Maidstone Pumas v Norwich Devils
Sunday 20th May 2018
Report by Alan Baxter-Smith
Photographs – John Mallet Photography
In the music industry there is a well known phenomenon called Difficult Second Album Syndrome or DSAS as the Guardian once described it. After having begun their league adventure with an impressive performance against the highly touted London Blitz B , which drew plaudits from some in the British game, the Devils faced the possibility of coming across the Phenomenon of Difficult Second Game Syndrome or DSGS when they played their 2nd league game and Home Opener last Sunday. Sure, the visiting Maidstone Pumas were not the most highly rated team, but they were an established league team. They had played and won games in the league before and therefore were another step on the education ladder for the Devils, still the rookies in the conference.
As both teams arrived to the perfect weather at Devils field they were greeted by not only a large crowd of 150, enjoying the delights of the Chicken Wings and Ice Creams on offer, but also by the sight of a flawless field marked out perfectly, ready for the game ahead.
The Pumas won the toss and elected to receive the ball. Harris Todd took the returner down early and the Pumas began their first drive from their own 19 yard line. Beginning with the run, they immediately probed at the flanks of the defensive line, perhaps having read some reports that the Devils Defensive Ends lacked the ability to contain the outside run. Defensive End Chris Waterhouse tried to put paid to that thinking as he avoided his block and took down the runner for a loss of yardage. After a false start penalty the Pumas were forced back further but, perhaps having an initial game plan to attack the flanks, they would not be deterred from going to the outside. This time with some good blocking they did manage to get there but Cornerback James Grey was wise to the move, charging up and taking down the Running Back nearly twice his size with ease. At 3rd and 12 the Pumas again attempted to attack the flanks, this time with a play action designed to spring the QB to the outside. Again Chris Waterhouse was there but this time he wanted something more than a sack, reaching his arm in and stripping the ball, as he made the tackle, he was able to not only keep up his record, of at least one sack each game he has ever played for the Devils, but also give an opportunity for the Devils to take possession. Indeed that was the case as Rookie Defensive Lineman Ben Hart sprinted across to dive on the ball before it went out of bounds. It was an impressive start from the Devils’ Defence who had received criticism from some quarters about their quality following the previous games performance and meant the Devils Offence would take over on the Pumas’ 7 yard line.
It didn’t take long for the Devils’ Offence to again prove just how clinical they can be in the Redzone. On their very first play of the game, Quarterback Andre Belles-Flores kept the ball and with a deft cut back jogged into the end zone for the first score of the game. It was a simple yet devastating blow and proved to be just the beginning of what would prove to be a first half of high quality football by the Devils. The 2 point conversion attempt was unsuccessful but the large number of Devils’ supporters on the sidelines were not to be deterred from their applause as the Offence left the field.
Score: Maidstone Pumas 0 – Devils 6
The Pumas fared slightly better on their next kick return, making it to their 25 yard line before Liam Lane dragged the Returner down. They did not however, fare any better with their attempts at attacking the edge. This time Defensive Lineman Russ Groves getting to the outside and taking down the the Pumas’ Running Back for a loss of yards, much to the big mans delight. Finally the Pumas elected to go to their passing game but an over throw and then a crunching tackle from Linebacker Ed Bowling meant they made no yardage and they were forced to punt. It was another dominating display from the Devils’ Defence and following a very high and long punt by the Pumas the Devils took over on their own 29 yard line.
Straight away the Devils went to their Running game, perhaps a reaction to the comments made about their inability to run the ball against the Blitz in their previous game. Straight away Running Back Ben Rayner danced his way to the outside and, following some great blocking from Wide Receiver Joshua Segolo, he made his way to the 47 yard line for an 18 yard gain. After continuing with the run for short yardage the Devils took to the pass. Quarterback Belles-Flores finding Wide Receiver Adam Jones on the 30 yard line, Jones then bumped up his yards after catch stats by avoiding the first tackle and fighting and wrestling the Pumas secondary all the way down to the Pumas’ 4 yard line. Returning to the Run Ben Rayner took it to the outside and followed the relentless blocking by Jones into the Endzone. After roars of approval from both the Devils Running Back Coach Keith Jacobs and Offensive Co-ordinator Craig Thompson, the Devils then converted the 2 point conversion attempt when Belles-Flores found Jones in the End Zone and they took a very early two score lead.
Score: Maidstone Pumas 0 – Devils 14
The Pumas managed to run the very long kick off back to their own 29 yard line before Piers Harrison-Reid made the tackle and the Devils’ Defence took to the field again. With acting Defensive Co-Ordinator Richard Gray barking out orders on the Devils’ sideline, controlling the defensive unit much as he would have done as Defensive Captain had he not been sidelined for the season with a back injury, the Devils’ Defence were relentless in their pursuit of another 3 and out. With the powerful Defensive Line forcing the Pumas’ QB to rush his passes and the Devils Secondary covering what seemed like every inch of the field the Pumas were again forced to punt without gaining a yard. Firstly it seemed like the Devils’ Offence would take over in excellent field position as a short punt and fortunate bounce took the ball back to the Pumas’ 44 yard line. However, a flag was thrown, following a foolish late hit on the kicker by Steve Lee as he attempted to block the Punt, and the Pumas moved 15 yards downfield for a first down. After another poor pass by the Pumas’ QB under pressure it was time for Linebacker Ace Faatuai to introduce himself to the the Pumas’ Quarterback. A powerful Blitz from the big man, who had missed the opening fixture due to his wedding that same week, took the Pumas’ Offensive Line by surprise and he was given a free run at the unfortunate QB. The hit was hard and the Pumas’ QB was visibly shaken by the impact as Faatuai recorded his first of what is sure to be many Sacks for the Devils. On the next play it seemed that Defensive End Liam Lane, moved from his usual position of Defensive Tackle after impressive displays in practice, wanted to get in on the Sack party. After having shrugged off the Pumas’ Offensive Tackle, and gliding past the block of the Pumas’ running back he dragged the Pumas’ Quarterback to the ground for another big loss of yards. At 4th and 23 the Pumas were again forced to punt and this time the Devils avoided the punter while also forcing him to rush his kick, the resulting short punt landing in to Matt Bowers’ hands who proceeded to sprint back up field to the Pumas’ 22 yard line before being dragged out of bounds.
The Devils’ Offence again took over in excellent field position and after a 5 yard gain from Rayner they opted to go with the pass. However the usual safe hands of Jones and accuracy of Belles-Flores went missing and finding themselves at 4th and 5 they went for it instead of the field goal. Again the pass was unsuccessful and the Pumas took over on downs on their own 17 yard line. It was the first sign of weakness from the Devils’ Offence and they were not a happy unit as they left the field.
Again the ferocious Devils’ Defence took to the field. First Waterhouse taking down the Pumas’ Running Back for a loss with the help of Jordan Knights, before Faatuai breaking through the line again to knock him even further back on the next play. Opting to go for the pass on 3rd down the Pumas attempted to send it long but Cornerback Grey was wise to it, leaping to knock the ball down right in front of the Puma Receivers outstretched hands. It was yet another 3 and out from the Defence and the crowd were whooping their appreciation at the display of quality football being played out on the field. A good punt from the Pumas meant the Devils would begin their next drive on their own 40 yard line.
End of 1st Quarter Score Maidstone Pumas 0 – Devils 14
The Devils elected to change some personnel for the next drive but stuck with the run as Running Back Alan Baxter-Smith, with the help of good blocking from the Offensive Line, made his way downfield collecting first downs on a number of carries. When it looked like a delay of game penalty would stall the drive and finding themselves at 3rd and 9 the Devils went to the passing game. The same Offensive Line of Morgan Page, Dan Thomas, Phil Ward, Chris Handley and Luca Ferrara, who had shown their run scheme capabilities, showed how good they were in pass protection. Providing a solid wall for Quarterback Belles-Flores he had plenty of time to pick out Wide Receiver Adam Jones who, after catching the ball on the 15 yard line, dragged his tackler toward the goal line. After wrestling free, and with an acrobatic leap, his outstretched arm was able to break the plane of the goal line. It was yet another Athletic Score from the high scoring playmaker adding to his points tally for the season. Alan Baxter-Smith ran the ball in for the 2 point conversion and the devils found themselves 3 scores up.
Score: Maidstone Pumas 0 – Devils 22
The kick off sailed into the Endzone for a touchback and the Pumas would began their next drive from their own 20 yard line. Again they began with the run but strong tackling from Linebackers Chris Miller and Faatuai put paid to that. A False Start penalty and some confusion by their Running Back, taking down his own QB, took them back further and when they went to the pass Cornerback Will Bridgeman nearly picked it off for what would have undoubtably been 6 points for the Devils. It was another 3 and out and after an excellent punt under pressure by the Pumas the Devils took over on their own 30 yard line.
Opting to take to their short passing game the Devils were able to begin to get the ball out to Slot Receiver Tayler Lawson but some good gang tackling from the Pumas meant he was unable to make much yardage and the Devils eventually found themselves at 3rd and 9. Running Back Baxter-Smith was handed the ball once more and despite what appeared to be no way through, due to a well timed blitz by the Pumas’ Linebackers, he was able to shake the tackle, check back across the field and find space on the outside, dragging 3 Pumas’ players through the final 3 yards towards the first down marker. The Pumas’ Cornerback provided a moment of fear for the Running Back, when he managed to rip the ball free from his grasp, but Baxter-Smith was able to dive on the lose ball almost immediately and gain a further few yards in the process. The play kept the drive alive and the Devils took full advantage. A combination of excellent running from Belles-Flores and a suburb pass to Tight End Harris Todd took the Devils down to the Pumas’ 14 yard line. The drive stalled due to some strong tackling from the Pumas’ Defensive line and the Devils found themselves at 4th and 1 at the 6 yard line. Opting to go for it rather than take the field goal Belles-Flores managed to sneak across for a 3 yard gain and continue the drive. The Pumas twice blocked the quick pass with some powerful rushing by their Defensive Line but they were unable to stop the run once more as Belle-Flores snuck in for his second Touchdown of the game. Harris Todd caught the 2 Point Conversion attempt and the Devils Offence left the field delighted with their 70 yard, 13 play, TD scoring drive.
Score: Maidstone Pumas 0 – Devils 30
Another excellent tackle on the Kick Returner by Harris Todd meant the Pumas would start their next drive from their own 20 yard line. The Pumas’ back up Quarterback took to the field and made an immediate impact, when a good pass on the first play enabled the receiver to make 10 yards and gave the Pumas their first 1st down of the game. On the next play however, it looked like a fumble by the new Quarterback, following a pass rush and tackle from Defensive End Elliott Foley, would give the ball back to the Devils Offence on the Pumas’ 8 yard line. It was correctly judged that the QB had just managed to get forward momentum with his throwing arm however and the Pumas kept the ball. But, they were unable to connect on anymore passes and were once again forced to punt.
Another good punt meant the Devils began their drive at their own 45 yard line and they immediately took to the run. However, Running Back Joe Jacobs failed to hold on to the hand off from Belles-Flores and the Pumas found themselves in Devils’ territory for the first time in the game after they recovered the ball. Strong tackling from Linebackers Dan Bowen and Piers Harrison-Reid meant the Pumas failed to make any yardage with their run and the first half came to a close.
Halftime Score: Maidstone Pumas 0 – Devils 30
After probably the easiest half time team talk the Devils Coaches will ever have to give, after all the Offence had gained over 200 yards, for 4 touchdowns, without 1 penalty flag against them and the Defence had restricted the Pumas offence to minus 33 yards, the main call was for more of the same.
At first it seemed that would be the case. After a short return the Devils began their drive from their own 30 yard line. Having faith in his Running Back despite his earlier error, Coach Thompson went straight back to the run and this time Joe Jacobs weaved his way through the crowded line of scrimmage making 11 yards. Another strong run from the RB took them further downfield before Belles-Flores took to the pass and found Harris Todd on a long pass which took them down to the Pumas 21 yard line. A quick play caught the Pumas off guard and Belles-Flores found Todd free in the end zone for another TD. Kicker Adam Jones added the extra point and the running clock came into effect for the remainder of the game.
Score: Maidstone Pumas 0 – Devils 37
A good return by the Pumas took them to their own 31 yard line before yet again Harris Todd made the tackle. Taking to their run game the Pumas made very little yardage due to powerful tackling by LineBackers Ed Bowling and El Foley. A False Start penalty took them back and once again they were forced to punt. After a short punt, which sailed out of bounds, the Devils would take over on the 50 yard line.
Both teams exchanged penalties when a good 25 yard run from Running Back Matt Ward was brought back for a push in the back, then as blatant pass interference call as you could get on Wide Receiver Jones took the ball back up to the Pumas 45 yard line. Some superb coverage from the Pumas’ Secondary kept the Devils out of the end zone. But once again they were unable to stop the run, as Running Back Ward weaved his way down to the 19 yard line after a 26 yard run. Yet again the Pumas’ coverage kept the Receivers from catching the ball in the end zone. Eventually the Devils found themselves with a 1st down on the Pumas’ 5 yard line. After failing to convert with the pass on the first 3 tries the 3rd quarter came to a close.
End of 3rd Quarter Score: Maidstone Pumas 0 – Devils 37
The Devils elected to go for it on 4th down rather than take the field goal. Again however, the pass failed and the ball was handed over on downs.
With the clock constantly running the Pumas were in no hurry to play and took every second they could between plays before they snapped the ball. However, once again they went 3 and out as strong tackling from Defensive End Chris Waterhouse and Cornerback Wayne Diggines contained them to just 5 yards and, once again, they were forced to punt.
A short punt meant the Devils would take over in great field position on the Pumas’ 30 yard line. But it seemed that the Devils were already eyeing the locker rooms as a lazy Holding Penalty took them back to the 40. Then the safe hands of Jones deserted him on a long pass and despite an excellent catch and run from Running Back Ben Rayner they found themselves back at the Pumas’ 25 yard line on 4th and 5. Then a flurry of penalties on both sides for false starts and offsides finally fell in the Devils favour and they managed to reach the 20 yard line and a 1st down. A sack on back up QB Chris Wilkinson however took them back 10 yards and, when Running Back Rayner failed to find a first down with the run, the ball was handed over on downs. As the Devils’ Defence took to the field, the loud voice of Head Coach Chris Mills could be heard clearly lambasting his offence for their apparent lack of enthusiasm to finish the game professionally.
It seemed that the laziness bug was catching as the Devils’ Defence gave up their biggest play of the game on the next drive as the Pumas’ Quarterback found his wide Receiver for a 29 yard gain. But the Pumas failed to make another pass and the clock run out on what had been a dominating performance by the Devils.
Final Score: Maidstone Pumas 0 – Devils 37
Defensive MVP – Ace Faatuai
Offensive MVP – Matt Ward
Finishing the game with nearly as many yards with the run game as their passing game on offence and the Defence giving up -2 yards all game. It seemed that the Devils had answered the questions, regards their unbalanced Offence and suspect Defence, that had been asked by some, and indeed they had asked of themselves, following the Blitz Game. However, the Devils were also under no illusions. All both results proved was that, at the moment, they were not as good as Blitz B and better than the Maidstone Pumas. Much tougher games lay ahead but they had at least avoided catching DSGS. It was time to celebrate their first league win in 2018, but come Tueday’s practice their focus was on the upcoming home game against the East Essex Sabres. An old foe from many years ago who’s high scoring Offence would provide the Devils’ Defence with a much sterner test.
I said to the team in my pregame talk that this game wasn’t just a game. It was a big bookmark in the clubs history. I mentioned that Devils of old were in attendance and to not let them or each other down. Well, they didn’t disappoint, 37-0 is not a score line to sniff at! This game was more akin to how the Devils play football. The Blitz game was an eye opener to a lot of the player base & we certainly learned from it on all sides of the ball.
The defence played incredibly well. A shutout is great but seeing some players stepping up and showing me and the coaches exactly how much they’ve improved is amazing. It proves how we as a team are developing. Which is the main thing.
The offence executed the game plan almost flawlessly, moving the ball reasonably comfortably and putting 30 points on Maidstone in the first half. The focus shifted to player rotation in the second to gain as much experience as possible.
Kudos to the pumas, they played the entire 60mins & were smiling throughout. They weren’t dirty or fighting amongst themselves, they do it because they love the sport. Despite their scorelines, they’re a great team and a cracking bunch. I wish them well in the future.
The supporter turnout was excellent. It was great to see former devils of old and recent, players’ families and friends and also members of our ‘sister’ team; the Iceni Spears cheering us on. It all adds to the atmosphere of a great Gameday experience. Thank you to everyone that came and supported us, fed us, hydrated us and clad us in sunscreen. It really is appreciated and it means we can focus on what’s going on on the field.
Chris Mills, Devils Head Coach.
Next up for the Devils are the East Essex Sabres at Home on the 3rd June. The Devils hope that everybody can come along again and support them as they continue their adventure in the National League.
The Devils’ committee would like to thank their support staff, without whom the players would certainly not play as well on the field. Particularly all those who helped set up the field and Game Day Manager Laura Handley who managed the day perfectly. John Mallet Photography for capturing the historic day and Phil Wade for his superb commentary.
They would also like to thank True Devil Wings and Ronaldo Ice Cream for providing their wares to our supporters and players. They would especially like to thank all our fans who attended the game and supported us via our social media sites.
Finally they would like to thank the Maidstone Pumas for a well played and spirited game. They could have been forgiven for giving up but played hard until the very end and we wish them every luck for the season.
The Devils will be playing more league games in 2018.
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