have built momentum throughout their 2017 campaign - building from narrow, defensively dominated victories early in the year, to rounding out the season with a dominant #50Burger performance against the Lincolnshire Bombers.
The Caesars strength is built upon a tight-knit group of ballers who've developed together over the past few seasons from a team that went winless only a few years ago, to a band of brothers contesting the top spots in the U19 game.
Quarterback Tom Henley has worked hard this year to bring a bit more balance to the Caesars predominantly run-first offence - that will come into this crucial fixture with a notable absentee. Feature back Robin Carreras who's racked up eight TDs so far in 2017 won't be at this game, so Captain and Fullback Alex Mclachlan (who picked up seven scores of his own this year) will be looking to take up the slack in the ground game, while fellow Captain, Tight End Kiren Brown, provides a release route through the air - all glued together by an O-line that's really round their groove in 2017, bullying most of their opponents in the trenches. Particular standout this season has been Rees Britt, described as boasting a 'delightful mean streak'. Certainly the lineman will need to be on top form against an imposing EKP D-line.
Defensive Captain Morgan Dodson heads up the Caesars on the other side of the ball, with strong performances from the safety position all year long it's the D who bear a large part of the credit for the Nottingham side making it this far - opening the year with two shut outs and never allowing more than two scores from an opponent all season long! Alongside Dodson, Rookies Cory Nathaniel (MLB) and Luca Melero (CB) have been standout performers for the Caesars this season.
Continuing the trend of similarities between these two teams, the Pirates too ended their season on a particular high - their offence, headed up by Quarterback Sam Montgomerie, rounded out the regular season with a #50Burger of their own too!
It'll be Montgomerie's first postseason under centre for the Pirates' U19s, stepping up to fill the shoes QB Nick Kosics from 2016. Not the aggressive runner Kosics was, rather the Pirates have been able to find more balance on offence this season thanks to the presence of a more refined passer receiving the snaps - clearly paying dividends as the Pirates offence has proven to be far more prolific this season than last. In their free-scoring win over Merseyside to round out the regular season, Montgomerie connected with two-time 2017 Pirates Offensive MVP, Fraser 'Money' McDonald, for over 100 yards and two scores. Work horse back Jack Hunter heads up a still impressive ground game.
Nonetheless, same as the Caesars, it's been the Pirates Defensive unit that have been key to their success in '17. Built around a dominant defensive line the East Kilbride side's stats are once again scarily similar to Notts' - two shut outs, and never allowing more than two scores!
If it hasn't been made clear by all the spooky similarities between these two teams' seasons so far? All expectations are for a highly competitive, hard-fought, down-to-the-wire match up between these two sides. Should be one helluva ball game!
Northern Trophy Final
Manchester Titans vs Highland Wildcats
By Tom Henley
Postseason football is upon us, with silverware now up for grabs, players will be playing their final games at this level and will want to leave it as winners.
In the Northern regional trophy final, the Manchester Titans face off versus the Highland Wildcats. In previous years, these two would be the teams representing the North in Britbowl playoffs, so this matchup will be a closely fought affair.
For the junior Titans, this season has been full of positives, with both their defence and offence being ranked first in the nation, however, a costly defeat to the undefeated Nottingham Caesars, ended Manchester’s dream of a national championship.
Led by stalwart quarterback Ben Miles, the Manchester offence have dissected opposing teams with the young gunslinger’s superior arm talent. The Titans defence has also been a force to be reckoned with, with the “Big blue wrecking crew” causing havoc against offenses, this standout unit is led by Ben Kwasnik and MMU’s Robert Duck playing his final game for the Titan’s under 19 outfit.
The Wildcats have had one of the nation’s most explosive offenses this year, however, losing twice to their Scottish rivals, the East Kilbride Pirates, forced them out of the National playoff picture. The Highland Wildcats, whilst always being one of the best coached outfits in all of junior Britball, have suffered with a lack of numbers, compared to previous years, with quarterback Euan Crawford also having to step in at middle linebacker occasionally.
Highland must look to improve on their special teams performance, after conceding multiple scores on specials this season. If Highland improve in this aspect the game, then they will have a lot stronger chance competing against the talented Titans.
This game possesses the calibre of the Britbowl final, expect a high scoring shootout, with technically gifted ballers on both teams. With this being the last game for many of the players, plenty of passion will be on show, as they’ll want to make lifelong memories with their teammates.
Southern Trophy Final
Solent Seahawks vs Hertfordshire Cheetahs
By Alex Mclachlan
Following the withdrawal of the Farnham Knights from the Southern Trophy final (as we are calling this post-season fixture), the 3-3 Hertfordshire Cheetahs will step in to face the Solent Seahawks. This announcement by Farnham has created a significantly more intriguing, and debatably more exciting, matchup for this coming Sunday. Instead of an immediate rematch between Solent and the Knights, Junior Britball will witness a competition between two sides who have not faced each other this season. The opposition is an unknown quantity for both sides, and so coaching and adaptability will be key to determining who will be the victor on the day.
The South has been a conference in flux this season, so there is no clear way to predict an outcome of a fixture. Solent’s season is a prime example: they thrashed Farnham, and forced a close result against the London Blitz, yet were beaten by second-to-bottom Kent. The Seahawk will hope that their recent form is more symptomatic of how the outfit will perform, with their last two games being victories by over 35 points.
The efficiency of the Seahawks run game has been particularly significant in this recent show of form, with the committee backfield of Sas Sarreshteh and Alfie Griffiths tearing through opposition secondaries. These young ballers will not be alone in trying to rack up points, however, with Solent boasting some exceptional talent at wideout. Tom Moore is a known commodity, with his vertical prowess being well documented, but breakout youth receiver Jack Pears could provide the X-factor that the Seahawks need – scoring three touchdowns in their last game and another six at last week’s U17 Britbowl tournament. It’ll be down to Cheetahs’ free safety phenom James Abegglen, as well as corner Johanne Remigio, to limit the effectiveness of these potent weapons through the air.
The Cheetahs, meanwhile, come into the game due to some fortune, though deservedly nonetheless. The general parity in the South left the Cheetahs initially out of the playoffs due only to head-to-head records and points against, so they will feel that justice has been done to prove that they can indeed compete against the likes of the Seahawks.
Due to prior commitments, the Cheetahs will be without their starting quarterback Ollie Mulcahy, and will instead start veteran Tom Best under center, hoping that his experience will see them through. Hertfordshire will presumably lean heavily on ten TD ‘back Jack Stodel to ease Best’s day, and in doing so may expose a gap in the Seahawks defense. Whilst Solent have been immense in the linebacker position thus far this year, injuries have greatly affected them, putting stars Nic Bergamaschi and Toby Naylor out for the game, and leaving David Pepper as the lone remaining starter. This matchup between Hertfordshire’s run game and the Solent linebacking corps will certainly be one to watch!
A hard one to call, this game showcases how far teams can come in a short time when given a strong foundation and determined individuals! Expect some exciting playmaking and innovative coaching from both sides, in a game that could turn out to be a classic!
Nick 'Willy Tee' Wilson-Town hails from the South West where he's spent the last decade bouncing around various teams at the university and senior level. He came to fame on the now departed unofficial forum thanks to his regularly irreverent Uniball predictions and general 'BUAFL wafflage'. Follow him on twitter @WillyTee1