Norwich Devils v Welwyn Hatfield Mosquitos
Saturday 2nd September
Report by Alan Baxter-Smith
Photographs – Quilty Keohane & Alicja Stecker
Paul William “Bear” Bryant, Longtime University of Alabama Head Coach who once held the record for most wins in collegiate football, once said ‘It’s not the will to win, but the will to prepare to win that makes the difference’
American football requires preparation. NFL teams, for example, often practice twice a day, 5 days a week throughout their season. Before each of these practices they do what’s called a, ‘Walk Through’, which is essentially practicing their practice. An NFL training camp is traditionally 2-3 weeks, pre season runs for 4 weeks, a regular season runs for 17 weeks, if the team is lucky they can add a further 5 weeks in the post season. But without the post season they can still participate in approximately 240 practices in order to play 10 meaningful games. When you add in 2 or 3 different tape reviews per day and daily gym work, all in all it amounts to a lot of preparation.
Not being an NFL team the Devils do not have that much time to prepare, but they do prepare. Training runs from mid January through till the end of the season and currently practices and the drills therein are always scheduled and planned around upcoming games so the players are fully prepared for what they will face and how to deal with it. On Sunday 27th August the Devils left their practice with no plans to to play the following Sunday. On Tuesday 29th August at 4.30pm the Devils were contacted by the Welwyn Hatfield Mosquitos, they had been let down and needed an opponent the following Saturday to complete their associate season, could we help? Many starting players, particularly on Defence were on holiday, some players, particularly on Offence were nursing injuries from the previous weeks game. It was also a Saturday and many more players, in all areas of the team, including the Head Coach, could not get time off work at such short notice. But, after a few checks, the Devils were able to confirm within 24 hours that they could play the fixture. Prepared for it or not the Devils were going to play.
Following a familiar journey to Welwyn Garden City, the Devils won the toss, deferred and the Mosquitos received the kick off, beginning their first drive from their own 20 yard line. It was immediately obvious that the Mosquitos were prepared for a game. Having struggled to find many first downs two weeks before they found their first one with ease, opening up the Devils’ defence with their passing game and reaching the 50 yard line. Two plays later they were able to advance another 20 yards via their running game. The Devils’ defensive line, which contained some offensive players was struggling to stop the holes opening up for the elusive Mosquitos’ running back. Two plays later the Mosquitos advanced another 14 yards with the run and the Devils began to worry that their patched up defence, with players playing out of position, was going to struggle. Even more so as they had relatively few defensive players on the sideline to help. It was, in the end, one of the players who is normally found on the offensive line who sparked the defence into life as, Defensive Lineman for the day, Jonny Otter broke through the Line of scrimmage to take down the Mosquitos running back for a 4 yard loss. The Mosquitos were unable to recover from this set back and going for it on 4th and 12 their Quarterback was forced to scramble. Linebacker and Defensive MVP James Harrod chased him down and the ball was handed over on downs.
The Devils’ Offence had all too often this season relied on their Defence to start games well while they worked their way into the game. Indeed they had gone 3 and out on every first drive all year. Entering the field, they knew they had to change this record and change it they did. A great first play call from Offensive Coordinator Craig Thompson, who was taking on the role for the first time, enabled acres of time for Quarterback Harris Todd to connect with Wide Receiver Adam Jones. Some superb blocking from Rookie Wide Receiver Joshua Segalo, making his first start for the Devils, enabled Jones to use his speed and run into the end zone. It was an explosive 80 yard play which owed as much to Coach Thompson’s preparation as it did to the players who had executed it. The extra point was blocked following a powerful rush from the Mosquitos but the Devils had put the first points on the board and many nerves were wiped out in the process.
The Devils kicked off again and an excellent tackle from Wayne Diggines meant the Mosquitos would begin their next drive from their 30 yard line. The drive didn’t last long however when, at first, Linebacker Harrod stopped the run for a short gain he then dropped back, read the play, and intercepted the pass. Running the ball back to the 30 yard line with help from his fellow Defensive players he had quickly given the ball back to the Offence in excellent field position.
Earlier in the season, when the Devils had met the Mosquitos at home, they had been ruthless when given good field position. This time was no different. After a powerful run from Offensive MVP Matt Ward which took them to the 18 yard line, Coach Thompson again made the perfect call from the sidelines and went for the pass when the Mosquitos anticipated another run. Todd was again able to connect with Jones who was one of a number of Wide Receivers wide open in the end zone. This time the line held strong for the extra point and the Devils quickly found themselves two scores up having been only on the field offensively for 3 plays.
Following a good kick return from the Mosquitos where the Devils missed some tackles they began their next drive from their own 38 yard line. But the Devils’ defence had now settled in to their new positions. When the Mosquitos took to the run, for example, Linebacker for the Day, and usual Cornerback, Dan Walker spotted it, ditched his blocker and aggressively took down the Running Back for a 1 yard gain. A false start penalty then took the Mosquitos backwards and despite a good passing play they found themselves still 5 yards short of a first down. A powerful charge from Defensive Lineman Liam Lane forced the Mosquitos’ Quarterback out of the pocket on 3rd down and under pressure from Defensive End Mark Stewart he overthrew the ball to an open receiver. Cornerback James Grey saw the opportunity to make a play and running back towards his own end zone he leapt to take the ball over his shoulder for an interception much to the delight of his fellow defensive players.
The Devils began their next drive on their own 30 yard line and once again powerful running from Ward, who having been met after 8 yards still managed to make 16 after carrying the Mosquitos’ players with him, quickly took them upfield. But an excellent play from the Mosquitos’ Defensive Lineman resulted in sack on quarterback Todd and a holding penalty on the Devils took them even further back. They were therefore forced to punt and the Mosquitos were able to return the ball to their own 33 yard line to end the first quarter.
End of 1st Quarter Score 0-13
The Mosquitos next drive did not start well, a low snap resulted in a fumble for a 6 yard loss and the following run play was easily snuffed out by Linebacker Harrod. When a pass was dropped on 3rd and long the Mosquitos were forced to punt and the Devils took over on their own 35 yard line.
The Devils next drive did start well. Following some beautiful blocking from the Offensive line and the Devils’ Receiver core, Matt Ward was able to find space down the middle and ran for 31 yards, smashing through Mosquitos players as he went. It was superb power running from the Running Back which knocked the wind out of several Mosquitos players along the way. Two plays later Ward was at it again as once again the Offensive line made a big hole for him to run through, the Receivers made him a channel and he made another 15 yards. On the next play the Devils took to their passing game and even though Quarterback Todd was forced out the pocket, they showed just how they dangerous they are when they do take to the air. Noticing his Quarterback in trouble , Tightend Charlie Keohane broke upfield from his route, into space, and Todd was able to find him with an accurate pass on the run. Taking the ball in and reaching into the end zone Offensive Captain Keohane recorded his first career touchdown to the delight of all the Devils’ players. Having swapped from Offensive Linemen to Tightend at the start of the year it was rightful reward for his hard work in training and his commitment to the team both on and off the field. The extra point was blocked but the Devils had stretched the lead even further and it was a buoyant kick off team who took to the field.
A good kick chase and tackle from Tom Brown meant the Mosquitos began their next drive from their 30 yard line. Taking to their run game they attempted to go down the middle but found a wall of players and Defensive End Chris Waterhouse making the tackle for a 1 yard loss. So they took to their passing game, which went even worse when Linebacker Nick Barker was able to jump the route of the Mosquitos’ Tightend and intercept the ball. Unfortunately he was unable to remain in bounds as his momentum after the catch just took his toes across the sideline with an open field in front of him but it did mean the Devils would take over on the 50 yard line. Having already shown the form they were in that day the Offence took to the field confident they could add to the scoreboard.
Having made some personnel changes, once again the Devils took to the run with Ward again making progress downfield. Fully expecting this to continue a perfectly executed fake handoff, which fooled not only the Mosquitos’ defence but the majority of the crowd and the game camera man, enabled Quarterback Todd to show his speed and run for 23 yards before being taken down by the final Mosquitos’ defender. Within sight of the end zone however, the Devils seemed to stall when a short run and two dropped catches left the Devils at 4th and 9. Despite being within field goal range the Devils opted to go for it on 4th down having already had two extra points blocked in the game. This proved to be a master stroke when, after Todd was chased out of the pocket he again showed his skill at passing on the run when he connected with Tightend Louis Ayers who sprinted into the end zone untouched for his 3rd Touchdown in three starts for the Devils. The extra point was good and the Devils were all smiles as they returned to the sideline knowing that they had completed another successful drive and pretty much put the game to bed before the end of the first half.
An excellent kick chase and tackle from Dan Walker pinned the Mosquitos on their own 13 yard line. The Devils defence then kept them there. First Defensive Lineman Lane stopped their run game, twice tackling the Running back at the line of scrimmage, then Linebacker Jon Mills blitzed though the line untouched to sack the Mosquitos’ quarterback, with an assist from Defensive End Stewart. The Mosquitos punted and the Devils took over on their 47 yard line.
The Devils made some more changes to their lineup but were unable to make any significant yardage on their next drive and following a big loss of yards on a run play were forced to punt, handing the ball back to the Mosquitos on their 30 yard line.
As they left the field the Devils’ Offence fully expected their next action to be the half time team talk. But immediately the Devils’ Defence gave them the ball back when Defensive End Stewart pounced on a fumbled high snap and the Offence found themselves with another chance to score before the break with the ball being placed on the Mosquitos’ 8 yard line. However a false start penalty set them back and a combination of good tackling from the Mosquitos and a dropped catch kept them from scoring. Going for it on 4th and goal the pass was caught but it fell short from the end zone and the Mosquitos were able to run out the clock.
Half Time Score 0-26
Following the break the Devils lined up for their first kick return of the game. Things seemed to go well after Kick Returner Adam Jones was able to return to the Mosquitos’ 35 Yard line after several spectacular blocks from the Devils, many of which took the Mosquitos off their feet. Unfortunately there had been a flag on the play for a block in the back and the Devils began their 2nd half on their own 27 yard line. Straight away however the Devils began to advance upfield with a 15 yard run from Todd as the Mosquitos again bit on another perfectly executed fake from Ward. The drive then quickly stalled with two penalties, both on Slot Receiver Alan Baxter-Smith, first for a block in the back and then for illegal blocking downfield. The Devils could not make the first down after that, opting to punt on 4th and 3 and the Mosquitos began their next drive on their 21 yard line.
The Devils Defence began poorly, they had been playing the game with only a few back ups and it seemed that, despite the break, they were beginning to tire. On the first play they allowed a 24 yard run straight up the middle where several tackles were missed and were it not for a poor pass from the Quarterback they could have seen a similar loss of yardage on the next play. However, as this season has taught us, the Devils’ Defence step up when needed. Following a charge from Defensive End Waterhouse the Quarterback was forced out the pocket. Throwing on the run, it seemed that he would connect with his receiver but Cornerback Dan Walker leapt to tip the ball over his outstretched hands and Safety Ricky Darrell collected the ball for yet another pick this season. After a runback of 10 yards the Devils offence took over on their 46 yard line.
The Mosquitos however, were not without playmakers themselves and struck back with an interception of their own on the first play and the Devils’ tiring Defence were again forced to take the field with the Mosquitos on the Devils’ 46 yard line. The Mosquitos, sensing the lack of energy from the Devils Defence, began to run the ball up the middle in a series of short power runs and despite some strong tackling they managed to make it to the Devils’ 23 yard line. Here however, the Devils made a stand and taking to their passing game the Mosquitos were unable to connect with a pass and handed the ball over on downs.
The Devils then began to delve into their playbook and experiment with some play calling which had its successes and its failures but ultimately took them to the Mosquitos’ 45 yard line. They then began to enforce their running game, powerful blocking from the Devils Offensive line made up of first time starter Josh Allgood, Dan Thomas, Chris Handley, Mark Schofield and Phil Ward enabled Running Back Ward to power through the middle, for play after play, finally reaching the Mosquitos’ 23 Yard Line before the end of the 3rd Quarter.
End of 3rd Quarter Score 0-26
The Devils failed to make any significant yardage after the change of ends as the Mosquitos held firm on the run and following an Offensive penalty for holding, the Devils decided to punt on 4th down and pin the Mosquitos down within their own 10 yard line.
Yet again the Devils Defence stepped up and held them there. Defensive Lineman Lane in particular making some strong tackles and Safety Darrell nearly collecting his second pick of the game. The Mosquitos were forced to punt on 4th down but cleverly they opted for the fake and the Mosquitos’ kicker was able to avoid some tackles and just scramble for the first down. The loud cheers from the Mosquitos’ sideline showed they still had fight left in them despite the scoreline and this was even more evident as they then began to rapidly progress upfield through a series of run and pass plays, eventually resulting in them entering the Devils’ half, two false start penalties however set them back and following some dropped catches they were forced to punt. This time the Devils were ready for the fake and the Mosquitos’ kicker had to kick the ball. A good bounce for the kicking team took the ball to the Devils’ 20 yard line and Offence took to the field again.
The Devils again began with Running Back Ward advancing down field through the large holes made by the Offensive line. They then took to their passing game and advanced into the Mosquitos’ half before Running back Joe Jacobs took them down to the Mosquitos’ 28 yard line. It was here where Coach Thompson’s play calling worked its magic again. A clever screen play enabled Quarterback Chris Wilkinson to find Wide Receiver Jones who in turn found himself with room to run at a slower Devils Linebacker, neatly side stepping the desperate tackle he sprinted off towards the end zone where a final crushing block from Tightend Ayers enabled him to cross the goal line for his third touchdown of the game. Running Back Joe Jacobs danced into the end zone adding the two point conversion to boisterous cheers from his proud father and Coach, Keith Jacobs.
On the resulting kickoff the Devils’ Special Teams Unit made their first real mistake of the game allowing the Mosquitos’ kick returner, who caught the ball on his own 10 yard line, to race straight back up the middle and reach the Devils’ 28 yard line before Kicker Adam Jones, finally managed to smother him and take him down, preventing a certain touchdown.
The Mosquitos then stuck to running it at the now extremely tired Devils’ defence. Inching closer and closer to the end zone they made the 6 yard line before the Devils brought on some line support from their offensive line. This stopped the run game in its tracks and even resulted in Devils’ Centre Chris Handley, playing on the Defensive line, carrying two Mosquitos’ players backwards and taking down both the Mosquitos’ Running Back and Quarterback at the point of the hand off. Handley would later claim it was his first career sack as the Quarterback still had a hand on the ball and few would argue having seen the powerful play from the big man. Another stop when the Mosquitos’ Running Back slipped to the floor resulted in the Mosquitos going for it on 4th and Goal. The noise was deafening from the Devils’ sideline who were desperate to see the shutout from the much depleted defence. The Mosquitos however had other ideas and a well executed crossing play resulted in a pass into the end zone for the Mosquitos’ first score of the game. The Mosquitos failed their first two point conversion attempt but a flag, which was later picked up, resulted in the Mosquitos having another attempt which they converted with a run through the middle, after some very tired tackling from the disappointed defence.
Score 8 – 34
The Devils attempted to strike back after the restart but with only 18 seconds on the clock they only managed to reach the Mosquitos’ 45 yard line before time ran out and the game ended.
As the players shook hands and performed the usual post game rituals it was obvious that things had gone well for the Devils despite an apparent lack of preparation. But maybe that was it, there was no lack of preparation. Sure they had not prepared for this particular game, with these particular personnel, but the Devils squad had been practicing since early January, twice a week, nearly every week. The club has prepared for adversity throughout the year, knowing that in the British game sometimes you are going to have to deal with the unknown and sometimes the team is going to have to work together to get the win. The Devils had prepared to win and that’s exactly what Bear Bryant had meant all along.
Final Score 8-34
Offensive MVP – Matt Ward
Defensive MVP – James Harrod
The win maintained the Devils unbeaten run both for the season and against the Mosquitos in their match ups and after the game, acting Head Coach Andy Starling commented, ‘I really want to congratulate the whole Norwich Devils Team following the performance against Hatfield this week. All three phases played well and continue to show improvement game on game which is what we strive for. Beating a team three times in a year is always tough as they know each other so well, but the guys played hard and fast in the first half and put the outcome beyond doubt really quickly. What I’m really impressed with is how we were able put together a playing squad of 31 for a Saturday game with 3 days notice, we had players and Coaches unavailable but everyone worked together as a team and achieved it’s goal on the day. That speaks volumes about how far the team has grown and progressed this year. I know we all look forward to getting our final associate game done with and moving on to a full National League season next year. That’s where we need and deserve to be and I know we are very much looking forward to it.’
The Devils’ committee would like to thank all those players, coaches and support staff who managed to commit to the game at such short notice. Special thanks go to Jonny Otter for stepping up to play every snap on Defence despite being an Offensive player. They would also like to thank the Welwyn Hatfield Mosquitos for their hospitality and wish them every luck in their efforts to enter the league in 2018 and beyond.
The Devils will be playing more associate games in 2017 as they complete their associate season before rejoining 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.