Norwich Devils v Kings Lynn Patriots
Sunday 18th June
Report by Alan Baxter-Smith
Photographs – John Mallett Photography
The members of the Norwich Devils American Football Club, for obvious reasons, affectionately refer to their home ground as ‘Hells Gate!’. After all, where else would Devils hang out? On Sunday however the nickname became a reality as temperatures soared to biblical heat proportions. As players left their homes at 8am for pre-game activities the temperature was already hitting 25 degrees and, come game time, field side thermometers were showing helmets and padding at 38. Hydration and body temperature control were going to be prevalent in what already promised to be a heated local derby with the Kings Lynn Patriots. The previous season, the Devils had faced the Patriots in their first competitive game in 5 years and come out victorious in a nail biting finish. The Patriots had waited a year to return the favour and were certain to make it a tough test for the Devils 2017 squad.
The Devils won the coin toss, for the first time in two years, electing to defer and the Patriots received the ball to start the game. After a short return they began their first drive from their own 30 yard line. It became obvious from the start that, in the perfect throwing conditions, the Patriots were going to utilise their Quarterback’s arm. They immediately took to their passing game making good yardage downfield and despite some excellent tackling from Devils’ Cornerback and Defensive MVP Wayne Diggines they quickly advanced to the Devils 40 yard line. The Patriots’ Quarterback then showed his arm strength and accuracy as he smoothly launched a 32 yard pass to his wide receiver who gathered the ball cleanly before immediately stepping out of bounds at the 8 yard line. Then the Patriots’ took to their running game but Defensive Lineman Russ Groves was having none of that, bursting through the line of scrimmage to wrap up the Patriots’ running back and take him down for a loss. This quickly resulted in the Patriots’ returning to their passing game but, due to good coverage and powerful pass rushing from Defensive Lineman Liam Lane and Linebacker Richard Gray they were unable to complete a pass and were forced into an, ultimately successful, 25 yard field goal. Despite holding out and avoiding the touchdown the Devils’ Defence showed obvious disappointment on their faces as they left the field. As a defensive unit they always go out to shut out the opposition and the dream had been shattered within the first 3 minutes of the game.
After a poor kick return, where the quality of blocking, which had been seen from the Devils’ Special Teams Unit in their previous game, was seriously lacking, the Devils’s Offence began their first drive on their own 30 yard line. Things did not get any better as, after 3 plays, they found themselves 4th and 20 after the Patriots’ Defence filled the box and their fast pass rush put huge pressure on the Devils’ Offensive line. They had found their way through to sack Devils’ Quarterback Harris Todd and stop the Devils’ running game from crossing the line of Scrimmage with ease and there were were some frustrated gestures from the players as they swapped places with the special teams unit.
A huge punt from Kicker Adam Jones resulted in the Patriots’ beginning their second drive on their own 25 yard line where they again attempted to get their running game going. However, Groves and Lane stopped that in its tracks, this time proving to be an impenetrable wall down the middle. Returning to their passing game the Patriots began to move upfield with short yardage gains, helped by some penalties against the defence. The drive stalled however after some penalties of their own and they found themselves 3rd and 10 on their own 42. Having seen no way through the middle, the Patriots’s attempted to run outside and were swiftly met by Linebacker Nick Barker who took down the Patriots’s running back for an 8 yard loss.
The resulting punt meant the Devils’ Offence took to the field for their second drive on their own 15 yard line. Things did not get any better for the Offence however as they attempted to set up their power running game. The Devils’s Offensive line were still struggling to contain the Patriots’ heavy blitzing and the Running Back found it difficult to pick a way through the melee of players. Again the Devils were forced to punt, but a rare miss kick from Jones resulted in a short punt and the Patriots’ took over on the Devils 40 yard Line.
The Devils’ strong Defence however had now found its groove. On the first play Gray forcefully charged through the line untouched for a Sack and a 1 yard loss. Repeated false start penalties from the Patriots’s offensive line, who were wary of the Devils powerful Defensive Line unit, and the Devils secondary providing close coverage resulted in the Patriots’ punting on 4th and 22.
The Devils Offence could not match the Defences’ on field performance. Still struggling to hold the heavy blitz they found themselves going backwards with each play. A penalty for 12 men on the field, a sloppy error rather than a deliberate attempt to cope with the overloaded box, took them back even further to their own 7 yard line. Eventually there was nowhere else to go backwards and a sack on Quarterback Todd in the Devils’ end zone resulted in a safety and some very concerned faces on the Devils’ sideline. Things had to improve if the Devils had any chance of coming away with a victory and the focussed players who were huddled round the calm Head Coach as the Devils kicked off knew it.
The Devils’ Special Teams Unit did not get the memo. Following some uncharacteristic poor tackling the Patriot’s kick returner, who collected the ball on his own 1 yard line, proceeded to thread his way through the swarm of players and find open ground towards the Devils’ end zone. A superb last ditch tackle from Kicker Jones on the Devils 10 yard line was all that stopped the Patriots’s adding to the scoreline and the 1st Quarter came to a close.
End of 1st Quarter Score 0-5
The second quarter began still holding the threat of a Patriots score. Being so close to the Devils goal line they attempted to run the ball in. However, the Devils Defensive line were solid, firstly stopping the run through the middle, then Defensive End Jacob Greenacre stopping the outside run, before a huge team blitz forced the hand off fumble and following a charge for the ball from 4 Devils players Linebacker Barker emerged with the ball in hand. It was yet another show of power from the defence which drew hollers of delight from Defensive Co-ordinator Sean Grey.
The Devils offence took to the field, on their own 15 yard line, determined to join the party. It didn’t start well. An offside penalty took them backwards again and following some short runs down the middle it looked like the Special teams unit would shortly be returning to the field again. However, a fake run and Quarterback scramble resulted in the Devils reaching their 30 yard line and finally getting their first 1st down of the day. This seemed to ignite something within the Devils Offence. Expecting the run once more, the Patriots loaded the box again but the Devils’ Offensive line finally held strong and gave Quarterback Todd a clean pocket from which to throw. And throw he did. Launching a high arching 35 yard bomb to Offensive MVP and Wide Receiver Adam Jones, who caught the ball in stride, having outstripped the Patriots Cornerback, and ran 35 yards after the catch into the end zone. It was a crucial score for the Devils offence having performed so poorly up until that point and showed the explosiveness of their game, which should never be taken for granted. The subsequent two point attempt failed but the Devils found themselves on the scoreboard and suddenly the sideline was buzzing with anticipation of more success.
Following a touch back on the kick off the Patriots’s began their next drive on their own 20 yard line. Following some good passing plays from the composed Patriots’ Quarterback they found themselves on their 40 yard line. Once again they attempted to get some running game going but once again the Devils’ defence was having none of it. This time Gray joining the line to burst through and take the Running back down for a 5 yard loss. So at 3rd and 15 the Patriots’ returned to their passing game. But the Devils were ready for it and a long pass attempt was spotted by eagle eyed Safety Ricky Darrell who sprinted across the field, leaped high into the air and brought down the ball for an interception, reminiscent of his game winning interception in 2016. The Devils sideline erupted in approval and the Devils Offence immediately sprinted onto the field as if they knew it was going to happen.
The following drive was all run, but was eventually stalled by penalties as the offensive line began to get more of a hold on the Line of Scrimmage, and as it turns out the Patriots players, as the Patriots’ Defensive Line began to tire in the heat following their impressive efforts on the blitz. The Devils were finally forced to punt and following an excellent Kick chase and tackle from Dom Howes the Patriots Offence took over on their own 16 yard line. Finally, as the Devils’ defence drew from their depth chart to give some of their starters a rest in the oppressive heat, the Patriots’ run game began to take hold and they moved themselves to their own 40 yard line. However, through a series of forced fumbles and near recoveries the Devils’ Defence pushed the Patriots back to their own 20 yard line. Facing a 3rd and very very long, the Patriots’ Quarterback hoped for a good pocket to launch a pass far enough to keep the drive alive. However, a strong 3 man rush from Chris Miller, Christopher Babey and Jacob Greenacre forced the Patriots’ Quarterback out of the pocket and run backwards. This finally resulted in Greenacre getting a sack in the Patriots’s end zone for a safety and the Patriots Quarterback suffering a wrist injury in the process.
The resulting kickoff was a good one from the Patriots but the Devils managed to return the ball to the halfway line and attempted to get their passing game going. Things didn’t go too well to start off with and following a forced quarterback scramble and some dropped catches the Devils found themselves at 3rd and 6. But the Patriots then, yet again, allowed Wide receiver Adam Jones to be one on one with their Cornerback with no help from the safety. This was an open opportunity for Quarterback Todd to launch another 30 yard bomb in his direction which again he caught in stride, this time breaking the desperate tackle and jogging into the end zone. It was a carbon copy of their first touchdown and showed the near telepathic connection between the two players. Todd added to the score running in a two point conversion and the Devils found themselves two scores ahead.
An excellent Kick chase and tackle from Ed Bowling, meant the Patriots began their next drive, with their back up quarterback, on their 23 yard line. Despite some good run plays and a defensive penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct they failed to make much yardage and the 1st half came to a close.
Half Time Score 16-5
As the Second half kicked off following a longer than usual break to ensure players on both sides, and the referees, managed to get some respite from the intense heat, the Devils’ were confident that they could add to their lead and take the game away from the Patriots. A good kick return took them to the 40 yard line and some good run plays and play calling from the Devils’ coaches took them downfield to the Patriots 35 Yard line before a fumbled handoff meant the Patriots took over on their 40 yard line to the disappointment of the Devils’ supporters. The Devils Defence however obviously didn’t want to stay out in the heat to long. Within two plays they had the ball back. A fumbled hand off following a high snap was dived upon by Devils Lineman Russ Groves who then casually stood up and handed the ball back to the official as if it was an everyday occurrence and jogged of the field.
The Devils Offence were delighted to be able to give it another go so quickly and began their drive with some powerful runs through the middle from Running Back Ben Rayner. Then after a high snap which was just gathered in by Todd, the Quarterback proceeded to scramble behind some aggressive blocking before being pushed out of bounds, exhausted on the Patriots 2 yard line. He was replaced by back up Quarterback Chris Wilkinson and on the very next play the Devils decided to run it straight up the middle and test the Patriots’ tiring Defensive line. Running Back Ben Rayner followed his blocking and after a strong second effort stretched over the line for his first career touchdown to the delight of the entire Offensive Line. Quarterback Chris Wilkinson secured the two point conversion with an excellent pass to open Tight End Charlie Keohane and the Devils had quickly added to their lead.
Another excellent kick chase resulted in the Patriots starting their next drive on their 25 yard line. The Devils defence really had the bit between their teeth now and their fitness was beginning to show. Not only did they force a three and out with their rush but they also forced the Line of scrimmage back to the Patriots own 5 yard line. Then, on the punt, Defensive End Jacob Greenacre managed to just tip the ball and following an advantageous roll the ball trickled out the sideline at the Patriots 35 yard line. The Devils Offence therefore took to the field with great field position and after delving into their depth chart they created excellent running lanes for Running Back Rayner to exploit. However they soon found themselves on a 4th and 2 and were unable to convert, handing the ball over on downs.
The Patriots Offence were unable to make any yardage as the Devils Defence, who seemed to have an unlimited Gas tank despite the energy sapping conditions, held their running game behind the line of scrimmage yet again. The resulting Punt of 4th Down was ran back by Dom Howes to the Patriots 20 Yard line and yet again the Devils Offence took to the field in excellent field position.
It was at this point the Devils’ third string Quarterback Andre Belles-Flores took to the field, making his debut for the Devils’, as Head Coach Chris Mills looked to experiment with his options in the squad. On his very first play a fake handoff enabled Belles-Flores to show his pace and he sprinted to the Patriots’ 2 yard line bringing the 3rd Quarter to a close.
End of 3rd Quarter Score 24-5
Following a delay of game penalty the Devils lined up on the Patriots 7 yard line hoping to start the 3rd Quarter with a bang. They did just that. Quarterback Andre Belles-Flores showed great composure by scrambling out of the collapsing pocket and launching a terrific pass, on the run, to diving Devils Wide Receiver Dom Howes, who caught the Ball fully outstretched, in the corner of the end zone, for his first Devils’ touchdown. It was a stunning play from both the Devils’ debutants and spoke volumes for the strength in depth at both positions for the Devils. Belles-Flores added the two point conversion scrambling into the end zone and the Devils passed the 30 point mark for the second game in a row.
Following the kickoff and yet another good kick chase the Patriots began their next drive at their own 25 yard line. Now on their third choice Quarterback due to injury, they opted to run the ball but Line Backer James Harrod was able to snuff out the threat quite comfortably by reading the plays and tackling the Running Back before he could gain any momentum. Only a ruffing the passer penalty allowed the Patriots to gain any yardage on the drive and eventually they were forced to punt, gaining only 7 yards after a small return and the Devils Offence took over on the Patriots 44 yard line.
The Devils’ 4th Quarterback, 18 year old Jack Stubbs took to the field and with great composure in the pocket took the Devils’ down to the Patriots’ 25 yard line. Two completions to Tight End Tayler Lawson were the pick of the plays in the short drive. The Drive stalled eventually due to some dropped catches and the ball was handed over on downs.
The Patriots’ showed their fighting spirit and despite the gruelling conditions and obvious exhaustion of everyone on the field they began to drive upfield. After Cornerback Wayne Diggines’ magnificent tackling and unrelenting chasing of the runner the Patriots were forced to punt. However a mistake on the punt return due to a misheard shout meant the Patriots’ got the ball back on the half way line. It was a significant sign that the heat was having an effect on the mental capacity of both teams and everyone was thankful the game was reaching its end. Upon the two minute warning the Patriots gave it one last push and moved upfield with an excellent running play. However at 3rd and 10, Devils Safety Ed Bowling brilliantly read a hopeful long pass and intercepted the ball to effectively end the game. The Devils advised they would take a knee on the following play and the referees called the game to the relief of all involved. The scalding hot conditions had been relentless on everyone and the final whistle meant that all could finally find some shade from the sun. Devils’ Head Coach Chris Mills got the honour of being covered in the ice cold water from the drinks bucket at the end of the game, which despite not having a change of clothes he had no problem with unsurprisingly enough. It was with high spirits that the players lined up for their post game photos, asking the fathers in the team to bring in their children in honour of Fathers Day. The Devils had not only survived but eventually thrived in the game, proving that no matter how hot ‘Hells Gate!’ gets, a Devil will always win out in the end.
Final Score 32-5
Offensive MVP – Adam Jones
Defensive MVP – Wayne Diggines
The win continued the Devils winning record in their 2017 associate season and after the game Head Coach Chris Mills commented, ‘The phrase, “A Game of 4 Quarters” definitely ing true with this game. Football can be like chess. You position your pieces, figure out your opponents game plan and when the time is right you strike. Sometimes it takes time to get traction and find the weakness in your opponents Defence. Our own Defence on the other hand kept the Devils in the game. Through the debilitating heat they hit, tackled, ran and hit again, to ensure the Patriots couldn’t get into the end zone. This allowed me to find the weaknesses and then exploit them. The players had some input in what they were seeing and they performed my game plan on the field exceptionally. This was a true team effort and we did what we as Devils do. We stayed in the game, we didn’t let our heads drop when their Defence were making plays and as a result we came away with the win. Credit to the Patriots, they definitely came to play and were obviously well drilled. I can’t express how proud I am of all the players. The heat was insane and they battled throughout the entire game without complaint. That is in no small part to the efforts of all the support staff keeping the Devils hydrated and as cool as possible. You couldn’t move for all the water bottles, ice and factor 50 suncream flying about! The Devils’ family rolls on and I’m looking forward to facing the Patriots again for the return fixture.’
The Devils committee would like to thank all those that made the game possible, the referees for turning out in such conditions and all the Devils support staff, especially Quilty Keohane and Laura Handley who kept players on both sides, and the Referees, cool and fully hydrated during the searing hot conditions. Nobody involved suffered any ill effects from the heat and its thanks to their tireless efforts that we can give thanks for that.
The Devils will be playing more associate games in 2017 as they look to rejoin the National league for the 2018 season. Check out our website or like our Facebook page for updates on the upcoming competitive fixtures.
The Devils are always on the lookout for new players, coaches, game day staff and sponsors. If you think its something you may be interested in, please check out the recruitment or sponsorship pages on our website or simply contact us to discuss how you can help.