Kent Exiles Flag Teams 2019 Review
By Head Coach Ted Smith
Coming back after to training in September after our first BAFA National League campaign, we went into 2019 in a good frame of mind and full of confidence for the season ahead.
At the conclusion of the 2018 season, we said goodbye to 13 Youth Flag members, who joined The Exiles Youth Kitted programme. A number of whom were part of the group which recently won the BAFA National League under 16 championship.
We started the year with a raw young group of players, of which only 5 had played previously. The remainder of the team were rookies. The worry we had was in BAFA tournaments, we knew that our7, 8- and 9-year olds would be up against 11 and 12-year-old children.
Over the Autumn, Coach Mark Summers decided to step down, which left us without a defensive coach and a small number of the 2018 ’s players, drifted away for one reason or another. Mary Smith and Adam Sharp continued as the main coaches; however, we were able to add two coaches during the year, with ex Exile Linebacker Neil Cooper taking over as defensive coach and Chris Benn’s assisting with drills.
First up was a warmup at Beaverwood on March 17th. With only a few weeks preparation, as previously stated, competitive games came as a shock to the new recruits and we relied heavily on Lucy Sharp, Finley Pester, Max Cooper, Oscar Benns and Gabe Hubbock to add some veteran experience. On the day, we used the event to prepare the children in game type scenarios. Whilst, no scores were kept, the session, gave the coaches a long list of things to work upon.
Tournament 1 was at the London Blitz. The guys played hard and although outgunned against, both London Blitz and Solent Red Storm, the final game against Kent Phoenix, was played with children of similar ages. The game was tight and a late score by Exiles, made a coach’s decision critical to either winning or losing the match. Coach Smith went for a 2-point conversion to win the match, which unfortunately was called back as a penalty and Phoenix sneaked the win.
Tournament 2 was at The Beaverwood. We came up against, London Blitz, London Warriors and South Coast Spitfires. The children tried hard, but playing against older and more experienced teams, led to some large losses.
We were unable to field a team for the tournament in Southampton, for a variety of reasons, which led onto Tournament 4 at Kent Phoenix. Phoenix, South Coast and Solent Red Storm (Britball bound) were the opposition. In discussions with the coaches, we knew that the games against Red Storm and South Coast, would be difficult, so we used those games to perfect some plays in preparation for the Phoenix game.
It was worthwhile as the Exiles turned on the style and came away convincing winners. In the victory, Oscar Benns, caught a TD, at 7 years of age, we believe he became the youngest ever Exile player to catch a TD in a BAFA tournament.
In July we attended the Hellingly Hound Dogs end of season “Dog Bowl” a SEYAF style event, which had attracted Hellingly, Kent Phoenix, South Coast and ourselves. With 2 victories and losing only to South Coast, we had a great end to the season, with everyone enjoying the event.
The good news for the coaches is that in 2020, the entire team will be remaining as Cadets!
The youth team and coaching staff, were rebuilt after the 2018 season. Jonathan McCabe remained and was joined by Dan Dart and Colin Hubbock. Much recruitment was required following the exodus of older players to Exiles Kitted football.
Similar to the Cadets, the scrimmage at Beaverwood was a “wake up” to what was lying in wait. However, all of the children had plenty of game time, which was useful when assessing which child would play in which position.
Tournament 1 was at the London Blitz. When we arrived at the ground, we were informed that Cobham had withdrawn from the league and this left just, ourselves, London Blitz and Solent Red Storm. The event was held in bizarre weather, very hot, then a storm came in and play was suspended for 45 minutes.
London Blitz had retained all but 2 players from the 2018 Conference Championship winning team. Despite scoring, we struggled against the athleticism of the Blitz, who were on a mission to win the Youth Flag National Championship.
Red Storm bought a Youth team full of last year’s Cadets. Exiles played smart and won convincingly. A great success and the first of 2 wins over the Red Storm.
Tournament 2 was at The Beaverwood. We came up against London Blitz, Waveney Wolves and Hertfordshire Cheetahs. The children tried hard, but the older and more experienced teams led to some large losses. In the final game, we got on the score board, with a Jake Dart pass to Liam Farmer.
Tournament 3 was a “road trip” to cold and windy Fawley, near Southampton. Hosted by South Coast Spitfires. We were joined by Berkshire Renegades and Solent Red Storm, from “just across the water!” A healthy Exiles squad with new guy George Murphy making his debut. We also made some Exile history, when Isabelle Coveney, joined her sister Maya, in the team.
We performed well against Berkshire and then came the game of the season against a healthy-looking Red Storm. Red Storm took the initiative an early score, however, Exiles never gave up. Some fantastic running from Ryan Puszyk, who had a man of the match day, kept the Exiles in touch, with the defence, carrying on with aggressive coverage and rushing the passer. Unbelievably, the game came down to the last few seconds, when Jake Dart, threw a screen pass to Harvey Weedon (another Man of the match contender!), who turned and took off down the sideline for the TD! With time expired, and the Extra point for the Win, Dart threw the pass, which was almost intercepted, but Oliver McCabe caught the ball above the head of the Red Storm defender. A close shave and a great advertisement for youth flag football.
What was pleasing was that both defence and offence had improved. There was no panic at being behind until the dying seconds of the game. Everyone stayed focused. Final Score – Solent Red Storm 6 Exiles 7
Tournament 4. With Cobham withdrawing from the competition, London Blitz offered to host the tournament, if they could use the opportunity to play friendlies against ourselves, Berkshire and South London Renegades. It was a roastingly hot day with only 8 players, we did what we could do.
All three teams, were better and had more resources than we did and the 2 National League games, were pretty one sided.
We played a mixed veteran and second – string London Blitz team in what turned out to be an entertaining experience. Present at the game was Aden Durde (Carolina Panthers) and BBC NFL Analyst, Jason Bell (ex-New York Giants). Jason came over the gave the team some defensive tips, which was fantastic.
We had some success moving the ball all day, but as soon as we got close to the end Zone, on came the starters. Ironically, we enjoyed the experience, which exposed the guys to play in different positions. QB Liam Farmer had an excellent day, as did Billy James. Well Done all!
At the end of the tournament season, we sent a team to the NFL Flag Open Day at Crystal Palace. Thanks to Martin and Luke Jefkins for looking after the guys, all of whom enjoyed the experience.To round out the season, we attended the Hellingly Hound Dogs end of season “Dog Bowl” a SEYAF style event, which had attracted ourselves, Hellingly, Kent Phoenix and a new team Brighton Scorpions. All players were under 14, so a much more even playing field. 2 Victories and a narrow defeat meant that The Kent Exiles won the inaugural “Dog Bowl” – which was actually a hand carved wooden Dog Bowl!
After a long and exciting season, looking back at what we achieved and the exposure to additional events, I am impressed beyond words. I am sure that the Coaches are pleased to be taking a long and well-earned rest!
Unfortunately there is some sad news at the end of the season, firstly J. T Dugan has left us and returned to the USA with his family. He was enjoying training, playing and being part of the team. Strangely, his first taste of American Football came in the UK!
Likewise, moving to the US are Chris and Oscar Benns. Chris has been busy flying back from New York overnight some Saturday’s, after work and picking up Oscar and coming to training. A decision had to be made, which led to the family moving to New York. I look forward to seeing Oscar, at some time playing in the NFL and hopefully, remembering what he learned from The Kent Exiles! Free tickets?
Hellingly, was a pleasant way to round out what turned into a decent season. The performances were good, and everyone enjoyed the experience. Something to work on!
I am very pleased with the way our players handle themselves, on and off the field. The way in which they all communicate and encourage each other. We will be losing a few to kitted football, but we hope that the forthcoming “open recruitment” days will help boost numbers.
My thanks to all the parents and supporters. Our home tournament was really well attended. several teams are quite jealous of the Exiles family and travelling support!
Here is to 2020!