By Alex McLachlan
A busy week of Junior ‘ball sees five games played, with significant playoff implications. The leagues are starting to really take shape now, and one team has already booked themselves their post-season spot after a win this Sunday!
Birmingham Lions vs Kent Exiles
Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Well it looks like the Lions have been pouring over last year’s semi-final game against Kent, as they didn’t allow a repeat event on Sunday. The Lions managed to decisively get the monkey off their back en-route to a 28-6 victory: their fifth straight of an as-yet undefeated season.
Once more the Lions showed their prowess, with yet more points racked up by their potent offence. They had averaged 36.5 points per game this season before this fixture, and the Kent defence could not prevent the continuation of this trend. Rohan Sandhu was once again responsible for much of the team’s scoring, with two rushing as well as a passing touchdown (keeping that connection with James Stanley going strong), with running back Emmanuel Bawa rounding off the offensive scorers for them.
That’s right… offensive scorers. The Birmingham defence too kept up their exceptionally high level of play against the Exiles, managing another score to add to their season’s total, as well as forcing several turnovers, with ballhawking DBs Chris Maddison and Chan McColgan each getting a pick. Beyond that, the Lions D played a solid game, limiting their opposition to a single score, and shutting them out totally in the first half.
Kent showed signs of their National Championship-winning selves during the match, especially second half. Through quarters three and four, the Exiles managed their first points of the day, whilst keeping the Lions to a single score, meaning a credible 6-6 score line for the half.
However, it was not enough, as the Lions were simply too strong in the first half, and so were able to come away with the much-desired W. Their momentum seems only to be building, heading into their game against the Hertfordshire Cheetahs. The win means the Lions have secured postseason football football, with only the Farnham Knights having the potential to oust Birmingham from the top spot – though all expectations are the Lions will be looking for an unbeaten regular season that’ll secure their conference crown. Should this standard keep up, then the Lions will certainly be viewed as one of the favourites to hoist a Britbowl trophy come August.
East Kilbride Pirates vs Highland Wildcats
One of the most hotly anticipated, and most significant, games in the North this year, the East Kilbride Pirates met the Highland Wildcats on Sunday for the second time this season. The match resulted in a 32-12 victory for the Pirates, making them 2-0 on the head-to-head for the season, and finally taking the lead in the historic series between the two proud sides (now standing at 4-3-1).
The Pirates played a much sharper game than in their first two outings of the year, with their offence proving potent both on the ground and through the air. Quarterback Lewis Smith had a great showing in his first start of the year, passing for three touchdowns against a vaunted Highland defence. Jack Cochrane too showed his dynamism, scoring both on O and as a returner.
Highland will be disappointed that they were once again unable to put up more than two scores, though young ‘baller Euan Crawford will be sure to prove that he can get it done in the team’s remaining fixtures. It is perhaps unfair to frame this point as a negative of the Wildcats, however, as they have at least successfully put up points against the Pirates in both their fixtures – a feat that, amazingly, no other team has managed.
Once again, dominance in the trenches showed for East Kilbride – their defensive line proving to be one of the elite units in all of Junior Britball this season.
With this result, East Kilbride remain undefeated, moving to 4-0 on the season, whilst their opponents slip to 1-2. More important, perhaps, is that the Pirates retain their title as Champions as Scotland for at least one more year!
Chester Romans vs Merseyside Nighthawks
The most open game of the day saw the Chester Romans win a shootout against the Merseyside Nighthawks, to the tune of 45-40.
It was a day where offences clearly came out on top (a nightmare for defensive coaches, but a dream for the neutral observer), with some exceptional play by both teams. Chester looked to be firmly in the driving seat at the end of the first half, with strong Quarterback play by Sid Wright (three passing touchdowns on the day) leaving the score at 29-14. Despite this, the Nighthawks clawed their way back, forcing a nervy fourth quarter for the Romans, with an unsuccessful onside kick proving the difference!
Despite losing, credit must surely go to the Nighthawks for forcing such a tight game, and competing throughout the fixture. Quarterback Paul Gillepse, especially, had a huge day for the stats sheet, racking up five total touchdowns (three through the air, two on the ground). Gillepse seems to have really found chemistry with his receivers in this game, particularly Pedro Botelho and Derby Braves wideout Sam Parks, who both had big games in their own right.
Chester move to 2-1, very much keeping their playoff hopes alive. Their next game, against the Highland Wildcats, could very easily be the key in determining which of the teams makes it to the post-season. The Nighthawks, meanwhile, will try to learn from the game, and the season thus far, in the hopes of winning out to secure a record of over .500.
Leeds Academy Assassins vs Chorley Buccaneers
After a reschedule (our excuse for not getting a preview out!), the Leeds Academy Assassins faced the Chorley Buccaneers for their first of two head-to-heads this season. In a tense matchup – the polar-opposite of the Romans Nighthawks fixture – the two offences were limited to merely three scores total, with Chorley’s proving slightly more effective to give them the 14-6 victory.
Chorley’s D has been strong all year round, conceding fewer than two touchdowns in each game (East Kilbride’s third score was a special teams play). Once again, they showed their discipline and playmaking ability, limiting a skilled Leeds offence to a solitary touchdown, which only came thanks to a fumble at the 3-yard line giving the Assassins incredible field position. Captains Alex Garcia and James Schofield led by heavy-hitting example, with the latter also managing a pick, to show the finesse in his game to go along with the power.
Leeds defence, too, played with tenacity and grit, shutting down Chorley’s offence for large swathes of the game. The Buccaneers’ running back Matt Thompson proved the difference on the day, however, as his two rushing scores put Chorley on top in the second half – a lead that they managed to hold on to.
With this result, Chorley find their first win of the season. Thanks to a draw in their first match, however, they are still very much in contention for playoff football, and should their defence continue as it has, this is a real possibility for the Buccaneers. Leeds, meanwhile, continue to struggle somewhat in their second season of Junior football. However, as stated by their head coach before, each match is a valuable learning experience for their players and coaching staff to take forwards!
Hertfordshire Cheetahs vs Black Country Vipers
In our most one-sided matchup this week, the Hertfordshire Cheetahs put on a show, running away as 47-2 victors against the Black Country Vipers, who have struggled in their first competitive Junior season.
Hertfordshire seemed to enjoy the game, with their offence producing one (if not the) highest scoring days in their history. Running back Jack Stodel put up video game numbers, scoring 5 touchdowns (4 rushing, one receiving), before being replaced by #bothwayballer Francois Earp who added to his sacks by scoring a further rushing touchdown.
Credit must go to Black Country also, who drew praise from opposition coaches for their tenacity and never-say die attitude. The Vipers also managed their first points of the season, forcing a safety, and spoiling the goose-egg for the Cheetahs.
Herts didn’t let this blemish ruin the result for them, however, and the team seemed to enjoy their day in the sun. A particularly heart-warming moment came as 4th year captain Fab Hayward capped his swansong appearance as a Cheetah (he will be undergoing a season-ending surgery) by being carried off the pitch by his teammates in a show of appreciation for all he has given to the club.
The dream of post-season football is unfortunately over for the Vipers, who will hope that valuable experience will aid them in future ventures. For the Cheetahs, on the other hand, that dream is very much still alive. The South is an extremely open division, but Herts will have a true test of their mettle when they face the Birmingham Lions in their final matchup of the year. Their coaching staff is certainly relishing this opportunity to see how far the programme has progressed these last few years.