Queens in the North
Undoubtedly, the marquee match-up of the week 3 slate of games was the battle between the East Kilbride Pirates and the Sheffield Giants. In their previous joust, the Pirates triumphed by a solitary point. In this game, we’d see very similar back and forth action, with an explosive second half resulting in a tense finish. Both sides came in without some of their star players, but we were treated to a thoroughly entertaining game nonetheless!
Early in this game, neither side could find much success on offence. The Pirates were frustrated by the quick blitz from Sabrina McKetty-Edwards, while the Pirates’ typically tough tackling limited opportunities for the Giants to advance. The Giants defence was resolute in the first half of this game, and was much improved from the first meeting, as the Ashraf twins (Mariam and Ambreem) provided solid coverage of the Pirates receivers. It was the Sheffield side who broke the deadlock however, as late in the half, Tanya Whittingslow caught a pass in front of the Pirates safety who failed to pull the flag as Tanya reached into the endzone. After a failed XP, the Pirates responded almost immediately with a drive of their own – Carla Costa, employed on offence for this game, got behind two Giants defenders and caught the pass from Aynesley Barclay for a stunning score. Carla added an XP in traffic, and the Pirates took a slim lead at the half.
The Giants took back the lead on the first offensive drive of the second half, as Tanya found herself in acres of space. After 3 uncharacteristic missed tackles from the Pirates, we had another lead change in this enthralling contest. After the failed XP, both teams traded turnovers in the next few drives, with the Giants dropping a number of open passes. They’d be left to rue their mistakes, as a nifty option-pass play was called, and Robyn McCluskey threw a length of the field bomb to a wide-open Louise Donnelly, and the Pirates retook the lead. Louise returned to this contest after getting injured previously in the game, and was a thorn in the side of the Giants all-game. The XP was dropped, and the Pirates lead 13-12.
An expert drive from the Giants culminated in a short TD pass on 4th down, but again the Giants couldn’t punch in the point after attempt. Another breakdown in coverage gave Carla Costa her 2nd deep TD reception of the game, and after the Portugese Pirate added the XP, the Pirates had a 20-18 lead with under 4 minutes remaining.
The Pirates defence was starting to tighten up and make tackles, but on third down, a bizarre penalty gave the Giants a first and goal opportunity. The play had been blown dead for defensive false start (called in error), but after a referee’s discussion, an illegal blitz was called instead. After much deliberation, the Giants started to ping the ball towards the endzone in order to recapture the lead. Inside 2 minutes to go, Amy Slater caught a pass inside the 5, and after some contact from the Pirates defender, she reached into the endzone to get the go-ahead score and the contact penalty! The Giants elected to go for 2 to give them a 6 point lead, however Aynesley Barclay batted the pass away from 6 yards out, and began to lead her offence down the field. The Pirates drove to within 12 yards of the Giants endzone, but after an incomplete pass on 4th down, the Giants could celebrate a huge victory will vaulted them into the #1 seed in the North!
Both teams put on an awesome display for the audience in attendance, in what is fast becoming one of the most entertaining rivalries in the UK flag scene. Both teams had players who stepped up big time, as Tanya Whittingslow put in a herculean effort on both sides of the ball for the Giants. While she was instrumental in the victory, we’d be remiss if we didn’t recognise the play of Carla Costa for the Pirates. With 2 TD receptions, 2 XPs and 4 sacks on defence, she was a big reason the Pirates were on the brink of winning this excellent contest.
Frisky Third and Fourth
While the Pirates and Giants duked it out for #1 and #2 seeding, the Sheffield Hallam Warriors sealed #3 by virtue of their sole victory on the day over the Nottingham Gold team. The Chorley Buccaneers had an excellent opportunity to improve on their playoff position as the Warriors went 1-2 on the day, but a lacklustre display against the Nottingham Gold led to a 12-0 loss. They did however get two impressive wins on the day, which capped their season off well.
The Warriors have taken a slight step back this year after losing some key personnel, but they’ve restocked their ranks well, and the impressive Steph Tharme had herself a day! With Katie Lobo and Lamorna McNevin in their ranks, they’ll be a tough test for the Coventry Cougars, who they meet on December 2nd.
The Buccaneers have enjoyed a successful campaign this year, and will look to embrace their underdog status as they take on the Hyde Park Renegades. Anything can happen on any given Saturday.
Silver and Bronze Bound
The aforementioned Nottingham Gold will enter the Silver plate after an impressive season led them to 3 wins this year, including an impressive scalping of the Chorley Buccaneers. The Hallam Rangers will join them after they picked up 3 wins in 10 games also. The Nottingham Green failed to pick up a win all season, and will be the sole entrant from the North into the Bronze bracket, where they’ll meet the Iceni Spears and Dreadnoughts Blue from the South.