Norwich Devils v Welwyn Hatfield Mosquitos
Sunday 31st July
Report by Alan Baxter-Smith
Long time Florida State Seminoles football coach and College Football Hall of fame inductee Bobby Bowden is believed to be the first to use the immortal and often imitated phrase, “I’d rather win ugly than lose pretty”. When the final whistle blew on the Devils’ first home game for 5 years last Sunday you could be forgiven for thinking that this quote perfectly summed up the mood on the Devils’ sideline. Their opponents had been, once again, the Welwyn Hatfield Mosquitos whom the Devils had beaten in a thriller away from home just 3 weeks earlier and, once again, the Devils had been victorious. It was their third win on the bounce, it was a winning start at their new home ground, they remained unbeaten in their associate year and they had won by their biggest margin yet. All great achievements, but things had not gone entirely to plan.
The Mosquitos won the coin toss and elected to receive the ball. After a short return their Offence took to the field and thus began a quarter which featured a number of flags thrown, on both teams, as each battled to take an early control of the game. The Mosquitos first drive finished quickly after they struggled with illegal formations calls, failed to ignite their passing game and, after good coverage from the Devils Secondary, they were forced to punt. The Devils then struggled to get their running game going on the following drive as it became obvious that the Mosquitos had strengthened their Defensive line since the previous game. After failing to convert a short yardage on 4th down, the ball was turned over on downs and the Mosquitos offence once again returned to the field.
Once the game began to flow without penalties the Mosquitos were able to put together a number of passing plays which took them down to 1st and goal on the Devils 2 yard line. With four chances to enter the end zone it was up to the Devils defence to come up with a stop. They however went one better. Sensationally, Cornerback Aaron Phillips read the play perfectly and intercepted the ball on the 1 yard line and, with very loud encouragement from the large home support, ran the ball back 99 yards for a Devils touchdown. It was a dagger to the hearts of the Mosquitos offence who had looked certain to open the scoring. Following a few more penalty flags the Devils were able to convert a two point conversion attempt with Running Back Adam Jones crossing into the end zone and the Devils found themselves in the lead right at the end of the 1st quarter.
End of 1st Quarter Score 8-0
The 2nd quarter again started with some penalties on both sides, as the aggressive nature of the game stepped up even more, before the Mosquitos once again began to move the ball downfield. This time it was their running game doing the damage. Despite some strong tackling from Defensive Lineman Conor Cantle, the Mosquitos were still able to pick up a number of first downs, before picking up a touchdown as their Quarterback found a receiver in the corner of the end zone with a fantastic 30 yard deep pass. It was a difficult pill to swallow for the usually sound Devils Safeties but was made slightly easier after giant Lineman Chris Handley prevented the two point conversion attempt with a powerful break through the line and a crushing tackle on the Mosquitos Running Back.
Conceding a touchdown seemed to kickstart the Devils Offensive line into life and after a good kick off return the Devils offence finally began to make gains with their running game. But yet another penalty meant the Devils again fell agonisingly short of a first down on a 4th down try and their longest drive of the game resulted in a turnover on downs. The Mosquitoes however, then produced an excellent long drive of their own. Assisted by some more penalties they marched nearly 65 yards downfield with a combination of running and passing plays, finding themselves on the Devils 10 yard line. Again Defensive Lineman Conor Cantle produced some excellent tackles to hold out the Mosquitos running back and, when the Mosquitos took to the air, Linebacker Steve Mortimer produced a spectacular knockdown to stop a certain touchdown on 4th down. It was a crucial stop for the Devils as the whistle blew for half time just seconds later and they went into the break still in the lead, but only just.
Half Time Score 8-6
After the break, thanks to some personnel changes at running back and more focus from the Devils Offensive line, the Devils were able to advance 60 yards downfield through a combination of passing and running plays. It was clear the team talk by the coaches at half time had made an impact as the Devils began to click and the penalties that had plagued the first half became non existent. Running Back Ben Rayner in particular showing his pace to good effect. However they suffered a big loss of yardage after the Mosquitos managed to sack their Quarterback and once again they fell, agonisingly, mere inches short of a first down when going for it on 4th down on the Mosquitos 18 yard line.
After the turnover on downs the Mosquitos responded again with another long 12 play drive of their own which was also bereft of penalties. Short yardage gains from their powerful Running Backs helped them move downfield. This was interspersed with long passing plays which took advantage of the Devils tiring Secondary who had spent a lot of time on the field throughout the first half. Even a sack from Defensive End Christopher Babey, following a superb piece of block shedding, only stalled them for a moment as they threatened the Devils end zone as the third quarter came to a close.
End of 3rd Quarter Score 8-6
In their two previous games the Devils had shown that they could step up a gear in the 4th quarter and as they took to the field they were confident they could do so again. On the very first play Linebacker Richard Gray magnificently intercepted a Mosquitoes pass with a full length diving catch. It was a brilliant piece of athleticism from the big man and proved to be the biggest turning point of the game.
The Devils offence took to the field with the ball on their 20 yard line wanting to match the defensive play they had just witnessed, and they didn’t take long to do just that. On their very first play Quarterback Harris Todd scrambled out of the pocket and, thanks to an excellent team effort in blocking the opposition, he was able to run 80 yards downfield into the Mosquitos end zone. It was yet another devastating moment for the Mosquitos who had again been so close to scoring themselves. Running Back Rayner was able to add the two point conversion and the Devils found themselves with a two score lead.
Following the restart the Mosquitoes showed their class and refused to give in. Producing another long drive of 11 plays they again marched downfield to within sight of the Devils end zone despite the Devils bringing in fresh legs to relieve their defence. However, an offensive pass interference penalty hampered their progress and they eventually handed the ball over on downs within the Devils 10 yard line.
The Devils offence quickly ran the ball and picked up some first downs before sealing the win with another long run from Todd. He was enabled again by an excellent team effort on blocking, managing to weave his way through the Mosquitos defence and run 70 yards for his second of the day. Rayner again added the two point conversion and the Devils could truly begin to celebrate their third win in a row.
After the restart the Mosquitos attempted one last drive but were forced to punt and the Devils ran out the clock. As they shook hands with the Mosquitos and celebrated with their friends and family, they knew they had been in a game and knew that while they had won, they hadn’t won the way they wanted.. Bobby Bowden was right it was great to win, but next time the Devils will be determined to win pretty.
Final Score 26-6
The win maintained the Devils unbeaten associate year and served as a great first game at their new home ground at Thorpe St Andrew School. We would like to thank the fantastic support we received from our fans and hope we gave them a good show. After the game Devils’ head coach Mark Hoskins commented, “We did well to grab that win. Welwyn have obviously been working on their run defence and it showed. They were more aggressive too which is something we’ll have to learn to deal with a little better. For most of the first half and a lot of the second it could have gone either way and we did have to scramble around a bit to get our game plan to where it needed to be, but I’m super happy at how we responded and just kept plugging away. It’s a great reflection of the team spirit around here and to win our first three associate games is just fantastic… right now Norwich is a nice place to be!”
The Devils will be playing more associate games in 2016 as they look to rejoin the league for the 2017 season. Check out the website or like our Facebook page for updates on the upcoming competitive fixtures.
The Devils are always on the lookout for new players, coaches and game day staff. If you think its something you may be interested in, please check out the recruitment page on the website or simply contact us to discuss how you could help.