Sapphire Division 2 South Tournament 1
HC Carl Alexis
The 7th of December saw the opening games for the 2019-2020 Sapphire league and sent the Exiles to Essex to play against the Peterborough Royals and the Portsmouth Dreadnaughts.
Our first game was to be against an old adversary the Royals who had already marked the start of their season by defeating the Dreadnaughts earlier in the day.
Having won the toss we came out with our offence, to put into practice a long 20 weeks of hard training. Determined to establish our running game we drove downfield with Sarah ‘Millsy’ Miller running behind some inspired offensive blocking and scored on a 10 yard burst. The ensuing 2 point PAT was stopped but we were more than happy with our start.
Next out were our rebuilt defence and within a few plays they were starting to assert their dominance on the game, forcing Peterborough to fumble in the endzone only for new Exile Sophie George to recover it for the TD. The PAT by Millsy was good and we were now up 12-0. The defence were not finished there and on the very next play Megan Munro recovered a fumble in the endzone forced out by Captain Kirsty for a TD. Another 2 point PAT by Millsy and we had established a reasonable 22-0 lead.
The rest of the half was to be dominated by our power defence stifling the Royals at every turn, making some great open field tackles, numerous gang tackles and yet another forced fumble (this time by Clare Lewis).
Millsy’s persistent running (she was to finish this game with over 100 yards rushing!) and our Offensive lines blocking allowed us to drive downfield 3 more times but were unable to punch it in again this half. Unfortunately it was on one of these drives that we were to lose for the day a stalwart of our line Alice Swanton to a lower back injury.
Going into the second half up 22-0 it was our responsibility as coaches to keep the team focussed and avoid any complacency. Half of the team were new Exiles and for some of them this was their first taste of actual competition, so the risk of overconfidence was high but was handled well by the coaching staff and this seasons group of team Captains (Nai Moore, Suzy Millard, Millsy Miller and Kirsty McIntyre).
The second half was to be more of the same for our defence; stopping the Royals on every drive and preventing them from reaching even the half way line by constant pressure of the whole D and a standout D-line. The Offence continued to grind out yardage and finally threw a few passes into the mix! One drive downfield lead by Charlie Thynne set up our sole score for the second half; a 14 yard touchdown pass to Suzy Millard. That touchdown pass was the first of I’m sure many for our new QB Vicki Lucas and it marks not only as her first for this season but also her first in her rookie career at QB. With the score now at 28-0 and the PAT no good there was to be no more scoring for either team. Both offences were to have only one drive left each but there were still to be highlight plays with an interception by Captain Nai and a sack by Clare.
We finished victorious 28-0 but it wasn’t easy and we had to fight tooth and nail against a strong Peterborough team to achieve it.
Game 2 of the day was against the Portsmouth Destroyers, a new team for us and as such we had no idea as to what to expect. With that in mind we prepared as we would with any team, with the determination that has come to characterise us.
Starting with the ball the Offence tried to move the ball to the halfway point but was held in check and turned it over on downs. The Defence came out with the intention of invigorating the team and within two plays they had done so, a determined effort by Clare on the Dreadnaughts second play sacked their QB for a safety. We were now on board with a 2-0 score.
Next out were our Offence who this time drove all the way downfield but were unable to punch it in and gave it up again on downs but our Defence were to give our O a boost and almost immediately got the ball back by an interception courtesy of Captain Kirsty. This seemed to be the spark the Offence needed and two plays later Millsy ran one in for a TD. With the successful PAT we were now ahead 10-0.
The rest of the half was dominated by herculean efforts by both our Offence and Defence with a safety by new Exile Sophie George, another TD by Millsy, a forced fumble by rookie Perri Squirrel and a fumble recovery in the end zone for a TD by rookie Aimee Mulcahy (who was still at work only a few hours beforehand!). The clock was to expire for the first half with us up 28-0.
The second half was more of the same for the Exiles. Behind a defence that wouldn’t ‘bend or break’ and a relentless running attack by the Offence we were to score on another safety (Aimee), 2 more rushing TD’s for Millsy (at this point we rested her to allow others to get a chance!), a first rushing TD for Charlie and an awesome interception return for a TD by Sophie G.
The final score may have been a lopsided 62-0 but Portsmouth with their squad made up of many new players did not quit.
We were to finish the day with over 300 yards of offence and with a Defence that did not give up a first down or even let our opponents cross the halfway line! However, with so many outstanding solo performances I can honestly say that every player contributed to the wins in one way or the other and both wins are a testament to the hard work that they have all put in since we started training back in July. We have built a team that works together for our shared goals and allows new and existing players to develop and in turn contribute both on and off the field.
Tournament MVP went to Captain Kirsty for her co-leadership of our potent Defence, her decisive play calling and her outstanding on-field performance. Helmet Stickers (awarded for an outstanding play/effort) went in game 1 to Vicki and Suzy for our first of the season passing touchdown and in game 2 to Sophie G for her stunning ‘Pick-six’. Congratulations go to them but they would agree that it was a total team effort that allowed them to shine.
We cannot rest on our laurels as we know our opponents will now be scheming on how to stop us so with only 2 weeks off over the Christmas period we will be working hard to prepare for our home tournament on the 18th of January.