Kent Exiles Adult Team 2019 Review
By Head Coach John Moore
The final game of 2018 saw the Adult team lose to the Leicester Falcons in the Division 1 Britbowl Final. Losing by one score against the massive favourites gave the team a little insight into the challenge that lay ahead in the Southern half of the Premiership. That game was the final game for a few, and I will always be grateful for the effort they gave and for the amazing support that our followers showed in Leeds.
Preparation for the Premiership began almost immediately. We watched film of the teams we would face and sought counsel from those with experience of the toughest Division in British Football. New coaches were recruited, and training schedules set.
Anyone involved in British Football who has been involved with other teams will know quite how well run the Exiles are. The committee supported us in everything we wanted to do to try and get the standard that we needed to be at. We once again were able to train throughout the winter months on a 3G surface at a local school. This facility enabled us to practice unhindered by the weather that can sometimes bring Snow and sunshine in the same week. In addition, we again put on a two day residential camp. This time at the Felsted school in Essex. These only being possible with the support of the committee and a group of volunteers who assist all year round.
It wasn’t all good news though. Football is a physical game and injuries in the preseason began to take their toll on the squad. The defence in particular suffered significant losses in the LB and Secondary core. The season would ultimately start with only a handful of recognised LB. A good mix of veterans like Joe Alexis and Theo Coleman Brown and less experienced but equally as determined young players such as Johnny Ndumbe and Keith Isaacs.
Still we went into the season with high hopes that we would be competative. The one thing I can’t influence is the strength of our opposition. Much of the Media surrounding the British game is made up of volunteers but their opinions still draw much comment and interest. They had us to get smashed by everyone, bouncing straight back out of the Premiership just like Bury the previous year. So into the first game we went. The season objective of maintaining our Premiership status clear in our minds.
Ten games, home and away. Warriors, Blitz, Olympians, Aztecs and the Knights. It was straightforward to identify that the toughest challenges would be against the Warriors and the Blitz. Perennial play off teams and multiple National Championships between them. Less easy to perhaps know how strong the other three teams would be.
Our first game was against the London Olympians at their home just a few miles down the road. First games are always difficult, players getting used to competing against committed athletes and getting used to new play books. We started off very well against the Olympians, moving the ball well on Offense in the first half and our Defence giving them plenty to think about. Veteran running back Dan Exell scampered for sixty plus yards on our first play. He went on to score two TD on the ground that day behind some outstanding work from the experienced offensive line strengthened by Ex Warriors veteran Dan Grey. A new face to the Exiles Wide Receiver Jay Hibbert caught 2 TD passes from James Cook. A half time lead in our first game. The Olympians came back though and mistakes started to creep in, perhaps the Olympians experience at this level just getting them over the line and running out 33-23 winners. A loss but plenty to be optimistic about.
We moved on to our longest trip, away to Bristol. A sign of the commitment from the players was the large squad who made the 143 mile trip to the impressive Bristol home ground. On this day Defence would be the difference and would give us the opportunity to win the game. Our secondary intercepted Bristol five times, even Defensive Lineman Lewis Whitcombe intercepting the Bristol QB. It should be said that the pressure caused by the front 4 directly led to some of these picks. Bristol defence was equally difficult to overcome. Only a disciplined 4th quarter drive on the back of strong running from Wesley Eversly and George Eqhator culminating in a 5yd TD pass to big Rob Mitchell could overcome Bristol. Fittingly our defence had the last word with Theo Coleman Brown chasing the Bristol QB out of the Endzone for a safety and winning the game 9-0. History was made, the Exiles first win in the Premiership.
The next three games were all loses. Warriors and Blitz provided stern tests and great learning experiences for veterans and rookies alike. The highlights from these two games were our run defence making it difficult for the Blitz to run and a TD from Jay Hibbert against the Warriors. The loss to Farnham away was a big blow. Mistakes cost us and it became very obvious that mistakes wold be punished at this level. This Farnham loss brought about a realisation of what we had to do to be competitive at this level. Changes were made after this game and efforts redoubled.
All of a sudden, our next game, at home to Bristol became a must win game as the Division began to take shape. We went into that game doing some things slightly differently on offense. A three tight end formation and power run game employed to counter Bristol speed on defence. This worked in the first half and a controlled offensive drive led to a James Cook TD Pass to 2018 leading receiver James Bertram Smith. A Harry Kent Field goal gave us a 10 – 0 lead. But this is the Premiership , nothing is easy. Bristol came back with a score and then a long time consuming drive was ended by some great Exiles defence. Forcing a fumble at our 10yd line, LB Johnny Ndumbe scooped the ball and returned the ball 90yds for a TD and a 17-6 half time lead. We had been here before. Memories of the first game against the Olympians resurfaced. We needed to be focused and bring home the win. In the 3rd Bristol received the ball and went on a 12 minute drive to get a score and narrow the score to 17-12. Starved of any possession the offense struggled to find any rhythm and it was again our defence who brought home the win with veteran Jay Henderson intercepting the ball in the final two minutes to kill the game.
The Exiles destiny now lay in our own hands. Three more games against the strongest teams Olympians, Warriors and Blitz led to the final game decider. A home game against Farnham. A simple equation, who ever won would stay in the Premiership, the loser would be relegated to Division 1. The first half saw some good Exiles play on both sides but the offense was unable to get across the line. The defence though stopping much of Farnham offense in its tracks. The second half saw the Exiles offense take control and behind the strong running of Wes Eversley. A running TD from Eversley was added to with a great play from Tom Lee catching the ball between two Farnham defenders and racing in for the score. The 200 hundred or so fans cheering like mad. As we had become used to the defence finishing the game it was no surprise when rookie DL Ollie Carrol recovered a fumbled snap in the endzone for the final score and a 19-0 win.
Another year in the Premiership secured.
THE FUTURE 2020
The effort of all involved at the Exiles has given us the opportunity for a further year at this level. We are now absolutely able to understand what we must do to be competitive at this level and achieve our next objectives. Play off football. Is that so far away? I don’t believe it is. That is certainly what we are aiming for.
As the Head Coach, I understand that we must refine our culture and we must all be committed to the objective. Accountability to each other is essential. I have started to build that culture together with the players who share that passion.
I would like to thank all of my coaches who gave up so much time this season. The support from the committee and volunteers enables us to achieve our goals and without that we would not be where we are. Finally, to the players who played this year, I thank you. The commitment and courage showed against some of the very best players in the country is something I will always remember.