The Hurricanes controlled the pre-match favourites for large parts of the game and thoroughly deserved their victory. Hertfordshire quarterback Joe Thompson put on a stellar performance with both great passing and running, throwing for 4 touchdowns and rushing for another to win the Football America MVP award. Wide receivers Dominic Husband and Nicholas Bagnall, as well as defensive back Dominic Gould (playing with a cast) also had starring roles in the win.
The Hurricanes took the opening possession but went three and out. The Lions were far more clinical with their first possession. After starting at midfield, Birmingham made gains through the air and picked up a key 4th and short on the ground. Nathan “Johnny” Glover then hit receiver Ben Brown for a big gain down the left sideline before firing a 4 yard touchdown strike to Paul Zinkus. The extra point hit the upright, leaving the score at 6-0 to the Lions.
Both teams then exchanged punts before Hertfordshire broke the game open with a momentum-changing big play. Facing a 2nd and 9 from their own 46, the Hurricanes dialled up a pass play and Nicholas Bagnall managed to get free over the middle. After securing the catch he was able to outrun the pursuit all the way to the end zone for a 54 yard catch and run. The PAT was botched leaving the score at 6-6.
The Lions next possession saw the game’s first turnover, with Glover throwing a pick to James Drake while rolling out to his right. Then a defining crazy play happened on the next possession with the Hurricanes on 3rd and 14. Thompson floated up a ball over the middle that was intercepted by the Lions’ Greg Freeman. He then fumbled after he was tackled and then the ball rolled deeper into Birmingham territory before Dominic Husband fell on it.
The Hurricanes then took advantage of this slice of luck when Thompson threw a jump ball into the end zone. Andrew Harrison made a Randy Moss-like catch to give the Hurricanes a 12-6 lead (after the pass attempt on the two point conversion fell incomplete).
Will Hussey returned the ensuing kick-off to midfield and then Glover got to work on the Hurricanes defence. First he completed a screen play for a gain of 21 on 3rd and 11 before taking off on a Michael Vick style run (and taking a Vick style hit at the end of it) for a gain of 15. He capped off the drive with a quick swing pass to Andrew Newiss, who evaded one tackler and then outran the defence to the end zone. The extra point was converted this time, giving the Lions a 13-12 advantage.
Joe Thompson then showcased his running moves on the next drive. On a 2nd and 3 from around midfield he took off to his right and was only taken down 22 yards later by the Birmingham defence. The drive was capped with an element of de-ja- vu, with Thompson once again lofting a fade pass that was hauled in by Harrison. Once again the two point conversion fell incomplete, meaning the Hurricanes led 18-13 at the end of the first half.
Those who were expecting the Lions to raise their game after a Gatorade drink were surprised when Andrew Newiss had the ball stripped by Ari Halldorsson on the kick-off return. The Hurricanes then took full advantage when Thompson ran a quarterback counter right up the middle for a 12 yard touchdown run. Hertfordshire finally converted a point after attempt to make extend their lead to 25-13.
The Lions inserted Sope Dirisu into the line-up at quarterback and he led a drive into the Hurricanes’ red-zone. After getting a defensive holding penalty to extend the drive, Birmingham couldn’t come away with points as Dirisu was picked off in the end zone by David Jennison. Jennison then fumbled the ball when he brought it out of the end zone but Hertfordshire recovered it.
On their next possession the Lions finally got themselves back into the games with a scoring drive. Dirisu found receiver John Zinkus with a swing pass and Zinkus managed to outrun the coverage all the way to the end zone. The 2 point conversion fell incomplete to leave the score at 25-19 to Birmingham.
Hertfordshire then countered immediately. Thompson hit Husband for a big gain on a 3rd and 9 before getting a defensive pass interference call and 1st and goal from the 2. James Howell powered over to give the Hurricanes breathing room with a 31-19 lead.
Birmingham were unable to respond on their next possession and the Hurricanes finished the game off with one final touchdown drive. Quarterback Joe Thompson once again broke of a run of over 20 yards and then threw his 4th and final touchdown, this time a fade pass to Dominic Husband.
All that was left was for the impressive Dominic Gould to force a Dirisu fumble and allow the Hurricanes to finish the game in the victory formation. Cue Gatorade baths for the coaches and the National Championship for the Hertfordshire Hurricanes with a 37-19 victory.
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Photo C/o G Neesam