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Kent Exiles Youth make BritBowl Appearance

Youth team dig deep and give good account


On Saturday 21st September, the Kent Exiles Youth made their debut appearance at Britbowl. They arrived as South East Conference Champions, and #2 seeds, however pre-game warm-up demonstrated that becoming National Champions would be a tall order for any of the teams competing.

The Exiles kicked off against Conference rivals London Blitz, and early on it was clear that the Blitz hard worked hard on their game plan. Behind strong running and short, accurate passing, they quickly jumped into a 12-0 lead. The Exiles were finding difficulty getting any offensive rhythm, but a reverse from wideout James Woods found him sprinting away to score the Exiles Youth first ever Britbowl points. The PAT was converted on a pass from James Cook to Stefan Rabicano, and the Exiles were on the board.

Possessions were traded, but in the last drive of the first half, the Blitz scored a crucial TD to further stretch their lead. The Exiles made some adjustments at the break, and these appeared to help in the second period, but missed catching opportunities cost the young Kent side dear. The Blitz were made to work for every yard, but secured the win with a further score, and despite their best efforts, the Exiles could not eat into the lead, losing the match 24-7.

Although desperately disappointed to lose the first fixture, and so the chance to become National Champions, the Exiles picked themselves up for game two, against Burnley Tornadoes. The defensive group of Sean O’Brien, Elijah Wood, Aaron Khan, Joe Jebb, and Ian Whitehead made an immediate impact, stopping Burnley on their first drive for very little gain. Then, behind strong running from Sean Seeds, Arun Bharaj, and Bryn Cotter, the Exiles took the lead on a Cook pass to Han Whitmore. Burnley hit back however, when some mis-direction opened up the Exiles, and they tied the score 6-6.

Possessions were then traded, although the Exiles offence looked far more comfortable, with Olly Gadd contributing with some strong blocking. The first of two key sideline decisions then affected the game. After a game delay for an Exile injury, on the re-start, James Cook found Todd Herbert in the endzone. He clearly caught and controlled the ball, maintaining possession, inbounds and grounded, but the side judge inexplicably ruled that the catch was ‘incomplete’. This ended the half.

From the re-start, the teams traded blows. First, James Woods was found by a great pass from Cook, the QB given great protection by veteran centre Jon Eluwa, and this was converted by a great PAT catch from Tom Underwood. Then, behind some good blocking and running, Burnley scored, and added a 2-point conversion. The Exiles were stopped on their next drive, and confusion in the Kent defence saw Burnley extend their lead by a further 8 points.

The Exiles were up against it, but struck back almost immediately through a fine pass from James Cook to speedy receiver Matt Robinson, who had out-paced the Burnley secondary. With time running out, Burnley had the ball, but the Kent defence stiffened, and played magnificently to restrict the Burnley offence. The northern team had a 4th and long with about 1 minute to play when the second key decision was made by the officials. The Burnley QB took the snap, and threw down the middle of the field to a receiver in double coverage. With all three players watching the ball, minimal contact was made, as the ball sailed yards over everybody.

The Exiles offence ran onto the field, to be stopped by a late flag. The same official as earlier in the game had ruled the ball ‘catchable’, and with the automatic 1st down for pass interference, the Tornadoes took a knee, running down the clock, and winning the game 22-19.

This loss was hard to take for the Exiles, but, again, they had to pick themselves up for their final game, a clash with Edinburgh Wolves. This time, the Exiles started with real purpose, stopping the Wolves on their first offensive drive, and then scoring themselves, James Woods plucking a long pass out of the air to score. On the next couple of Edinburgh drives, the Kent defence held, and on offence, the changes were rung, with positive rushing performances from Sean Seeds, Regan Alexis, and Abraham Taiwo. This proved fruitful when Abraham Taiwo broke out with the help of some great blocking, and sprinted into the endzone. The extra point was added with a sharp, low catch by Tom Underwood, completing the first half.

The second half saw the Exiles continue where they left off, with strong defence from Josh Proud and Ayo Fadahunsi, helping the offence back on the field. James Cook again found James Woods, extending the Exiles lead, and again the PAT was converted by Tom Underwood. Possessions were traded, and with their last possession of the season, the young Kent side were rewarded when, after a long, well-constructed drive, Cook found centre Stefan Rabicano to close the match, the Exiles victorious 26-0.

The Exiles also finished the day with the tournament’s best defence, in terms of points conceded per game, and the only shutout on the day.

Exiles Head Coach Julius Hobbs said afterwards,

“Despite the scorelines, each game was highly competitive, and credit must go to all of the teams for the skill and intensity they displayed, and the spirit of each match.”

He added, “ the Blitz game was very disappointing, especially since at half-time, we listened to the instruction from the officials, and yet whilst we made the necessary adjustments, they did not, and this restricted the effectiveness of the defence. The referee must look to himself here, especially as we did as we were asked! However, this was a minor issue, and we were beaten by the better side on the day. The defence had a great game, but the offence struggled a little, we didn’t help ourselves by not taking those chances that came our way”.

He went on, “ the game against Burnley was an excellent game for the casual spectator, and Burnley played hard all game. In this instance however, it was less clear who was on top, and the two decisions which went against us were the deciding factors in the match. Both were incorrect, and at this tournament, you expect a higher standard from everybody, not just the teams. The offence started to click into gear here, but perhaps lapses in defensive concentration may have played a part in our defeat.

The match against Edinburgh was the moment when both sides of the ball started to play like they have all season long, and whilst Edinburgh were better than the score suggests, we were clearly on top all game. The most impressive aspect was that the team kept going, they were determined to get a win, determined to finish the day competing, and really supported each other.”

He finished, “In conclusion, we had a great couple of days, and played three good, solid matches, recording the Exiles first victory at a Britbowl in the process. The players and coaches must take great credit in the way they conducted themselves over the last couple of days, they were superb ambassadors for the Exiles. It has been an honour to coach this team this year, they have been absolutely fantastic all season long. Their application and attitude to both training and gameday has been exemplary, and they have really bonded as a team. My colleagues Coach Lewis and Coach Clement have also done a very good job this year, and I would also like to thank all of the support and help we have received from parents and friends this year. It simply would not have happened without their input. This team, despite its youth and inexperience, have performed magnificently, and as always, I am immensely proud of all of them.”


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