This week marked the start of the Junior postseason, and boy did it live up to expectations!
Also, an exciting re-emergence of our Division Two coverage to close the year, giving credit to an awesome final day of football!
Division One Semi-Finals
Manchester Titans V East Kilbride Pirates
By Bruin White
Manchester was host to another under-19 Britball classic this weekend past as the Pirates travelled from East Kilbride for a 34-28 overtime semi-final thriller.
Both teams of exceptional quality displayed consistent excellence throughout the first four quarters. East Kilbride - now back in full strength with the return of 2017 All-DC Quarterback Sam Montgomerie - saw two touchdowns and a two-pointer caught by receiver Fraser McDonald, renowned for his outstanding grabs in last year’s bowl game. The traditionally pass-first team showed prowess in the running game, too - EKP’s acclaimed Jack Cochrane running for two TDs and a 2PAT.
The Titans were not afraid to make plays, either - Tom Jones proved ‘It’s Not Unusual’ for him to be in the mix, returning a kick return for six in a game-changing special teams effort. Standout Quarterback/Receiver duo Ben Miles and Max Gracie-Ainscough connected for three touchdowns through the air as well, the endmost of which bringing the score even within the two-minute warning.
Upset for the Scots came when the football gods sided with Manchester in overtime as Anele Hlongwane broke the plane for the winning score. Despite this, however, Pirates HC Matthew Davies expressed his contentedness with the players’ performances, stating:
“I was pleased with how our team performed. I made some tweaks to special teams and some decisions on gameday which I’m not happy with and if I had my time again I’d do things differently, but overall I’m extremely pleased with how the boys responded after a few lacklustre games.”
Football can be a game of ifs, buts and maybes at times - and in a game so closely contested, the smallest difference may have seen the Pirates returning to Britbowl.
Instead, the Manchester Titans will face the London Blitz next weekend in the Bowl game. HC Jonathan Homer gives props to his players, congratulating his defence on four goal-line stands throughout the semi-final game - two of which were miraculously in Q4 which, in turn, gave the offence a chance to get even before time ran out.
“Now we are planning hard ahead of the Blitz game, getting our plans sorted and out to the players ahead of Wednesday’s training”
Homer explains, as they enter the biggest game of many participants’ careers.
“It’s been a long time since a team from the North won the final - it’s time someone put that right.”
London Blitz vs Hertfordshire Cheetahs
By Ben Thomas
The Division One South semi-final took place on Sunday and the London Blitz took a resounding step towards claiming their second junior title in as many years with a 44-2 victory over the Hertfordshire Cheetahs.
Overcoming the loss of stars such as Aaron Mahoney-Jones has been no mean feat, but the Blitz have not appeared to lose a step behind the play of wide receiver-come- quarterback Lionardo Sophoclis amongst others. The Blitz dictated the game from the get-go and put together four quarters of championship-calibre ball that they will hope to replicate once more time. The performance typified the dominance of Blitz all season long: scoring 47.3 ppg in the regular season and yielding only a staggering 2.2 ppg.
It was a tough loss for the Cheetahs who came in, despite being underdogs, with a hope that they could exploit a few cracks in the Blitz line-up – pushing them all the way in the process. In reality, as the Blitz pushed on from the regular season, many of the Cheetahs failed to find their legs and ultimately flattered to deceive off of the back of their impressive year.
Despite physical running from Ashley Gatulah and resilient efforts from James Abegglen and Toki Balogun, the blitz shifted into a post-season gear that the Cheetahs simply could not match. Much like last year, where the Blitz cruised past the previously undefeated Birmingham Lions, the London-based team arrived with an improved playoff physicality and skill simply unmatched by other competing programmes.
The only real bright spot for the Cheetahs was Abegglen’s “pick 2” on a 2-point conversion returned to the house – but overall it was a day of little offensive productivity and physical inferiority as they struggled to cope with a Blitz squad firing on all cylinders.
Nevertheless, for this ‘’very young and very green’’ Cheetahs squad, as described by coach Alex Halms, there were big lessons learned and vital playoff experience gained that will only help to mould them further as they attempt to go all the way next season.
For the Blitz, they now seek to win their second championship in as many years against the similarly undefeated Manchester Titans, and on this showing it would be hard to suggest anything otherwise.
The Pirates will play the Cheetahs in the Plate game, whilst the Titans will compete with the Blitz for the National title. Both games run over U19 Britbowl weekend, 25th-26th of August with announcements of locations and live streaming details to come soon!
Division Two National Finals Tournament
By Ryan Duff
The Kent Exiles claimed the inaugural Division Two title, defeating the Black Country Vipers 18-2 to end the playoff tournament and an undefeated season, as the 6 best teams in the division faced off in a 7-man tournament to decide the victor.
After capitalising on their first-round byes, the Kent Exiles and Black Country Vipers both progressed to the final, seeing off challenges from the Essex Spartans and Wembley Stallions respectively in the semis.
BCV came into the newly-created tier following a winless season in2017, with a young squad consisting of just two players not playing at the U17 level last year - an impressive 2018 saw them head to the finals as the #2 seed, with a 4-2 record good enough to claim the northern title.
Earning a bye through to the Semis, the Vipers knocked out the Wembley Stallions in a close 16-14 semi-final behind a strong North-South running game spearheaded by Cy Roche and Reuben Eddy in his final appearance at the U19 level. Although they failed to score in the final, the powerful running offence kept Kent on their toes, with a strong defence held the exiles to a season low 18 points, and secured a first half safety, before CB Jack Marks ended the game with a consolation INT.
This however proved insufficient to keep up with Kent’s side-line-to-side-line run game which saw RB Bolaji Adewale break free for a pair of impressive touchdowns, whilst Spanish QB Mustafa Boudouft found WR Callum O’Neil for some impressive receptions.
On the other side of the ball, the Exiles defence held the Vipers’ offence without a score, with Sean Lewis and Will Rough each netting a safety, and CB Yeni Fadiya breaking up a would-be Touchdown pass to Vipers WR, Michael Brown to keep the opponent’s offence scoreless and come out 18-2 victors.
The seemingly unstoppable Exiles squad finished the season as undefeated national champions, routinely putting up in excess of 30 points. It will be interesting to see if this clearly talented and well-coached team will have the numbers to return to Division One next season.