Under19s | Semi-Finals Preview
East Kilbride Pirates vs. Manchester Titans
By Ben Thomas
The unbeaten Manchester Titans take home-field advantage against the visiting 5-1 East-Kilbride Pirates in the Division One Northern semi-final.
It has been a combination of meticulous planning and dominant execution that has led the Titans to an unbeaten regular season, with each player buying into the Titans’ footballing vision from the first pre-season practice whistle.
This surprisingly young Manchester team has been built around a core which has developed through up to five years of Titans football – many from the unbeaten U17 team in 2017 – and it is this organic growth that Coach Jonathan Homer believes will provide his team with the winning bonds that ‘’you can’t create in the classroom or by coaching’’.
Building on the good work of Coach Chapman, this year’s Titans team have proved week on week that they are through with playing the role of the Britball bridesmaid. Having just fallen short in recent years, Manchester have set themselves on grabbing the centre stage by force, epitomised by a vengeful team defense that has punished opposing offenses with nine Titans recording a sack and eleven with 10 or more tackles this season (yielding a mere 7.6ppg). This depth and spread of talent has been similarly matched on the offensive side of the ball with five running backs and 6 receivers finding the end-zone this regular season.
Interchangeable and imperious, the Titans will take confidence from their regular season dispatching of the Pirates while at the same time acknowledging that reigning victorious in the post-season is an entirely different challenge.
Conversely, EKP Head Coach Matthew Davies and the perennially formidable East Kilbride will want to give a better account of themselves this time around – with the loss to Manchester an unwanted mark on what has otherwise been a strong season for the Pirates.
If there has been one word on East Kilbride’s lips this week during their ‘’positive’’ practices it will have been perfection. There has been a focus on ironing out mistakes and mental errors, along with a renewed determination to search for the higher level of execution that they have so commonly found when the stakes are raised.
Expect an entirely different matchup to the last one as Coach Davies’ team will attempt to rediscover the fluidity and cohesion of previous years behind the running of Jack Cochrane and Rory Hutton. Moreover, the Pirates will look to their stout defensive line (consisting of Hewitt, Smith, Corbett, and Knight) to clog the lanes and allow their linebackers to relentlessly chase Manchester’s speedsters side-line to sideline.
What is certain is this matchup will undoubtedly be defined by each team’s conflicting ability to effectively scheme and adjust both prior to and during the game. The final preparations for both sides will prove key as both have one longing eye on junior football’s ultimate prize.
London Blitz vs Hertfordshire Cheetahs
By Ryan Duff
Sunday’s Semi-Final looks to be a nail-biter between the perennial powerhouse London Blitz and upstart Hertfordshire Cheetahs in a match between the undisputedly best teams in the south this season, this time with a spot at Britbowl on the line.
The Cheetahs come into this playoff match as the underdog, even if purely based on their convincing role as “not the London Blitz.” Hertfordshire pushed Blitz close in their match earlier in the year, but a pair of fourth-quarter interceptions ultimately sealed their fate.
With a convincing 28-10 victory over the Warriors to secure their playoff berth and the return of starting QB Liam MacGovern, however, the Cheetahs should not be underestimated, with Head Coach Alex Halms hoping “the bright lights of Finsbury Park are not too blinding” for his talented side to pull off the upset.
On the opposite sideline, with a sentence that could have been pencilled in back in April, this semi-final will be hosted by the London Blitz. The reigning champions have seemed unstoppable in all phases of the game; with four 50-burgers, five shutouts and an undefeated 6-0 record -London’s football factory are definitely cast as “Goliath” in this year’s playoffs.
That being said, their close win over these same Cheetahs, and their offensive struggles in Week One, hinted that this side may not be as invincible as it appears. Sunday’matchupup could very well end in upset or a show of dominance to remind us why Blitz have been favourites throughout. Either way, we’re in for a shining performance and great display of the young talent on offer in Britball!