Norwich Devils v Welwyn Hatfield Mosquitos
Sunday 20th August
Report by Alan Baxter-Smith
Photographs – Quilty Keohane & Vicki Dower
Away games are often difficult. Mostly they involve an early morning start, a long journey on a cramped coach, a hurried pre-game warm-up and very little support to cheer you on. Then you hope to be at your best and play at the levels your normally do at home. All too often all these factors mean you simply can’t perform as you would like and you struggle through the game. Last Sunday’s away game against the Welwyn Hatfield Mosquitos should have been different. Sure, there was an early morning, sure it was a long journey in a coach. But good time management ensured the warm-up wasn’t hurried and the Devils always bring support and a large squad which often dwarfs the opponents entire crowd. But the Devils were missing some key players, particularly on Defence and many were making their first starts for the team often in unfamiliar positions. There was a confident yet also strangely quiet atmosphere on the Devils sideline as the Captains took to the field for the coin toss. What followed would be a strange game of missed opportunities and yet dominating performances.
The Mosquitos won the toss and elected to receive the kick off. The Devils fast kick chase and strong tackling resulted in the Mosquitos beginning their first drive from their 25 yard line. All worries regards the depleted Devils defence were immediately laid to rest when on the first play, Defensive MVP Christopher Waterhouse, making his first start at Defensive End, burst around the edge to sack the Mosquitos Quarterback for an 8 yard loss. After a short gain on the second play and a pass on 3rd and long which nearly resulted in an interception after the ball was tipped the Mosquitos were forced to punt. The Kick was short and the Devils Offence would begin their drive on the Mosquitos 48 yard line. It was just the start the Defence needed, 3 and out and giving the ball to the Offence in excellent field position.
Things started well, the first play resulted in a 30 yard pass from Quarterback Andre Belles-Flores, making his first start for the Devils, to Wide Receiver Adam Jones resulting in an immediate first down. However, on the next play, a holding penalty on the Offensive line lost the Devils yardage and on the next a long pass to an open receiver in the end zone failed to connect. Worse was yet to come as Running back Matt Ward fumbled a handoff on the next play which the Mosquitos quickly recovered, taking over on their 35 yard Line.
The Mosquitos started the drive with their running game, making a 7 yard gain but again Waterhouse showed his speed and power by getting round the edge, this time to take down the Mosquitos running back for a 3 yard loss. A QuarterBack scramble on the 3rd play only made two yards so again the Mosquitos were forced to punt and the Devils Offence took over at their own 20 yard line. It was another three and out and the Devils defence were delighted.
Despite a shaky start where the Devils began with an incomplete pass, a false start penalty and a sack they finally got a first down when Belles-Flores connected with Tightend Charlie Keohane who leapt high across the middle to confidently take the pass and stretched forward to reach the sticks. Yet another false start penalty took the Devils backwards but again a reception from Keohane, this time up the sideline, took them within a yard of the 1st down marker. An incomplete pass and a run play which failed to gain any yardage due to a slow hand off and a clever delayed blitz from a Mosquitos Linebacker meant that again the Devils were forced to punt before the Devils Offence could get going. It was a frustrated bunch of players who left the field knowing that penalties were costing them 1st downs rather than the opposition. But it was a determined and confident Defence who took the field following the punt which was returned 30 yards after some missed tackles.
The Mosquitos Offence again attempted to get their run game going but it was déjà vu for their Running Back as Waterhouse again tackled him for a loss, this time having powered straight through his opponent. Taking to their passing game the Mosquitos failed to connect with the receivers and again the Defence had forced a 3 and out and again the Mosquitos were forced to punt. A favourable bounce ensured that the Devils would begin their next drive on their own 15 yard line.
The drive started with a read option play which resulted in a sack on the Devils 1 yard line when the wrong option was chosen by Belles-Flores and the Mosquitos quick pass rush broke through the line. The Devils were only just saved from conceding a safety by slight forward progress from the QB and yet another false start penalty took them back further. When a long pass failed to connect it looked like the Devils were going to struggle to not give the ball back to the Mosquitos with good field position. But a quick and elusive scramble from Belles-Flores atoning for his earlier error and some superb reactionary blocking from the Offensive Unit enabled him to reach the 1st down marker before stepping out of bounds. At first it was déjà vu for the Devils offence, as they conceded yet another false start penalty, but eventually they did manage to start getting traction from their running game and began to move the ball downfield. Two more false start penalties however pegged them back and it seemed that the drive was going to fail yet again due to sloppy play. However a quick outside pass to Running Back Matt Ward resulted in another first down and the Devils Head Coach chose to make some changes in the receiver line up. This made an immediate impact as, within two plays, Belles-Flores was able to take advantage of the great pocket set by the Devils Offensive Line and launch a 60 yard pass over the top and directly into Tightend Louis Ayers arms. The Big man was able to easily out pace the Mosquitos Cornerback and stroll into the end zone for the first score of the game. The cheers from the Devils sideline were deafening, possibly made louder by the sense of relief that eventually the Offence had been able to string some plays together as much as the actual score. The extra point was smoothly tucked away by kicker Adam Jones and the first quarter was brought to a close.
End of 1st Quarter Score 0-7
The 2nd Quarter began with a huge kick from Kicker Jones landing in the end zone resulting in the Mosquitos beginning their next offensive drive from their own 20 yard line. Immediately they showed how dangerous their passing game could be when they achieved their first 1st down of the game with a 28 yard pass taking them just short of the halfway line. Buoyed by this the Mosquitos stuck with their passing game but the Devils Defence responded quickly by just missing a pick and then producing a sack as LineBacker James Harrod burst through to drag down the Mosquitos Quarterback. The response was complete when on the next play, Defensive Lineman Liam Lane expertly beat his man, showing skills he recently worked on at the Jacksonville Jaguars training camp, sprinted through the line and stripped the ball from the Mosquitos Quarterback. The Mosquitos running back was able to recover the ball but it meant the Mosquitos were forced to punt yet again and the Devils took over on their own 22 yard line.
Following some personnel changes the Devils Offence began to make serious yardage from their running game. The Offensive line unit of Luca Ferrara, Dan Thomas, Chris Handley, Phil Ward and Mark Schofield began to make their considerable power count as they started to control the Line of scrimmage and open up large holes for Running Back and Offensive MVP Ben Rayner to exploit. Within 3 plays the Devils moved 47 yards downfield as Rayner showed all his speed and evasive running skills to a very appreciative Devils sideline. The Drive however seemed to stall as the Mosquitos began to fight back in the trenches, showing great technique and closing the running lanes quickly. But when the Devils decided to go for it on 4th down and 5, Belles-Flores was able to connect with Wide Receiver Dom Howes for a 20 yard gain and keep the drive alive. The Devils then stuck with their passing game and appeared to have scored as Wide Receiver Adam Jones caught the ball in the end zone, however a late flag for Offensive pass interference, which seemed to confuse even the Mosquitos Defensive Back, meant the play was called back. The Devils recovered to again move the ball downfield via their running game but again found themselves at 4th and 5 following a dropped catch in the end zone. Again they went for it and again it looked like Jones had scored, but again it was called back for a penalty on Jones, this time however for clear Offensive holding. Going for it again on 4th down the Devils were unable to convert despite some very evasive manoeuvres from Belles-Flores and the ball was disappointedly handed over on downs.
The Mosquitos began their next drive with their running game but Linebacker Harrod and Defensive Lineman Christopher Babey stopped that in its tracks with some strong tackling. The Mosquitos therefore returned to their more successful passing game but strong pass rushing from Waterhouse and Lane shut that down as well and the Mosquitos were again forced to punt.
Despite yet another false start penalty the Devils immediately began to move downfield again. This time Running Back Rayner coming out of the backfield to great effect for a catch and run of 36 yards, taking his total yardage to nearly 100 at that stage. However a poor snap ensured a sack on Belles-Flores, before a slightly under thrown pass was intercepted by the Mosquitos safety who had read the play perfectly. An excellent tackle by Rayner ensured the run back wasn’t to far but the damage had been done and the Mosquitos offence took to the field.
The Mosquitos again turned to their passing game, this time hitting their own Running Back out of the back field and advancing for a first down. However their running game still faltered as again Waterhouse was left to run straight through to tackle the Running Back for a loss. On the next play the advancing Waterhouse forced the Mosquitos Quarterback out of the pocket and the entire defensive line chased him down like a pack of lions chasing down a hyena. It was again déjà vu on the next play as again Waterhouse flushed the QB out of the pocket but this time he managed to release a pass before being caught. Despite the Mosquitos receiver making the catch he was unable to reach the 1st down marker as Line Backer Nick Barker threw him to the ground before he could turn upfield and again the Mosquitos were forced to punt. It was a jubilant defence who left the field knowing that with the 1st half drawing to a close they had only allowed two 1st downs in the entire half.
The Devils Offence took to the field with just over two minutes of the half to go and began to advance as quickly as they could downfield. Again Rayner made more large gains as they quickly crossed the halfway line. But a combination of penalties and dropped catches meant they were unable to get close to the end zone and the half finished with only one score on the board.
Half Time Score 0-7
The Devils took to the field for the 2nd half after a half time talk which mainly contained advice to calm down and watch the penalties on offence and continue the good work on defence. After an excellent run back to nearly the half way line by returner Adam Jones the Offence followed the advice to the letter. Rayner began with a small gain up the middle and after a huddle and set up at the line which took up nearly all the play clock he found his way slowly through after some clever blocking from the dominant Devils Offensive line. Finding the outside he opened the gas tanks and sped past 3 Mosquitos defenders to find the end zone. It was a terrific run and a perfect way to start the second half. The Devils went for the 2 point conversion but failed for the first time this season when a pass went astray but this time it was the Offence who were jubilant as they left the field.
Another good kick from Jones and a quick kick chase from the Devils Special teams meant the Mosquitos would begin their next drive on their own 20 yard line. It seemed the Devils Defence were also going to follow the half time advice to the letter. Yet again, Waterhouse and Lane caused havoc as they flushed the Quarterback out of the pocket three times and three times he was unable to connect with a pass. The Mosquitos were forced to punt again and a run back from Howes ensured the Devils began their next drive on the Mosquitos 40 yard line.
Again the penalties returned for the Offence on their next drive. This time some holding calls moving them backwards before a pass to Tightend Keohane ensured they reached the 1st down marker. Another perfect pass from Belles-Flores found Receiver Howes who, despite a desperate stretch for the line, was just pushed out at the 1 yard line. It then seemed that Rayner had scored his second of the game as he easily jogged into the end zone on the next play but for the third time in the game a touchdown was chalked off due a penalty. This time holding by the offensive line although it wasn’t confirmed which player had committed the offence. The Devils decided to try a different tact and brought on Defensive Lineman Liam Lane as running back in an attempt to use power to break the goal line. However he was stopped short and following a recovered fumble and dropped catch on 4th down by a receiver the Devils failed to convert their great field position and handed the ball over on downs. It was another missed opportunity which could have put the game to bed and frustration was written all over the players faces when they got back to the sideline.
The Mosquitos began their drive on their own 9 yard line and immediately took to their passing game. Devils Safety Ricky Darrell missed a golden opportunity for a pick six following yet another rush from Waterhouse which hurried the Quarterback. The pass was significantly under thrown and Darrell was perfectly placed to make the catch and, without a player in front of him, run it into the end zone. Unfortunately it seemed he had one eye on the end zone and dropped the ball. The Mosquitos then took to their running game again where despite some strong tackling from Harrod they made some ground as the relentless Devils Defensive line began to tire. Making two quick 1st downs they began to advance downfield. Waterhouse was able to get another sack during the drive but following an excellent catch by the Mosquitos Wide Receiver over two defenders they found themselves on the Devils 35 yard line. Some superb coverage from the Devils Secondary stalled the drive before another long pass and catch took the Mosquitos to the Devils 10 yard line. A bad snap resulting in the Mosquitos Quarterback scrambling to recover the ball, losing 13 yards in the process, and another sack by Lane ended the quarter with the Mosquitos on the Devils 26 Yard Line.
End of 3rd Quarter Score 0-13
Another bad snap on the resumption of play lost the Mosquitos another 5 yards as Linebacker Russ Groves chased down the Mosquitos Running back and made the tackle. The Mosquitos failed to convert on 4th down as the Devils Secondary shut the pass down and the Devils took over on downs. The Devils however, were unable to make any yardage from 3 plays and were forced to punt. An extremely high snap from the normally reliable Devils Long Snapper Chris Miller put Kicker Jones under pressure and despite his efforts he was unable to get the kick away. A resulting penalty on the play meant the Mosquitos would begin their Drive in excellent field position on the Devils 24 yard Line.
But, on their very first play, the Devils Defence came to the rescue. Once again the duo of Lane and Waterhouse chased down the scrambling Quarterback and his resulting desperate throw was gratefully captured by Safety Ed Bowling on the Devils 3 yard line. Immediately he began weaving back through the traffic directing blockers towards Mosquitos players determined to run it back for the TD. Only a last ditch ankle tackle stopped him on the Mosquitos 37 Yard Line . His defensive teammates held their hands on their head in frustration but the delighted Bowling jumped to his feet with a jubilant celebration of the play. In all the commotion the Devils had failed to spot a flag thrown at the end of the run for holding and the Devils began their next drive their own 42 yard line.
The Devils took to their Running game, this time it was Running Back Matt Ward taking advantage of some powerful lead blocking from Slot Receiver Alan Baxter-Smith. The Drive stopped abruptly however, when a fumbled hand off was recovered by the Mosquitos and the Devils Defence took to the field with the Mosquitos on their own 36 yard line. The Mosquitos subsequently went 3 and out after some strong tackling from Groves and Cornerback Wayne Diggines and were forced to punt once more.
Again Running Back Ward was able to make yardage as the Offensive line began to dominate the tiring Mosquitos Defensive line and large gaps began to appear at the Line of Scrimmage. Within 2 plays the Devils were on the Mosquitos 20 yard line and looking for the end zone. After a couple of attempted passes which fell incomplete, Ward was again able to power through the middle reaching the Mosquitos 8 yard line. Another two failed pass attempts meant that Devils Head Coach Chris Mills again decided to bring on Defensive Linemen Lane to try and power the ball across the line. The decision was a perfect one as some terrific work by the Offensive line opened up a hole wide enough for several Defensive Linemen and Lane was able to power through the last defender for his first career touchdown. It was true powerhouse football from the Devils Offensive Unit and everyone was delighted for the long serving Defensive player who has been one of the most dedicated Devil players for many years. Belles-Flores was able to easily run in a two point conversion and the Devils felt they had finally closed out the game.
Perhaps it was this feeling which allowed the Mosquitos to return the kick to their 37 yard line and then allow the Mosquitos running back to advance to the half way line. But this would be doing the Mosquitos a disservice. Some excellent blocking so late in the game showed they still had some heart left and the game was not over yet. The Defence managed to gather their composure briefly to stop the Mosquitos passing game but with nothing to lose they launched a hopefully ball downfield into double coverage. The Mosquitos Wide Receiver was up to the challenge and lept acrobatically to make a diving catch on the Devils 10 yard line. Within two plays the Mosquitos were then in the end zone for a quick score after a busted coverage left the receiver open for the catch. The Defence were devastated having worked so hard for the shut out all game they had been undone in the final minutes. The Mosquitos went for a two point conversion but failed to connect with the pass.
On the restart the Mosquitos went for a short onside kick which only fell into the hands of dangerous Running Back Ward who proceeded to power his way back to the Mosquitos 20 yard line. Delving into the depth chart, and thus giving game time to those who had experienced little, the Devils offence took to the field but didn’t attempt to close out the game with run plays to run the clock down. They failed to make 1st down however, and following a poor snap on an attempted field goal, which meant a loss of yards, the Defence took to the field hoping to close out the game themselves. Despite allowing the Mosquitos to advance across the half way line they practically did just that as Safety Ricky Darrall atoned for his earlier missed pick by reading the pass and grabbing the ball high in the air to give the ball back to the Devils Offence.
This time the Devils did go to their run game to run out the clock but it appeared Running Back Rayner didn’t get the memo. He followed up a 15 yard run down the middle with a fumble recovery which he proceeded to take a further 30 yards downfield. This took his total yardage for the day to over 200 Yards. A powerhouse performance from the speedster. His Job done it was left to Running Back Ward to run 25 yards himself, almost breaking through for a last second Touchdown, and running out the clock. The team would leave Hatfield frustrated with all the penalties and missed chances but delighted with the win all the same. The quality of their play had been high but the discipline would need to be worked on. All in all, a typical away fixture.
Final Score 6-21
Offensive MVP – Ben Rayner
Defensive MVP – Chris Waterhouse
The victory kept the Devils winning run going in their 2017 associate season and after the game Head Coach Chris Mills commented, ‘Another win for the Devils, also another win where everything didn’t go our way. Adaptability is key to success in this game. Missing a number of starting level players certainly showed at times but after some adjustments, the offence got some traction. The Defence continues to do what it does, again despite missing key players they constantly made plays on every drive.
The Offence initially beleaguered by penalties came into its own after some adjustments and game situational personnel changes.
Special teams units continue to improve and the team as a whole is building into a force to be reckoned with. This is a great team. The Defence never once complained about the Offences initial lack of production and performed almost flawlessly. The Offence fared much better in the second half, scoring multiple times off the back of some well executed drives that secured the game in our favour.
We have a lot to work on but I’m ecstatic about how far this team has come this season. I’m proud of how the Devils conducted themselves today, that is what makes a team great. The unity of the group, not the individual abilities of a few players. That is the Devils way. Kudos to the Mosquitos, they fought the whole game and had improved a great deal since our last game against them. We move on now to secure our rightful place back into the league.’
The Devils committee would like to thank all those that made the game possible, especially Devils Game Day Manager Laura Handley who arranged the coach travel. Often away games fall apart on the field due to poor planning off it so her vitally important role is always very much appreciated. Finally thanks go to the Welwyn Hatfield Mosquitos for hosting us at their ground. We understand there were several players who dropped out at the last minute so we congratulate them on fielding such a strong and competitive team.
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.