Wednesday, 22 February 2012

BUAFL Game Report: Let's talk about SEC baby!

Yet another excellent game report written by Charlie Harris of UEA.

Sunday 19th February saw the Essex Blades travel to Norwich for their crucial BUAFL encounter. What followed was one of the most exciting and nail-biting games of the season, which saw both teams play their hearts out in an attempt to beat their rivals.

Once the pre-game hype had died down, UEA won the toss and elected to defer to the second half meaning Essex would receive the ball first. From the opening kickoff the Blades executed their star burst return to perfection, fooling the would-be UEA pursuers and Chris Palmer trotted 84yards virtually untouched for the score to silence the home UEA sideline.  James Woodward added the extra-point to give Essex the ideal start.

From the resulting kickoff, Pirates returner Andy Custerson was unfortunate not to return the compliment, weaving his way to a 60yard return, ultimately being tackled by the last man. The return gave the Pirates a solid platform from which to launch their opening drive. Systematic running and a nice 10yard completion from QB Mark Rivett to WR Tom Sheppard set UEA up in the red-zone enabling Chris Carson to run in from 15yards for his fourteenth score of the year to give the Pirates the perfect response. Andy Hurley’s PAT attempt was blocked, meaning Essex held a 7-6 lead after five minutes of play.

The game seemed set-up for an NFL-style shootout; however defence proceeded to dominate the remainder of the first quarter. First the Pirates defence stopped Essex for a three and out with LB Joe Boon stalling the drive from its outset with a tackle for a loss of seven yards on first down. Following the Essex punt the Pirates offence started to tick again, with a short completion from Rivett to Rory Tovell and a burst through the middle from Carson gaining a first down.

The Blades defence sharpened and stuffed Carson for no gain on the next two plays and forced heavy pressure on third down resulting in an incompletion and subsequent punt.
Essex once again failed to move the ball, dropped passes on second and third down meant that they once again had to punt the ball away. Custerson dangerously elected to field the bouncing punt close to his own end zone, but shook off two Essex tacklers to gain 25yards, drawing the first quarter to a close with Essex leading 7-6.

The defensive theme persisted as the Pirates were unable to move the ball once again. Essex LB Jamie Griffiths wreaked havoc, sacking Rivett on third down (one of 3 sacks on the day for Griffiths) and UEA continued the ping-pong punting the ball away once again.

Both teams were looking for a spark and the Pirates defence would duly provide.   On second down, Essex attempted a quick pass which was dangerously tipped upwards by DB Tom Surlis, fortunately for the Pirates the tip landed straight in the arms of LB Joe Boon who secured the interception. The resolute play of the defence seemed to give the Pirates offence the impetus the make things happen.  A well executed drive with saw the Pirates drive into Essex territory and a 15yard pass from Rivett to WR Dominic Banks put the Pirates only a few yards away from the end zone.  That man Carson did the rest from 5yards for his fifteenth touchdown of the year.  Andy Custerson, holding for the PAT, did amazingly to field a high snap, the somehow managed to slip his way into the end zone for a successful 2-point conversion, giving UEA a 14 – 7 lead.

Essex looked to respond and tried to do so by the long pass. After two short runs, QB James Woodward sent a long bomb downfield, trying to make the most of single-coverage. Pirates DB Tom Surlis was up to the task, covering the receiver to perfection and taking the best angle on the ball to make a fantastic interception.  The Pirates defence had now prevented Essex from merely gaining a first down on four consecutive drives.
With good field position the Pirates offence looked to capitalise, riding RB Joe Van Der Merwe, who accounted for 40yards on the drive. Van Der Merwe was unlucky not to score, taking a counter play 25yards only to be tackled a few yards short of the score.  This set up QB Mark Rivett to run in his fourth score of the season, bootlegging in from 5yards out. The PAT attempt was blocked by Essex lineman Hently Ignatius, leaving the score 20 – 7 to UEA.  The remaining minute gave the Blades time to gain their only first down of the half but no more and the teams went in at the half with the score 20 – 7 to the Pirates.

With the Pirates receiving the ball in the second half the Blades defence needed to step up. Step up they did, on the very first play from scrimmage in the second half, Chris Carson was forced into a fumble which was successfully recovered, giving Essex the fast-start to the half they needed. Reeling of a poor first half the Blades offence set to work. Utilising the motion and run-game, Essex moved the ball deep into Pirates territory. The Pirates defence could not hold and Essex RB Chris Palmer ran in from 5yards. James Woodward’s PAT was good and the UEA lead was cut to 20 – 14.

The following Pirates drive was long, slow and methodical, taking up the majority of the third quarter. Veteran OL Andy Smith and Nick Cullen blocked solidly all afternoon, allowing Carson to gain the hard yards on the lions-share of the handoffs.  Aided by an Essex unsportsmanlike conduct penalty as well as two Carson conversions on fourth down, the Pirates drove deep into Essex territory. Ultimately it was Carson once again who ran in from 12yards to give UEA a double-digit lead with little over a quarter to play, the 2-point conversion attempt was no good and the Pirates lead 26 – 14.

 Essex needed a score to stay in the game and continued to stick with the run as the game ran into its final quarter. On a drive including numerous sweep plays the Blades offence started to dominate the tired Pirates defence. Chris Palmer, who had two gains of over 10yards on the drive, took in a sweep play 8yards for a crucial score for Essex with around seven minutes to go in the match. James Woodward, ever consistent added the PAT meaning the game was tightly poised at 26 – 21 to UEA.

Knowing that a score would virtually guarantee the match, the Pirates offence went to the field with the ball at the halfway line. However a somewhat dubious call gave Essex the ball back. On fourth down, Mark Rivett thought he had secured a critical first down for the Pirates on a 30yard sideline pass to Tom Sheppard, originally ruled a catch the call was changed and Essex had the ball back with less than five minutes to play.

Three consecutive short-runs left Essex needing eight yards of fourth down, which they attempted to secure on another sweep play. Aggressive gang tackling from LBs Steve Omanyondo and Ashley Mullin stopped Chris Palmer barely a yard shy of the first down and gave the Pirates offence the ball back with just over two minutes to play.

A completed pass by Rivett to Rory Tovell and a 20yard gain by Carson gave the Pirates a first-down. The next play was arguably the most important of the match, only needing one more first down to win the match; Chris Carson was forced into a fumble by the highly aggressive Blades defence giving them the chance to snatch the lead with around a minute to play.

With two timeouts remaining and the ball at midfield line Essex gave the ball to Palmer twice, who did enough to gain a first down. On the next play Essex faked the sweep and sent three receivers deep, QB James Woodward looked deep to his right and launched the ball deep downfield. The pass threading the needle between two UEA defenders WR Phillip Casson secured the catch in the endzone for a 35yard touchdown, sparking jubilant scenes on the Essex sideline. The 2-point conversion was a successful run up the middle by Chris Palmer and Essex held their first lead since the second quarter, 29 – 26.

Try as they may with the minimal time remaining the Pirates could not set up a miracle and Essex won the game 29 – 26.

The game was a fantastic advert for BUAFL football. An old, intense rivalry with both teams going all out to win and secure a stranglehold in the SEC playoff race. Great credit must go to the Essex Blades for never saying die and making the most of their opportunities to clinch a fantastic comeback. The Pirates must now dust themselves down and prepare for a dog-fight for a Challenge-Cup position.

Written by Charlie Harris

Offence – Essex  Charles Mulvihill , UEA Mark Rivett
Defence – Essex Jamie Griffiths , UEA Tom Surlis
Overall – Essex James Thornton, UEA Andy Custerson

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