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Southern Playoff Review

The opening round of the SWC playoffs saw a number of heavy hitters enter the fray early to send a statement. Here’s how the action unfolded!

In what would appear to be the Showboats‘ last hurrah in National League competition, the Cardiff Hurricanes showed no remorse as they dispatched the West Essex outfit with ease. The defence started with a bang after Joe Cotterill returned an interception thrown by Showboats QB Nick Bertenshaw before the 30 minute thunder delay occurred. This unexpected intermission would allow Showboats to regroup, but it wasn’t to be as the Cardiff defence continued to pressure Bertenshaw with a swarming defence.

The conditions led to a number of dropped passes, as the there plenty of missed opportunities for the Showboats offence. Cardiff continued their outstanding offensive form from the regular season with some great play from Matt Thomas, who methodically took apart the Showboats defence. Matt Thomas picks up the game ball in this contest for some outstanding throws to fire a warning to the rest of the southern teams that they are ready for anything. A classy touch from the Hurricanes should be mentioned, as they gave the Showboats a guard of honour in their final fixture.

The Hereford Stampede have had an up and down season, and their clinching of a playoff berth seemed both inevitable and unlikely at certain points in the year. While they scraped through, they came into this game without their top receiver and SWC Offensive Player of the Year, Jay Jay Spencer. Luckily for the Sharks, Neil Henderson had his full compliment of weapons and put Hereford to the sword on his way to a 59-6 win. The Sharks defence feasted on the the Stampede passing attack which was down its best player. They picked up a bevy of interceptions to give Henderson great field position to work with. The game ball in this contest is shared between the Sharks defence, who stepped up to shut the Hereford offence down.

In arguably the marquee matchup of round one, the Reading Lions would ease past the Northants Titans Blue in dramatic fashion. With the Titans down to their third string QB in Justin Huxter, they relied on his connection with centre Jordan Melay to pick up multiple scores. The excellent Nick Schippers showed the chemistry he had with his receivers as he tied the game multiple times through Dom Howard. With little time remaining in the first period, Jordan Melay scored on a diving effort to give the Titans a 20-14 lead at the intermission. The Titans defence seemed to be holding strong, as SWC Defensive Player of the Year Connor Melay had a big pass deflection to close out the half.

In the second half, a controversial no-call on a potential defensive pass-interference in the endzone left the Titans empty-handed on a valuable drive. The Titans defence would pick up the slack, as Nathan Coles snagged an interception to allow his offence to increase the lead to 26-14.

Schippers responded with a score on 4th down through Matt Bacon to narrow the score to 26-20. The Lions defence gave their team a chance as they stopped the Titans on 4th down. The Northants squad had little answer for Dom Howard all day, and they were punished as he took the ball just short of the endzone. Bacon levelled the game at 26 all, and Dom Howard added the XP to give the Reading their first lead of the game.

The Titans gave themselves hope, as Coles put them inside the 10 yard line, but the Lions defence held firm to see out the game. Our game-ball in this classic encounter is shared between Jordan Melay and Nick Schippers.

We predicted this game could be a close battle in which the Cougars may prevail. However the Spartans would crush those predictions on their way to a dominating win. Harry Staszewski showed the Cougars secondary no respect as he torched them with deep ball after deep ball to his dynamic duo Jeff Bond and SEC Offensive Player of the Year Dan Benning. The Spartans defence would cause Cougars QB James Ashmore major problems with some great bltizing, coupled with some tight coverage to stifle the deadly trio of Danny Caballero, Kieran Eaton and Sam Finnie. Game ball in this contest goes to Jeff Bond, who showed off his lightning pace on his way to multiple scores.

The Phantoms had shown some impressive offensive prowess all season, as Stuart Tarry and Luke Hoskin were among the best receiver duos this year. Phantoms QB Jeremy Smith gave the Rebels a brief scare as he scored on his opening possession. The Rebels showed their class however, as Calvin Tarlton began to take over, and gradually pulled away to give the Rebels a two score lead at the half. The Phantoms responded to open the second period after converting a 4th-and-very-long on their way to a valuable TD. From then on however, it was all Rebels, as they snagged a pick six to seal the victory. Our game-ball goes to Calvin Tarlton, who expertly guided his team through some potentially troubled waters.

In the second round, the impressive Baker Street Buttonhookers made their post-season debut as they faced the only team to defeat them all season. Elsewhere, an all SEC matchup between the Rebels and Spartans was on the cards, while the Hurricanes and Sharks would face-off.

The Baker Street Buttonhookers would enter the playoff fray in the second round and see themselves drawn against the Reading Lions. Only a few weeks prior, the Lions had delivered the Buttonhookers their first ever 5v5 loss on British soil. This coupled with their remarkable come-from-behind win against the Titans surely had the Lions brimming with confidence. Unfortunately for them, this contest would get out of hand quickly. SEC QB of the Year Vince Machi found Carl Szabo deep up the right sideline on the game’s second play for a quick 6-0 lead. Following a Lions four and out, Machi hooked up with Szabo again for a full field TD, and after Josh Nicholson converted the two-pointer, the Hookers were up 14. Szabo then came up with his first interception and on the ensuing play, Machi hit fellow GB Lion Steve Mongey in the back corner of the endzone. After four offensive plays, the Hookers had a 20-0 lead and the rout was on. While the Lions were able to get on the scoreboard eventually, they never truly threatened. Szabo would ultimately collect 3 offensive TDs, 3 INTs, and a pick-six in a starring role while Josh Nicholson added 2 TDs and 2 picks of his own. The Hookers avenged their only loss of the season in a big way, 46-6. With his dominating display, Carl Szabo earns our game-ball!

The Spartans and Rebels had their anticipating rematch of the playoffs, and for the second time this year both defences held incredibly strong. The Spartans managed to pick off Calvin Tarlton multiple times in the opening exchanges, but the Rebels defence stepped up to keep the Spartans out of the endzone for the duration of the game. After those early mistakes, Tarlton fired two second half scores to give his side an unassailable lead as they continued their march towards Britbowl. This set up an exciting third encounter against the Buttonhookers, who held a 2-0 record over the Rebels this season. Calvin Tarlton earns his second game-ball of the day, as he brushed off early errors to give his team a comfortable victory in the end.

The Hurricanes and Sharks put on a show for onlookers in a back and forth affair. Cardiff puleld off this win despite the loss of Joe Cotterill for the third game-day in a row as he went down with an injury. The Sharks held a narrow lead at 14-13 after an outstanding XP reception by the excellent Corey Bedford. The Hurricanes regrouped at the half to regain the lead, but were pegged back immediately as the Sharks would score and convert their XP to take a 21-19 lead. For the majority of the second period, the defences would take centre stage until Kostas Karras emerged as the hero for the Hurricanes as he snagged the decisive score. Chad Stevens put relentless pressure on Neil Henderson to stop any the Sharks gaining any momentum. The Cardiff defence would hold on and pick up a massive win, and our game-ball goes to Chad Stevens, who was a massive part in this team victory.

And just like that, we had our final four! We’d see the Rebels and Buttonhookers meet for a third game with the highest stakes, while the Birmingham Lions would have the chance to take down the Hurricanes, who are the only team to defeat them this year.

After two thrilling regular season encounters, the London Rebels and Baker Street Buttonhookers would meet once more for a spot at BritBowl. Already down Akshay Singhal, the earlier loss of Kenny Bello left the Rebels looking thin on offense. However, with Calvin Tarlton at the helm, the defending champs are always dangerous. The cool veteran led his team on a methodical opening drive, picking up 7-8 yards every play. Tarlton finished it off with a short pass to Jeremy Meslien for a 6-0 lead. In contrast to the Rebels’ measured approach, the Buttonhookers looked for the home run early and often. Vince Machi fired deep to Carl Szabo for a huge gain, taking Hookers down inside the 5. On the next play, GB Lion Josh Nicholson would find paydirt to tie the game.

With two of the nation’s best quarterbacks battling, it was clear early that even one defensive stop could be the difference. Bobby Centlivre, playing in his last game for the ‘Hookers, would deliver, intercepting a pass on the goalline and returning it just shy of midfield. On the ensuing play, Machi found Steve Mongey behind the defense and after Nicholson added the two-pointer, the Hookers had a 14-6 lead. Needing an answer, the Rebels drove down inside the Hookers’ five but on 3rd down, Centilvre made a leaping interception at the goalline for his second pick. After a couple of completions, Machi then connected with Szabo on a fade to stretch the margin to two scores.

The Rebels would then show their mettle. After struggling to move the ball, they faced fourth and goal from about halfway. Tarlton reared back and dropped a wonderful ball between two Hookers defenders right into the arms of a diving Andrew Eastwood. Not many quarterbacks can make that throw and it pulled the Rebels back into the game at 20-12. The Rebels defence would then hold Machi and co. for the first time, forcing a four and out and getting to halftime within a score.

With momentum seemingly shifting London’s way, the Buttonhookers needed a positive drive to maintain control. After looking deep the first half, Machi began to work underneath and found Casey Fitzsimmons repeatedly for chunks of yards before connecting with Nicholson for his second TD. Fitzsimmons would add the extra point to make the score 27-12. The Rebels would answer back as Tarlton connected with long-time teammate Tim Eaton for a score. For the third time however, the Rebels, normally clinical on XPs, failed to convert, leaving them nine points behind.

For the remainder of the game, London could never pull closer. The teams traded TDs, Mongey and Nicholson scoring for the Hookers while Meslien and Eaton would score again for the Rebels. When the final whistle sounded, the Hookers had delivered the defending champs their third loss of the season by a score of 39-30 and secured their own place at Britbowl in their debutant season. Bobby Centlivre gets the game ball as his two picks proved to be the difference.

The Hurricanes scored a huge 31-7 victory earlier in the season over the Lions, as their defence flexed its muscles. They would be handed a crushing defeat in this contest however, as SWC QB of the Season Tristan Varney and Drew Newiss connected multiple times for scores. The Lions defence showed improved form as Paul Zinkus brought an intensity to the side which the Hurricanes could not match. The Hurricanes showed the effects of two hard-fought victories in the previous rounds, and could not keep up with the Lions on either side of the ball. Tristan And Drew share the game-ball in this game, as they proved why they are one of the most feared QB-WR combos in the country.

The Lions would join the Buttonhookers, Sheffield Giants and Glasgow Hornets at Britbowl!

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