Norwich Devils v London Blitz B
Sunday 29th April 2018
Report by Alan Baxter-Smith
Photographs – Phil Rocker & Jody Davies
Lou Holtz, Longtime Collegiate Head Coach who is the only Coach to lead six different programs to Bowl Games, once said ‘If what you did yesterday seems big, you haven’t done anything today’
After two very successful associate seasons this was exactly the mentality needed by the Devils as they prepared during the offseason to begin their league campaign. 2548 days sounds like a long time. When you realise its 6 years 11 months and 21 days it sounds like a very long time. That’s exactly how long it had been since the Devils last took to the the field in a competitive league fixture, a disappointing 37-0 loss on May 8th 2011, to the then Watford Cheetahs. 14 Days later they withdrew from the League due to insufficient player numbers but with high hopes to quickly rebuild and return to competitive league play. Sometimes things take a little longer than you hope.
Finally, last Sunday, the Devils returned to action. For some at the Club it has been 5 years of struggle. Those members who had spent every week training with just 5-6 players for months on end back in 2013, struggled to control their emotions as they warmed up for the game surrounded by the large squad which had taken the trip down to face one of the Divisional favourites, London Blitz B. The game was touted as a David v Goliath encounter and it was widely expected that their opponents would easily sweep aside the Devils on the first step to the Divisional title. It was certainly going to be a strong test for the Devils, having lost their Defensive Captain Richard Gray in pre-season to a long term back injury and some other key player absences due to various circumstances, but the squad were hopeful that they could maybe produce a shock if they played to their full potential.
Alan Baxter-Smith, Richard Gray and Liam Lane, the 3 longest serving players during the rebuilding years, were given the honour of Captains for the Day and were joined by Phil Ward as they walked out for the coin toss.
The Blitz kicked off and after a 15 yard return the Devils began their first drive from their own 25 yard line. Things didn’t start well. Two dropped catches and a short scramble for 2 yards from Quarterback Andre Belles-Flores meant the Devils were forced to punt. A high snap however, forced Punter Adam Jones to quickly tuck the ball and run, to avoid the rush from the Blitz, and despite his efforts he was only able to make it back to the Line of Scrimmage. Perhaps nerves had played a factor, but the Devils had given the ball to the Blitz’s Offence with excellent field position, they would begin their first drive from the Devils’ 27 Yard line.
The Devils’ Defence started well, despite gaining some yardage on a pass and then a run, some excellent tackling from new Linebacker Piers Harrison-Reid stopped the Blitz’s Quarterback from scrambling for a first down, which left the Blitz on 4th and 4. Obviously wishing to assert their authority early on, they elected to go for it rather than try for the field goal. At first glance it seemed that an excellent pass rush by the Devils’ Defensive line had forced the Blitz’s Quarterback into rushing his pass and the ball would be turned over on downs.
However, a contentious flag, called on Defensive End Steven Bunyan, for roughing the passer, despite what appeared to be push on him by a Blitz player, meant the Blitz advanced 15 yards and began another set of downs at the Devils’ 8 yard line. Devils’ Defensive Lineman Jordan Knights, making his first start for the Devils, swamped the initial run attempt down the middle and the pass on the next play failed to make any yardage. However at 3rd and Goal from the 5 yard line, following a fake run, the Blitz’s Quarterback rolled out to the right where the Devils were forced to cover his run to the corner. This left a wide receiver open in the back of the end zone who was able to catch the pass and finish the Blitz’s short drive with a score. The Blitz kicked the extra point and took the early lead.
Score: Devils 0 – Blitz B 7
Following a 19 yard return by Jones, the Devils began their next drive at their own 36 yard line.
The Devils started with a completion to Wide Receiver Adam Jones, followed by determined running by Running Back Ben Rayner. An errant pass by Belles-Flores looked to have been intercepted by the Blitz’s Linebacker but a flag for Pass interference when Wide Receiver Jones was pushed to the ground while the ball was in the air, meant the Devils kept hold of the ball. The resulting penalty took the Devils into Blitz territory for the first time but the Blitz’s powerful Defensive Line began to force the Devils’ pocket to breakdown and eventually Belles-Flores was sacked for a small loss. Recognising that the Blitz were again going to bring a 6 man rush on the next play Belles-Flores quickly released a long arching throw to Wide Receiver Jones who out jumped the Blitz CornerBack, eluded the desperate tackle and took the ball into the Endzone for the Devils’ first Touchdown of the Season. It was a quick response by the Devils’ Offence which drew wild celebrations on the Devils’ sideline. The extra point was blocked by the speedy Blitz rush but the Devils had quickly put themselves back in the game.
Score: Devils 6 – Blitz B 7
The Blitz looked to have returned the Kickoff back to the Devils’ 20 yard line before being called back for a block in the back on the 26 yard line, which is where they began their next drive. Showing their Offensive skills the Blitz moved down to the Devils’ 32 yard line with a 6 play drive, before a Face Mask penalty took them back to the the Devils’ 47 yard line. After failing to make any further yardage they were forced to punt and the Devils’ Offence took over on their own 17 yard line.
The Devils’ drive however failed to get going and when, under pressure, Belles-Flores threw slightly behind Jones, he only succeeded in tipping the ball into the waiting arms of a Blitz Linebacker. Despite an instant tackle from Slot Receiver Connor Tooke, once again the Blitz found themselves in perfect position on the Devils’ 23 yard line.
The Blitz took no time in making the field position count and after their running game was stopped by some strong tackling from Debutant Devils’ Linebacker Steve Lee, they instantly went to the pass, fooling the Devils’ Defence on a fake and finding an uncovered Wide Receiver in the end zone. It was perfect execution at the right time. The resulting extra point was blocked and gathered by Piers Harrison-Reid but the Blitz had extended their lead right at the end of the 1st Quarter.
End of 1st Quarter Score: Devils 6 – Blitz B 13
Following a short run back the Devils began their next drive on their own 14 yard line. It seemed that they instantly made it to the half way line with a long pass to Jones but a flag for a False Start on the Wide Receiver brought the ball all the way back to the Devils 9 yard line. Not to be deterred Belles-Flores went back to Jones once again, this time the Penalty was thrown for Pass Interference on the Blitz’s Cornerback who dragged Jones down before the ball got there.
The Devils brought out their Running Game to some success but following another False Start Penalty they found themselves at 4th and 2 and due to the field position decided to not give that advantage to the Blitz again, electing to punt. This almost went wrong again as yet another bad snap forced Punter Adam Jones to scramble before managing to get the ball away.
The Blitz began their next drive from their 30 yard line however the Devils’ powerful Defensive Line began to exert pressure on the Blitz’s Offensive Line. Defensive End Chris Waterhouse managing to break through and take down the Blitz’s Running Back for a loss before two wayward passes under pressure forced a quick three and out and, following the punt and a good return, the Devils began their next drive on their 47 yard line.
The drive did not last long as the Blitz’s Linebackers continued to bring the Blitz and the Devils’ Offensive Line struggled to contain them. After only a short drive the Devils were again forced to punt. Long Snapper Chris Miller seemed to be struggling with the wet conditions as another high snap forced Jones to avoid the rush before getting his kick away. This time he was unable to get much yardage on the kick and the Blitz took over on their own 37 yard line.
The Blitz continued with their famed No Huddle Offence on their next drive. Quickly gaining two first downs via several passing plays. The drive looked to have stalled when after some excellent tackling from Linebacker Ed George the Blitz found themselves at 3rd and 12. However, a huge leap from the Blitz’s Wide Receiver, coming across the middle, and a powerful run after the catch helped them just make the required yardage. The Drive continued to the Devils’ 5 yard line before a well executed run play by the Blitz enabled their Running Back to dive in at the corner for a Touchdown. It topped off a 9 play drive and with the extra point conversion took the Blitz into a two score lead just before the 2 minute warning.
Score: Devils 6 – Blitz B 20
Following the kick off the Devils began their next drive from their 20 yard line. They were unable to move the ball far however before the first half came to a close.
Half Time Score: Devils 6 – Blitz B 20
During half time the coaches spoke of cutting out the mistakes, making plays and making the most of the opportunities given and as the Devils kicked off for the second half it was still wringing in the ears of the Devils’ players. It didn’t take long for all three of those pieces of advice to come into play. The kick off was huge from Kicker Adam Jones, the chase from the Devils was perfect as each player avoided their blocks and surrounded the Blitz’s Returner. Piers Harrison-Reid used all his experience in Uni-ball to punch the ball from the Returners grip and the ball appeared to float in the air before Harris Todd grabbed it and ran on into the End zone. It was an immediate score for the Devils, which they needed to get back into the game, and ensured that the Blitz knew that the game wasn’t over yet. A sneaky 2 Point Conversion attempt was well covered by the Blitz but the Devils were on a high as they lined up for the next kick off.
Score: Devils 12 – Blitz B 20
A short Return stopped by a well timed tackle by James Grey meant the Blitz began their next drive on their own 28 yard line. But it was apparent that the early second half score by the Devils had enthused their Offence. Relentlessly, with no huddle, they marched downfield and in a series of 6 fast run and pass plays they made it to the Devils’ 7 yard line. Unable to bring on the right personnel the Devils allowed a simple pass through to the Blitz’s Tightend who jogged into the end zone. It was a crushing blow for the Devils’ Defence and showed just why the Blitz are Divisional favourites in 2018. The resulting extra point was blocked by a leaping Jordan Knights but the Devils were unable to make much yardage on the resulting scramble back up field. The damage had been done and the Blitz regained their 2 score lead.
Score: Devils 12 – Blitz B 26
A better kick return from Returner Harris Todd, following some good blocking from the Return Team, meant the Devils began their next drive on the Blitz’s 45 yard line. They began to make their way downfield through a series of pass and run plays and were soon knocking on the door just outside the Redzone. After another contentious flag for an illegal formation penalty, which owed as much to the faintness of the lines spray painted on the field as it did to the way in which the Devils lined up, the drive stalled, and when Jones was a fingernail away from collecting the ball in the End zone, the Devils found themselves at 4th and 3. Being two scores behind they had to go for it but, with time to throw, Belles-Flores attempted to find a Receiver only for the Blitz’s Linebacker to read it perfectly and intercept the ball.
After the resulting run back, only stopped from being a pick six by Linemen Morgan Page and Luca Ferrara, the Blitz began their next drive from the 50 yard line. The Devils’ Defence returned to the field frustrated with being back on the field and looking to take it out on the Blitz’s Offence. Immediately Defensive End Chris Waterhouse sacked the Blitz’s Quarterback and a powerful tackle from Linebacker Harrison-Reid stopped the Blitz’s Running Back from making much yardage. On the next play, the Devils’ aggression on the Pass Rush seemed to be their downfall as the Quarterback was able to scramble away and make his way down to the Devils’ 13 yard line. All was not as it seemed however as a block in the back had aided his escape and the ball was brought back to the 50 yard line. Finally getting the hang of the Blitz’s No Huddle Offence and making quick substitutions, the Devils’ Defence were able to get the aggressive pass rush going and it showed on the Blitz’s Offensive play. A penalty for a False Start took them even further back and at 2nd and 25 they attempted a long throw to a deep Wide Receiver which was agonisingly juggled and dropped by CornerBack Tyler Alfred. Another throw managed to find its target on the next play but the Receiver was immediately downed by Linebacker Ed George still 10 yards short of a first down. The eager Defensive Line were too quick off the mark on the next play and drew an Offside flag. But at 4th and 5 the Blitz were unable to convert and the Devils took over on downs on their 30 yard line.
They failed to gain any significant yardage however and were forced to punt. But once again the snap was poor and this time Jones was unable to gather the ball and the Blitz took over once again in perfect field position on the Devils’ 32 Yard Line. 6 plays later the Blitz found themselves on the Devils’ 5 yard line and were easily able to run the ball through the over pursuing Devils’ Defence for a touchdown. The Extra Point was missed but the Blitz had taken a three score lead just as the 3rd Quarter came to a close and it would take a huge 4th Quarter effort from the Devils to change the result of the game.
End of 3rd Quarter Score: Devils 12 – Blitz B 32
Things did not start well following the restart as the Devils were unable to gain significant yardage and were again forced to punt. Player Coach Chris Mills took over the long snapping duties and a 45 yard punt from Jones pinned the Blitz back on their own 19 yard line. It looked like the Devils’ Defence were going to keep them there as some good gang tackling kept the Blitz to 1 yard on the first 2 plays. However, a long pass found its target, and a penalty for tackling the receiver out of bounds, when the Devils’ Defender dragged the Blitz’s player out of bounds, added another 15 yards onto the yards gained. This took the Blitz down to the Devils’ 32 Yard line. A good run took them into the Redzone and with swift efficiency a pass, which split the Devils’ Safeties, took them into the End zone.
Score: Devils 12 – Blitz B 38
It was heart breaking for the tired Devils’ Defence and the players could have been forgiven for letting their heads drop as they remained out to face the extra point. However, a mighty leap from behind the line by Ricky Darrall blocked the kick. The ball was scooped up by Ed George who, with two blockers in tow, began a 90 yard sprint for the End zone. Despite a fantastic block from Tyler Alfred, and interference run by James Grey, the Blitz had one extra man who managed to drag George down so his knee hit the ground half a yard short of the goal line, much to the Devils’ disappointment.
On the kickoff, despite having an apparently insurmountable lead, the Blitz elected to attempt an onside kick of sorts, however the Devils were wise to the attempt and, following a scramble, Alan Baxter-Smith gathered the ball so the Devils began their next drive on their own 45 yard line. The Devils’ Receivers failed to hold on to their catches though and the Devils were again forced to punt. The Blitz began their next drive on their own 19 yard line.
The Devils’ Defence seemed to come onto the field with renewed determination to stop the drive and immediately Defensive Lineman Liam Lane charged through the Line of Scrimmage to take down the Blitz’s Running Back for a loss. On the next play Linebacker Ed George avoided his block with ease and took down the Blitz’s Running Back after a gain of 1 yard. Then Linebacker Piers Harrison-Reid charged through to take the Running Back again, for a 2 yard loss. The resulting Punt by the Blitz gave the Devils’ Offence great field position on the Blitz’s 39 yard line.
The Devils took full advantage on the very first play when Andre Belles-Flores found Wide Receiver Joshua Segolo who had expertly shed the Corner Back pressing him on the line and used his pace to get a few yards of separation. Adjusting his run to the pass he took the ball over his shoulder and swan dived into the End zone and his first competitive touchdown for the Devils. It was just reward for the 19 year old who had forced himself into the starting lineup, following a superb pre-season, and everyone was delighted for him on the Devils’ sideline. Belles-Flores sneaked in for a 2 point conversion and the Devils suddenly felt enthused to go out and try and make the score a little more respectable.
Score: Devils 20 – Blitz B 38
The Devils attempted an onside kick of their own but it was easily covered by the Blitz and they began their drive on their own 48 yard line. The Devils’ Defence had their mojo back however and began to show the quality they had shown throughout their Associate Season. Following a Sack from Defensive Lineman Russ Groves, who hunted down the Blitz’s Quarterback as he wheeled out of the pocket, and a powerful tackle by Defensive End Steve Bunyan the Blitz ended up 4 and 17 and were forced to punt. A fortunate roll ensured the punt was lengthy and the Devils took over on their own 20 yard line.
The Devils quickly made their way down to the Blitz’s 33 yard line via their passing game but a Delay of Game penalty stalled the drive and the Devils found themselves at 4th and 7. The resulting play was unsuccessful, due to some excellent coverage by the Blitz’s Secondary, and they took over on downs.
Following some good play by the Blitz’s Offence and a strange Pass Interference penalty on a long throw, which both sides were confused about, they entered the Devils Redzone. But a dropped catch in the Endzone was the last play of the game as time expired.
Final Score: Devils 20 – Blitz B 38
Offensive MVP – Adam Jones
Defensive MVP – Defensive Line
As the Devils proudly made their way back home, having performed well for their league debut and put up significant points away from home against a Divisional favourite, they were also accompanied by reflection, regret and a tinge of disappointment.
However, the Devils are a team which learns from its mistakes. Ultimately the mood in the team was determination to do better next time out. There had been some very positive moments which were celebrated. But the team were also aware what had gone wrong and were sure sure that if they could cut out the errors a victory would not be a long time coming.
Ultimately they had got the first league game monkey off their back and had confirmed something to themselves that really they already knew. They could be competitive in the league and, while the strong start had been big for the Club, they were going to work everyday after to make the next game even bigger.
‘I hate losing. It’s an awful feeling to fall to your opponent when you’ve given it your all. However, that in itself provides some comfort. We went toe to toe with one of the favourites of winning it all this season and competed. We scored 20 and our Defence never succumbed to a loss, despite the score and the clock.
Probably everyone thought we were going to end up conceding 50+ points and scoring none. Former Associate Teams are constantly underestimated. I hope this game showed the Britball community that the Devils shouldn’t be and that we mean to compete.
Suffice to say we’re frustrated with losing, we obviously have a lot to work on, but I very much look forward to when the Blitz B travel to us for the return fixture.
Thank you to the Blitz B for hosting us, and to their Head Coach for his kind words post game. A classy and well drilled outfit and I look forward to facing them again. To the Devils, I want to publicly say how incredibly proud of them all I am. They’ve worked hard to get where they are, where they belong, competing with the best.‘
Chris Mills, Devils Head Coach.
Next up for the Devils are the Maidstone Pumas at Home on the 20th May. The Devils are very much looking forward to stepping out in the league in front of their home support.
The Devils’ committee would like to thank their support staff who without whom the players would certainly not play as well on the field. They would also like to thank the Blitz B for their hospitality and wish them every luck for the season.
The Devils will be playing more league games in 2018.
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