Norwich Devils v East Essex Sabres
Sunday 4th September
Report by Alan Baxter-Smith
‘Sometimes you win, sometimes you learn’
Last Sunday’s home game against the East Essex Sabres certainly fell into the learning category of this quote as the Devils fought hard but fell agonisingly short of extending their unbeaten run in 2016. The Sabres arrived after a three hour coach journey with their own unbeaten record, an experienced squad and a defence which had yet to be breached by an opponent in 2016. They were certainly the toughest test yet for the developing Devils squad, especially since the Devils defence were missing some key players due to injury, work commitments and late summer holidays. But as the captains walked out onto the field they were confident that the squad were up to the challenge.
The Sabres won the coin toss and elected to kick off. Despite a reasonable kick return the Devils were unable to capitalise on the first possession and after some good gains with their running game they were forced to punt as the Sabres defence quickly put pressure on the Devils offensive line and passing game. The Sabres however were able to capitalise on their first possession. Quickly showing their strong running game they moved 40 yards upfield before a blown coverage in the Devils defence allowed them to unleash an accurate 38 yard deep pass into the end zone for their first score of the game. The Sabres failed to complete the pass for their two point conversion attempt but it was an early blow to the Devils weakened defence which threatened to destroy their confidence before the game had even really begun.
On the restart the Devils offence needed to provide some positive vibes for the team but, following a surprise onside kick which the Sabres were able to recover, they were unable to have the chance and it was the defence who once again took to the field still shellshocked by the previous score. The Sabres offence were able to once again drive quickly downfield. This time it was their quick and accurate passing game that was causing the damage. Despite closing down receivers quickly the Devils secondary were finding it hard to stop yardage being gained after the catch and the Sabres once again found themselves within sight of the Devils end zone. The excellent Sabres drive finally stalled however as they were unable to convert on a long 4th down attempt following a offensive holding penalty and they handed the ball over on downs. When the Devils running game failed to ignite and produce any significant yardage on their next drive, the quarter ended with a long punt downfield and the prospect of the Devils defence returning to action.
End of 1st Quarter Score 0-6
The 2nd quarter looked to be going much the same as the 1st as the Sabres yet again easily marched downfield. This time, showing their experience by mixing up their pass and run game to great effect, neutralising the Devils rush which had begun to make gains through the Sabres defensive line. It was this rush however that finally provided some joy for the Devils as Cornerback James Grey took advantage of a rushed pass from the Sabres Quarterback, brilliantly intercepted the ball and quickly made his way back towards the Sabres end zone. With a pick six looking inevitable only a last ditch tap tackle forced Grey to just touch the sideline, but a spark of confidence had been ignited in the Devils team which the offence hoped to feed off as they entered the field. This proved to be the case as, after some short games moved them up the field, it was a cleverly designed play which showed the depth of the Devils playbook knowledge and their adaptability to their opponents defensive strategy which enabled Running Back Adam Jones to run in from 34 yards. The devils were on the scoreboard and despite their failed two point conversion attempt their sideline was suddenly buzzing with energy as the kick off team took to the field.
It’s well known that often teams are most vulnerable after they have just scored and this proved to be the case for the Devils as despite an excellent kick and chase the Devils defence unfortunately allowed some large gains both from the pass and run with poor tackling which resulted in the Sabres running in from 8 yards, after only 4 plays, for their second score of the game. It was a quick reminder of just how strong the Sabres offence was and when the two point conversion attempt was successful the Devils were rocked by how fast they had found themselves behind again.
Things seemed to go from bad to worse following the restart as on the second Devils offensive play the Sabres defence intercepted the ball and it looked like they would have a chance to add to their score. However, two plays later, the Devils defence again managed to step up and come to the rescue. Linebacker Mark Stewart, who had already shown his strong tackling skills throughout the game, showed excellent technique by stripping the ball from the Sabres’ Running Back’s grasp and fellow Linebacker Steven Bunyan dived on the ball to force the turnover. It was another special play by the Devils defence which brought noisy cheers from the large number of Devils supporters. But despite gaining some good yardage the Devils offence were unable to bring such cheers from the crowd as a superb read by the Sabres Safety ensured that he intercepted the ball, stopped the Devils drive and thus brought the 1st half to a close.
Half Time Score 6-14
The Devils received the kick off in the 2nd half but were unable to make much ground on the field and were forced to punt. The Sabres however had not let the half time break effect their game. Much like the first half they quickly moved downfield and despite an improvement in tackling by the Devils defence, obviously brought about by a stern half time talk from the coaching staff, they managed to find themselves with four chances to enter the Devils end zone from the 1 yard line. It only took one play for the Sabres to add to their score. But an excellent rush and sack by Defensive end Chris Mills ensured the Sabres couldn’t add a further 2 points to their lead.
As the Devils offence took to the field following the restart they could have been forgiven for letting their heads drop. They had failed to make much progress in their last possession and the Sabres offence had been showing them how its done. But, the Devils are not a team that folds, they are not a team that stops battling. After the restart the Devils made a personnel change at Running Back which quickly made a difference to their running game and they managed to advance downfield gaining several first downs. Aided by a dangerous tackle penalty on the Sabres defence they found themselves within sight of the Sabres end zone. A disallowed touchdown for offensive holding seemed to have prevented the excellent drive resulting in a score as the Devils finally found themselves at 4th and goal on the Sabres 22 yard line. A brave call from the Devils Head Coach saw the Devils draw from their trick playbook and a well worked Half Back option pass play, saw Running Back Adam Jones turn provider as he found Receiver Christopher Wilkinson wide open in the end zone. Running back Abdullah Bryce ran in the two point conversion and the Devils found themselves back in the game.
A huge kick off on the restart was matched by a return by the Sabres and their offence took to the field in excellent field position. Despite some strong tackling from Nose Tackle Liam Lane both on the line of scrimmage and in the Devils secondary the Sabres managed to advance to the Devils 21 yard line as they brought the 3rd Quarter to a close.
End of 3rd Quarter Score 14-20
For 3 downs the Devils defensive line held the Sabres running game to 2 yards and the Devils secondary expertly covered the pass, twice nearly intercepting the ball. A tackle on 4th down which would have resulted in a turnover on downs was however missed and the Sabres receiver was able to run in from 19 yards much to the dismay of the Devils supporters. The Sabres failed to complete their two point attempt but their score had made it a two point game and time was running out for the Devils to respond.
But yet again the Devils were not done yet. From the resulting kickoff, Abdullah Bryce, as kick returner, collected the ball on his own 28 yard line and set off towards the Sabres end zone. Excellent blocking from the special teams unit and powerful running which bowled over the Sabres chasers, took Bryce to the Sabres 15 yard line before an excellent final block from Linebacker Chris Miller enabled the returner to sensationally cross into the end zone and get the Devils right back into the game. The Sabres were able to stop the attempted 2 point conversion with a sack on the Devils Quarterback but it wasn’t important as the Devils were now within a score of winning the game.
Following the kick off the Devils defence, desperate to get the ball back to their offence, finally began to find gaps in the Sabres offensive line putting pressure on their Quarterback. Nose Tackle Liam Lane in particular making some crunching tackles on the Sabres Running Back and Linebacker Stewart continuing to take down anything that made it across the game line. The Sabres however showed their class and slowly moved downfield, running down the clock until a defensive formation mistake meant a huge hole opened up for the Sabres running Back to easily score. The Sabres failed to convert their two point attempt but the damage had been done.
The Devils however never give up. There was over 2 minutes left and having been in this position in the past and come out victorious, they knew that if they could get one quick score they could be back in the game and even go on to win it. After a small return from the kickoff the Devils offence kicked into top gear. Within 4 plays they found themselves on the Sabres 8 yard line where they had 4 chances to cross into the end zone. The Sabres defence however had saved their best until last. They restricted the Devils running game to 1 yard before getting a sack on 4th down to force the turnover, run out the clock and end the game. The Devils had lost for the first time this year but had not gone down without a fight. As the Devils players made their way home their minds were full of the lessons they had learnt and their hearts full of determination to learn from their mistakes and come back wiser as a result.
Final Score 20-32
The final score showed the Devils first defeat during their associate season, but served as a reminder as to how tough league games will be in 2017. The Devils would like to thank the fantastic support they received from their fans and make special thanks to the Players Wife’s and Girlfriends who provided excellent game day support and refreshments after the game. Without their continuing support of the team we would be much the poorer.
After the game Devils Head Coach Mark Hoskins commented, ‘I’m not sure there is such a thing as a good loss, but I’m happy with the result. Dropping a game to a team of the Sabres’ caliber is nothing to be ashamed of. They’ve got a lot of talent and despite what the rest of the league says, they’re tougher than you might think. I can’t say our performance was excellent but the team played with a lot of heart, we didn’t drop our heads and we kept fighting, as a team, until the end…and thats really important as our first year in the league will be a tough one. Going forward we have a lot to work on. We’ve come to rely on trick plays more and more to cover some gaps offensively and defensively the Sabres opened some cracks we didn’t know were there. One thing is for certain, we’ll learn a lot more from this loss than we did from our first three wins”
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 fixtures.
The Devils are always on the lookout for new players, coaches and game day staff and will be holding Rookie Sessions in November for anyone interested in the game. 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.