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Britbowl 2015 - Youth Tournament


The Kent Exiles Youth team entered their third Britbowl event in as many seasons, this time as fifth seeds, but again as South-East Divisional Champions. The event, again at the Keepmoat Stadium in Doncaster, pitted them against the current National Champions Highland Wildcats, in a repeat of the 2014 Youth National Championship final. The Exiles started slowly, and by contrast, the Wildcats began like a team possessed, scoring on their first two possessions without reply. The Exiles rallied slightly, with an offensive drive of their own late in the first half, but could not punch the ball home, and a further Wildcats score before the half saw the shell-shocked Exiles trail 22-0 at the break.

Much was said and adjusted at half-time for the Exiles, and they started out with much more purpose in the second half. The offence, behind great blocking by Jacques O'Dwyer, Jay Vijayshankar, and James Tucker, moved the ball consistently, and with James Suraille and Conor Rumble helping out as the drive continued, the offence sprang Johnny Ndumbe to rumble into the end-zone. The Wildcats replied, but again the Exiles hit back with more great running, this time Sam Crawford racing to score. Highland scored yet again, but the Exiles would not lie down, again moving the ball on the ground and through the air, to allow Sam Crawford to run in for his second TD of the day. This time, the extra point was added when a great piece of awareness from QB Joe Bennett found Jay Vijayshankar to score. The final significant chapter of the match was the loss of key DB Gareth Norman, injured seriously enough to keep him from further participation for the rest of the day. This was the last full drive of the game as time expired, the Exiles putting up a great second half rally, but finally succumbing 34-19.

The next game for the Exiles pitted them against surprise northern wildcard team the Leeds Academy Assassins. This time it was the Exiles making the fast start, with Johnny Ndumbe running virtually the length of the field to score. The Exiles defence stiffened, behind great pressure from Sean Lewis, and formidable tackling from Harry Woodley, Michal Krawczak and Alfie West. Aided by Sam Coppen and Harrison Hill, the Exiles made the Assassin offence work for every yard, but as they closed on the Exile end-zone, Alfie West stole the ball from out of the hands of a Leeds receiver, and returned the pick the length of the field to score. Further drives for the teams stalled for the rest of the half, the final score going to Leeds as they trapped the Exiles in their own end-zone for a safety.

Things took a turn for the worse for the Exiles in the second half, as Leeds made significant personnel adjustments on offence, and 'imaginative' tactical changes on defence. The Exiles backs, Theo Alexis, Reece Burrowes, Josh Quartey and Sam Crawford, found the going very difficult as they were often faced with several Leeds defenders in the backfield even before the hand-off. On the other side of the ball, the Leeds new look run attack started to pay off, scoring twice without reply, and with the addition of a further safety, the Exiles were staring another defeat in the face. Further to this, the Kent side had another key injury to contend with,  centre Jacques O'Dwyer ruled out with a concussion. Nathan Farmer plugged the gap, and played with great poise as the Exiles took to the air, giving Joe Bennett time to find wide-out Adam Wallace with the score that tied the match up. The extra point was crucial, but despite their best efforts, Steve Pontikos, Jay Vijayshankar, and Sam Adams could not find themselves in enough space to take the catch.

With the scores level at 18-18, the game went into overtime, the second year in a row for the Exiles. Leeds had the ball first, managing to score with their possession. This meant that the Exiles had to reply in kind, and they started to move the ball, however, despite taking a great catch, in an effort to move the ball, wideout Andrew Bews fumbled, turning the ball over and ending the drive. This concluded the contest, the Assassins somewhat fortuitously winning 24-18.

The final game for the Exiles was a contest against Chorley Buccaneers, a team that the Kent side had never beaten in their history. The game started well for the Exiles however, as again great blocking by Tucker and Rumble sprang Johnny Ndumbe for another score. The defence again came to the fore, making great plays all over the pitch to restrict the Chorley attack. On their next possession, the Exiles scored again, running back Reece Burrowes capped a fabulous run by breaking the plane, this time the extra point was converted by a great catch from Nathan Farmer. Possession went this way and that, before Chorley's enterprise was rewarded by a score just before the half, the sides turning around with the Exiles holding a 6 point lead.

The second half started in a similar vein to the end of the first, with both teams playing committed football, but struggling to score, although Andrew Bews just missed rookie Callum O'Neill in the end-zone with a great pass. The Exiles did have the final say just before the end however, following great running from Quartey and Burrowes, Joe Bennett found James Suraille for the final touchdown, the Exiles finally getting a deserved win on the board, 19 - 7.

Head Coach Julius Hobbs said, 'I was very proud of the team today, their seventh place finish does not reflect on their performance. But, you have to win the early games to progress, and we made a poor start. The first half against Highland was not typical of our seasonal performances, and I was really pleased with the rally in the second half. The Leeds game was very disappointing, considering that we were very much in control for much of it. However, Leeds kept at it, were allowed to play the way they did in the second half, and we did very well to level the game, considering. It was a blow to lose in overtime, but that happens in sport, and the way that the team recovered against Chorley was exemplary. The Buccaneers game was much more typical of how we had played all year, and I was pleased that heads didn't go down all day, the team kept working hard for each other. For such an inexperienced team it was a tremendous experience, they applied themselves well, and I am glad we kept to our principles and the spirit of the game. A fourth visit to Britbowl would be amazing, and this will have stood the rookies in good stead, but there is no pressure for next season, what was achieved this year is remarkable enough. Congratulations to the Wildcats, thanks to the other teams who participated, and a huge thank you to league co-ordinator Steve Whitter for organising the day. Finally, many thanks to our great support, everybody who helped us on the day, and last but not least to my coaches and players, for another wonderful season, I am proud of you all.'


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