On Sunday the 5th May 2019, the Kent Exiles made history. This past Sunday saw the Exiles compete in BAFA’s premier division for the first time in club history, travelling to face local rivals the London Olympians.
The game began with a level of uncertainty, competing at the highest level in the country for the first time comes with its fare share of surprises and fierce competition. However, the season started in a strangely familiar fashion, with standout running back Dan Exell breaking away for a huge run of 60 yards on the first play of the game. After completions to first year Exile Jay Hibbz, as well as some tough running from running backs George Eghator and Wes Eversley, the Exiles were able to come away with a field goal courtesy of Harry Kent on the game’s opening drive.
The Olympians however were quick to answer, with the South London rivals bouncing back to score the game’s first touchdown on the very next drive. The season had officially begun, and the Exiles had themselves a game on opening day. The Exiles offense took the field once more, and with exceptional blocking from offensive linemen Adam Pearson, Joe Edwards, Gareth Rees, Daniel Gray and John Gadbury, Dan Exell was able to find the endzone for the first time in 2019. Exiles 10-6 Olympians.
At this point the Exiles defense found a foothold. Air tight coverage from defensive backs Ian Whitehead, Nick Mayer, Jay Henderson and Charles Mulvihill paved the way for defensive linemen Lee Morgan and James Webb to wreak havoc in the Olympians backfield. This defensive dominance, coupled with a blocked punt from linebacker Theo Coleman-Brown, set the offense up with excellent field position going into the half. Jay Hibbz did not disappoint, reeling in a touchdown pass from quarterback James Cook in the 2nd quarter to stretch the Exiles lead to 17-6 going into halftime.
The Exiles had made their presence felt in the premiership, proving to the entire country that they belonged in the UK’s highest tier. However, their opponents were also there for good reason, and came into the 3rd quarter with their own adjustments. The O’s jumped back into the game with two quick touchdowns to start the second half. Exiles 17-20 Olympians.
But this game was far from over, and receivers Sam Johnson, Aaron Whitworth and Danny Whitfield looked to make their presence felt as they reeled in several crucial catches that once again set the Exiles up inside the Olympians 20-yard line. Dan Exell pulled through when needed yet again, scoring from a few yards out to reclaim the lead. Exiles 23-20 Olympians.
It was at this point that the O’s showed their premiership experience, with a strong defense and punishing offense that saw to put the game out of reach. Outstanding effort and pursuit from Exiles veteran linebackers Joe Jebb and Joe Alexis never made it easy for the Olympian offense, but the O’s managed to pick up the tough yards when needed, finishing the game with two touchdown drives that brought this opening weekend to a close. Final score: Exiles 23-33 Olympians.
The Exiles ultimately came short in their first premiership contest, but not before proving to the nation that they could compete at the highest level this country has to offer. The Exiles are now looking forward to their next fixture, an away game vs the Bristol Aztecs on the 12th May.