Britbowl 33 Review
Images courtesy of Kyle Hemsley
We’re in 1987 and it’s Britball finals day. London Raven’s Offensive Lineman Errol Muhammad stands on the sideline, he’s focused and ready to go after the win. His team are well prepared, physical athletes and they have a winning attitude. Fast forward thirty-two years and Muhammad is in the same position, only now he is the O Line Coach of the London Warriors, the 2019 Champions of the South. In many ways they resemble the legendary Ravens. Their opponents today will be the Champions of the North, the Tamworth Phoenix. It’s a repeat of last years title game which London won, the pundit’s expectation is for a convincing Warriors victory, but Tamworth have fought hard all year to have the opportunity for revenge. However, London will not be taking anything for granted. Let’s see how it plays out.
Taylor Burke receives the opening kick-off for the Warriors and runs the ball out to the thirty-three-yard line. Lining up in the backfield is Raymond Sobowole, two bullish runs later it’s first down London. With the Tamworth defence now keying on the run, quarterback Jerome Allen mixes it up and connects on passes to Harry Innes and Tim Thomas. Back to the ground game and Dwayne Watson enters the fray securing another first down. It’s all aboard the Ray and Dwayne train as they combine to get the ball to the Phoenix two-yard line. Watson then powers in behind some impressive blocking from the O line for the opening score! The conversion kick from Ian Jacquet splits the uprights and just like that it’s 7-0 Warriors.
Watson powers in for the opening score
Over to you Tamworth. Phoenix quarterback Angus Cook hands off to Deji Ali who breaks a good run, then Ben Burslem and Elliot Walters add more yards to secure a first down for Tamworth. They’re now in the redzone and Cook feeds Ampong to nudge them closer. Showing great confidence, Cook keeps the ball on a read option and darts in for a touchdown! But the PAT kick is blocked leaving the score 7-6 to London. Looks like we have a game on our hands! Burke put up another big return, all the way to the Phoenix thirty two yard line, but the Warriors couldn’t move the chains and had to punt the ball away, Tamworth returned the favour, with the Warriors dangerous returner Mark Price gashing them for big yards only for a penalty to bring it all the way back to the London twelve. An incomplete pass saw the Warriors having to punt again but a wayward snap led to the ball being recovered on the one-yard line giving the Phoenix four attempts to take the lead. Cook dived in to score and Lenkowski added the extra point, Tamworth now led 13-7. It had certainly been an entertaining first quarter for the large crowd who were cheering on the teams.
Price always looked like he could break it to the house
The second quarter would start with the Warriors in possession and unusually for them, they were behind. Allen looked to his receivers to make some quick gains. Timothy Thomas snagged the ball for a first down, then Allen scrambled for good yards and was hit as he went out of bounds drawing a fifteen-yard penalty. With the Warriors at the Tamworth fifteen-yard line Sobowole got the carry and secured first and goal for London at the Phoenix two-yard line. Watson powered in for the score taking a would-be tackler with him. Jacquet was good for the extra point and London regained the lead 14-13. Tamworth went to their ground game, running Burslem on a jet sweep, Cook them scrambled for a first down but they couldn’t maintain the drive and had to punt. A short run from Sobowale was followed by a big one! Thirty yards to be exact, that put the Warriors in Tamworth territory. Thomas made another first down reception, then another Allen dart to Mbemba had the ball at the four. Inside the five, “who you gonna call?” correct! Watson ploughed in behind some great blocking up front! The kick was good and gave London an eight-point cushion 21-13. Marc Bonazebi got good yards on the kick-off return, setting up running back Elliot Walters for a big gain for a first down. A penalty had the Phoenix at third and long and after a big sack by Bradley McManus they ended up punting the ball away, it was gathered by Price who ripped off another big run. Gains on the ground from Sobowole and Allen followed by a great catch by Thomas set up Sobowole for his first score of the half, and Jacquet for his fourth conversion, 28-13 London. As the second quarter came to a close the teams swapped interceptions, Sansom for the Phoenix and Kabia for the Warriors taking the honours, but as the teams walked off to the locker rooms with the cheers of the crowd ringing in their ears, there was still all to play for.
Walters bursts through for a first down
If Tamworth were to stay in the game, they would need to get the next score, so having received the kick-off their offence took to the field. Cook led the way with a keeper for a first down and then found James Hossack over the middle to secure another four downs. The chains kept moving on the back of a Walters run and the Phoenix were now poised at the Warriors seven-yard line. Cook sold some misdirection in the backfield and dove to reach the ball just inside the pylon, touchdown! Lenkowski slotted the kick making it 28-20 London. With their tales up Tamworth deployed an onside kick and recovered the ball at the midfield stripe. Two runs from Cook and the Phoenix had reached the thirty-seven from where they went for a field goal attempt. Lenkowski was now in the groove and split the uprights to make the difference just five points at 28-23. Tamworth went for a second on-side kick and pulled it off again, but this seemed to spur the Warriors defence to move up a gear. Bradley McManus made a big tackle on Walters for a loss, leading to the Phoenix having to attempt a punt, as it happened, the punt was blocked by Jamaal Fredericks and recovered by Ariel Mofondo. A penalty helped the Warriors move closer to the Tamworth endzone, then a good run from Sobowole set up Allen to find Timothy Thomas for a touchdown, Jacquet nailed the kick stretching London’s lead to 35-23.
Cook reaches out for the score
The crowd were going crazy as the momentum swung back and forth, they were certainly getting great value for their money. Tamworth now had the ball but were unable to sustain a drive and had to punt. Price let the ball go and the Warriors would start the drive from their own twenty. Allen found Mbemba with a quick pass and then found Denapoli Williams for a big first down. Further passes to Ian Jacquet and Ademola Labisi had the Warriors inside the Phoenix ten. Allen hit Mbemba in the endzone, but he couldn’t hold on, the disappointment was short lived though as Sobowole charged toward the endzone dragging defenders with him and reached out to break the plane for his second touchdown! Jacquet tacked on the PAT and at the end of quarter three, London looked to be closing in on the title with a 42-23 lead.
Tamworth had the ball to start the final quarter but had to punt, waiting deep was Price who ran the ball back to the London forty-six. A screen pass to Sobowole and a scramble by Allen were followed by a first down run by Watson. Incremental gains from Watson, Labisi and Thomas kept the drive going and the Warriors found themselves at the Tamworth one-yard line. Watson bulled his way in for his fourth score of the game and Jacquet was as reliable as ever with the conversion, 49-23 London.
Sobowole was running angry!
With ten minutes left to play Tamworth had the ball back. Cook was still making yards on scrambles and Burslem secured a first down on an end around play. Emmanuel Bawa showed elusiveness to keep the Phoenix moving forward, but on the next play he was stopped in the backfield. The Warriors were then penalised for unnecessary roughness at the end of a deep pass attempt, with the result being a first down for the Phoenix at the London thirteen -yard line. After a short gain by Cook, the hard working Deji Ali went in for the touchdown on a strong run. Tamworth went for the two-point conversion but failed, with little time left, it was now 49-29 Warriors. Tamworth decided to go for the onside kick and the ball was recovered by Stuart Milloy. Allen’s pass attempt was batted down but Sobowole still had plenty in the tank and taking the hand-off he outran the Phoenix defence to ice the game with his third score. Jacquet slotted the kick and it was now Warriors 56, Phoenix 29. With less than two minutes to go Tamwoth had to get creative but Cook was almost picked off by Sam Obi and when they tried a fake punt it didn’t work out. London took over on the Phoenix twenty-five and ran out the clock. As the official hoisted the ball above his head to signal full time, he also signalled that the Warriors had secured their sixth national title!
Coach Muhammad congratulated his players, satisfied that he had continued his tradition of winning the National Championship, he savoured the moment. The post-game celebrations were in full flow as the BAFA officials set up the medal and trophy giving ceremony. Dwayne Watson was awarded the game MVP, but both teams had really earned their medals, they had put on a great show for the fans in the stadium and the thousands watching on-line.
I spoke with Warriors captain Ben Watkins to get his thoughts. “The Britball 33 Final was a great game and advert for the sport, Tamworth really came out with a plan in the first quarter of how to slow down our O, and it took us a little bit of time to react and find our gears. But once we did the O line really took over and started to move bodies at the point of attack, QB/RBs/WRs did their jobs and showed why they are the best, resulting in those points on the scoreboard. There was a lot of talk going into that game from outside the Warriors about how badly we would beat them, but internally we knew that Tamworth know how to play in and win a final. Coach Allen and our coaching staff put us in the best position to win by preparing the team for the game. Coach Errol Muhammad has been working the OL hard all season knowing that at some point we would have to play a full 4 quarters to come out on top, so for me the end result of the game was never in doubt even after the Tamworth onside kick recoveries. As to what is next for the Warriors, well every year we have the same goal, to dominate the British Premiership and that will be our priority for next season. But on top of that we obviously have ambitions to prove ourselves vs the best teams in Europe. We opened 2019 with a great win over Uppsala 86ers so we know we can compete, now we need to have those games more regularly. There is no other way for us to get better as a team than to play the best competition, and so hopefully we will have that opportunity for European games over the next few years”.
Watkins holds the trophy aloft