It was almost as if the Destroyers wrote their own script for a game which saw a team only five years old wrap up the National Championship. ‘One more’ has been the mantra of the Portsmouth Destroyers for much of the season. A tough pre-season camp saw the team adopt the Sir Clive Woodward philosophy of identifying a number of attributes where players could improve by ‘one more’ percent. Their undefeated regular season and march through the play offs owed much a ‘one more’ game outlook which meant they never took their eye off the ball. Their place in history was secured by winning an absorbing match by ‘one more’ point than their opponents, a lead preserved by one last tackle and which would have been wiped out had their opponents managed to progress almost literally ‘one more’ yard down the field.
The result fourth edition of the BUAFL National Championship Game was the source of much conjecture before the kick off. Despite being without talisman and two-time MVP quarterback Tristan Varney the Lions still ooze class and had shown their championship metal by defeating a host of top teams in their playoff run, including the Number One ranked Hertfordshire Hurricanes, and the two teams which they defeated in the previous Championship Games, the Loughborough Aces and the Newcastle Raiders. Their big game pedigree and potent offense were considered by many to be decisive factors against the Number Two ranked Destroyers, a team renown for spirit, commitment and an iron-clad defense but considered by many to have too few weapons in their armoury to win the title, especially if the Lions were to take an early lead.
After a tense opening it was the Lions who drew first blood. Sope Dirisu, receiving the ball from quarterback Sam Glover, made his way into the endzone and gave the Lions a 6-0 lead, a lead which wasn’t extended due to an athletic and courageous block on the added points attempt. Then came the first of two game-defining moments in quick succession. Veteran Lion DB Greg Freeman, picked off the Destroyers’ quarterback Nick Rizzuto and returned the ball for 50 yards only to be brought back for a holding call. The momentum this move could have given the Lions may have seen them go two scores up and made a recovery a monumental challenge for the Destroyers. Moments later the game was tied as Running Back Anthony Olawole powered across the line. Olawole’s touchdown not only provided a definitive answer to the sceptics who thought the Destroyers might crumble if the Lions flexed their muscle early on, it also made those who said they lacked offensive options eat their words, words which would eaten time and time again over the course of the afternoon as he turned in a standout performance which saw him acknowledged as the 2011 Championship Game MVP.
As the half progressed, the Lions and the Destroyers were evenly matched, trading blow for blow. Dan Conroy’s quality meant he was at the heart of the action as the Lions sought to regain the lead whilst for the Destroyers the defensive quintet of Perrineau, Jones, Ndanga, Odumren and Doherty ensured Conroy’s efforts proved fruitless and they provided a base for the offensive forays made by the Portsmouth offensive line, which too, came to little.
Both teams started the second half quickly, each seeking to gain both a points and a psychological advantage. Unlike the first half it was the Destroyers who capitalised first. A 7 yard touchdown run from Running Back David Torku took them to 12 points and he duly delivered the extra 2 to put daylight between them and the Lions. The third quarter progressed much like the second with both teams trying to find a way through seemingly impregnable defences.
The fourth quarter of football was arguably one of the most memorable in recent memory. The Destroyers extended their lead to 20-6 with quarterback Nick Rizzuto keeping the ball to drive over the line. Lesser teams may have rolled over at this point but the Lions showed why they were the reigning champions with a spirited comeback. A 56 yard touchdown pass from always impressive Dirisu to Wide Receiver Ben Brown and the conversion of the extra point attempt saw the gap close to just 7, a gap reduced to 1 when with less than two minutes on the clock the Lions took the ball into the Destroyers’ endzone and set themselves up for the most dramatic of comebacks. The key question was whether or not the Lions would go for one or two added points. The answer was swift, the Lions were setting themselves up for a two; two points which reflected the trust which the Lions coaching staff have in their players and which has served them so well over two glorious seasons. As the play was made it was perhaps fitting that it was the Destroyers’ famed defense which would prove the match winner, with Ndanga and Odumren shutting out the Lions just short.
As the sun was starting to set over the Leeds skyline it was the victorious Destroyers, led by inspirational Head Coach Russ Hewitt, who climbed the steps of the John Charles Stadium to lift the Neil Reynolds Championship Trophy and write their name in history.
Cobras outbite the Sharks in Challenge Trophy thriller
Such was the backcloth of history for the final between the Cardiff Cobras and the UH Sharks, many fans were musing before the game whether the teams would arrive by coach or by DeLorean to the John Charles Stadium.
The groundstaff at the stadium had been working on the field since the early hours of the morning and ensured that the 2011 vintage of this historic match up was no repeat of the now infamous mudbowl final but was played out on a surface more akin to one for crown green bowling. Indeed, the stadium, the surface and the blazing sun provided the perfect setting for some fabulous football from two teams who look set to emerge from some lean years to become Conference powerhouses yet again.
The opening salvos of the Challenge Trophy saw both teams evenly matched. Two strong defences meant that it would be a battle of offensive attrition as each offensive co-ordinator sought to pick a way through the opposition's back line.
In the end it was the Cobras who drew first blood in the opening quarter. A first and goal on the 8 was swiftly converted for the game’s first touchdown. Gareth Humphrys found Josh Hurford and the Cobras took a 6-0 lead which was extended when the extra point was duly taken.
The game then stepped up a gear as the Sharks started to exert some real pressure and test the Cobras defense. With the Sharks offense starting to look like they may tie the game it was with a sense of relief that Cobras fans saw Tom List pick off the quarterback and give the Cobras possession and some much needed respite in Shark territory.
It would be the dying moments of the first half before the Cobras would add to their lead. A 35 yard pass from Humphrys to Sherwood saw the Cobras enter the endzone and, with the extra point, move into a 14-0 lead which gave the Sharks a mountain to climb.
The second half kicked off with the Cobras seeking to finish off the Sharks with one more venomous bite. Following a sustained period of pressure where the Cobras would have hoped for a third touchdown of the day they had to settle for a Field Goal attempt which was missed. Throughout the attack, tailback Ayo Akintunde proved himself to be increasingly influential in asking questions of the Sharks defense. Fortunately for the Sharks their defensive line was able to provide most of the answers in a powerful display of grit, determination and hard tackling, epitomised by the impressive Stephen Yeamans who was coming off the back of his first pick for the Sharks in their semi final victory over the Solent Redhawks.
After seeing off a concerted Cobras effort to wrap up the game the Sharks started to turn the tide and a remarkable comeback looked on the cards when Patrick White stunned the Cobras with a fabulous touchdown run only to have elation turn to despair as the play was called back following a flag for holding. Despite this, the Shark’s resolve never faltered and they continued to test the Cobras until deep into the fourth when a series of picks saw the definitive shift in momentum and ultimately led to a final touchdown for the now victorious Cobras outfit who were able to to call themselves the 2011 National Challenge Trophy Champions.