Norwich Devils v Maidstone Pumas
Sunday 8th July 2018
Report by Alan Baxter-Smith
(Apologies, no team photographers attended the game)
Preparation for American football is the same whether you are playing the best in your league or those struggling for victories. Its very easy to lose intensity and once you do that, it can be very hard to get it back.
As the Devils began the long journey down to Maidstone, made longer by an overheating bus which could only travel some of the way at 30 mph, they were preparing for the game just as they always did. The Coaching staff were running through their game plans and line-ups. The Players were hydrating, fueling and running through their plays with each other making sure they had them emblazoned on their minds. The only differences were; the bus was a little smaller than usual, as was the squad size, and many of the starters had been left at home to rest up for tougher games ahead. With no disrespect intended to the Pumas, it was a chance for many lower on the depth chart to show the coaching staff that they could step up a level and secure a win.
It was a gamble for the Devils. Sometimes underestimating an opponent can bring about a teams downfall but, despite the temperature in the low 30’s and the lack of any breeze which greeted them, as they arrived, the Devils were confident they could come away with the victory.
The Devils won the toss and elected to receive. After a short return the Devils would begin their first drive from their own 22 yard line. Straight away the Devils proved that the absence of a number of starters made no difference to their threat offensively. A long pass to Wide Receiver Dom Howes took them down to the Pumas’ 30 yard line before Running Back Matt Ward took over and picked up another first down. On a cleverly worked play Quarterback Andre Belles-Flores was able to pick out Slot Receiver Tayler Lawson, who had eluded his coverage in the Pumas’ Endzone, for the first score of the game and Lawson’s first Devils Touchdown. The Pumas were able to block the extra point attempt but it was a blistering start by the Devils’ Offence who seemed eager to get to the sideline and into the shade.
Score: Devils 6 – Maidstone Pumas 0
They didn’t get to stay in the shade long. After an excellent kick chase, by the Devils’ Special Teams Unit, the Pumas’ Kick Returner found himself facing a wall of Devils’ players. Hesitating on what to do he failed to spot Dom Howes approaching him from the side, Howes was able to punch the ball from his grasp, Piers Harrison-Reid dived on the loose ball, and the Devils would begin their next drive on the Pumas’ 20 yard line.
Running back Matt Ward quickly picked up the first down and took the ball down to the Pumas’ 4 yard line. After failing to pass the ball accurately on two plays, Running Back Alan Baxter-Smith came on to try and punch it in. He was unable to do so, thanks to some strong defensive play up the middle by the Pumas’ Defensive Line, and the Devils found themselves at 4th and goal on the Pumas’ 2 yard line. They opted to go for it and it looked to everybody that they were going to run it up the middle once more. The Pumas set up crowding the box but veteran Baxter-Smith spotted this, taking the handoff, he immediately changed direction, ran behind the wall built by his Offensive Line, and made his way out to the opposite corner of the Endzone untouched. It was a clever move which, following the successful extra point by Kicker Harris Todd, had taken the Devils into a good lead within the first few minutes of the game.
Score: Devils 13 – Maidstone Pumas 0
A good tackle by Joe Waller following a good return meant the Pumas would begin their next drive from their own 32 yard line. The less than usual looking Defensive Unit did not start well. A blown coverage allowed open space for the Pumas’ Quarterback to find a wide open Receiver who caught the ball in plenty of space and made his way towards the Devils Endzone. Safety Ricky Darrall was able to catch up to make the tackle but not before the Pumas’ player had reached the Devils 9 yard line. It was a shock to the Devils Defence to give up such yardage on the first play and despite some good tackling from Piers-Harrison Reid on the Pumas’ Running Back, on 3rd and Goal the Pumas’ Quarterback again found an open Receiver for the Touchdown. Having not scored in their previous meeting the Pumas rightly celebrated the early score. The Extra point attempt was blocked by Russ Groves but it was a surprised Devils’ Defence who left the field, worried that perhaps the day wasn’t going to go as smoothly as they had hoped.
Score: Devils 13 – Maidstone Pumas 6
The hot start to the game had matched the hot weather and there were calls from the Devils sideline to calm things down a little. Another good kick off and chase by the Pumas meant the Devils would begin their next drive from their own 15 yard line and Quarterback Belles-Flores and Running Back Joe Jacobs began to move the ball down field to the half way line in a series of run plays. The Drive seemed to have stalled when, following a False Start Penalty, the Devils found themselves at 3rd and long. Quarterback Belles-Flores was however, able to move about the pocket and elude the Pumas’ Rushers, eventually releasing the ball and finding Slot Receiver Matt Harrington in space. His catch and run took the Devils down to the Pumas’ 30 yard line. Belles- Flores was unable to repeat the feat on the next play however, when he was sacked for a big loss and then an incomplete pass, which was inches to far for the Receiver, brought the 1st quarter to a close with the Devils at 3rd and 23.
End of 1st Quarter Score: Devils 13 – Maidstone Pumas 6
Another off target pass by the usually accurate Belles-Flores forced the Devils to punt and the Pumas’ would begin their next drive from their 13 yard line.
The Pumas began with their running game and again took full advantage of the Devils’ Defensive players who were still growing accustomed to their unusual positions, quickly making their way up to their 32 yard line. Despite strong tackling from Cornerbacks Tom Brown and Wayne Diggines as well as Defensive Lineman Liam Lane the Pumas continued their drive over the half way line. The drive seemed to have stalled however, following a Personal Foul Penalty but again the Pumas Quarterback found an Open Receiver, for a 25 yard gain, and the Pumas were able to move the chains once more. Following a time out by the Devils the Defence finally seemed to come to the party. A powerful take down of the Running Back by Defensive Lineman Lane for an 8 yard loss sparked life into them. Eventually a strong tackle from Linebacker Pony Murphy brought up 4th and 6 for the Pumas. Electing to go for it the Pumas were disappointed when Linebacker Russ Groves and Defensive Lineman Joe Waller broke through the line to jointly sack their Quarterback. The tackle forced the ball from the Quarterbacks grasp and despite being recovered by a Pumas’ player the fumble meant the devils would take over on their own 40 yard line.
Quarterback Belles-Flores seemed to have the bit between his teeth and, perhaps due to his slightly misfiring arm, he took it upon himself to run the ball. Some powerful running, where he knocked several Pumas’ players off their feet, took the ball down to the the Pumas’ 15 yard line in a matter of moments. What looked like a touchdown pass was called back for a Holding Penalty on the Devils Offensive line. But it didn’t take long for Belles-Flores to make up for the missed opportunity. Finally finding his range he picked out Wide Receiver Dom Howes in the Endzone for his second touchdown pass of the game. Harris Todd secured the extra point and the Devils took a 2 score lead.
Score: Devils 20 – Maidstone Pumas 6
The Pumas shot themselves in the foot after a good return to their 30 yard line was pulled back for another personal foul penalty after the play and they would begin their next drive on their own 15 yard line. The Devils’ Defence had finally found their mojo, covering the pass with ease and, following a tackle behind the line of scrimmage on the Pumas’ Running Back by Linebacker Groves and Defensive End Steve Bunyan, the Pumas’ went 3 and out and were forced to punt.
A short punt meant the Devils would begin their next drive in excellent field position on the Pumas’ 34 yard line. Again Belles-Flores began to run the ball downfield, picking up a first down in the process. A Holding Penalty took the Devils backwards but again Belles-Flores was able to pick out a Wide Receiver on the next play. This time Harris Todd was the grateful player who collected the ball in the Pumas’ Endzone having easily outsprinted his cover. The Pumas managed to block the extra point attempt but just before the end of the half the Devils had moved themselves into a commanding lead.
Score: Devils 20 – Maidstone Pumas 6
The Pumas were able to again return the ball well reaching their 38 yard line on the kickoff and attempted to move the ball quickly, utilising their remaining 3 time outs, via their passing game. However, Cornerback Wayne Diggines brought their drive and the half to a close with an excellent interception.
End of 1st Half Score: Devils 26 – Maidstone Pumas 6
The half time team talk was short and sweet. It really was too hot to get to worked up about things and there hadn’t been too much to concern the Devils during the first half. Essentially more of the same. The Pumas again showed their value on special teams with a good return to their 39 yard line, until a tackle by Joe Waller, and the second half began. The Pumas went to their running game and effectively began to move the ball downfield, picking up a first down. Then they went to their passing game and following an excellent long pass found themselves on the Devils 23 yard line. Returning to their running game they had much less success and with a tackle by Linebacker Jon Mills on their Running Back they found themselves losing yardage. Some superb coverage by Cornerback Diggines forced them into 3rd and long but once again the Pumas found the open Receiver with the long pass and moved down to the Devils 3 yard line. Defensive Lineman Liam Lane swallowed up the attempted run down the middle with ease and a False Start Penalty took the Pumas back further. The Pumas attempted to return to their passing game but good coverage by the Devils’ Secondary meant their Quarterback had no options and Lane came thundering through the middle to smash the QB to the ground for a sack. The hit was clean but so forceful that, following a long injury break, the Pumas’ Quarterback had to leave the field unable to continue. Linebacker Piers Harrison-Reid was able to knock down the pass by the Pumas’ back-up Quarterback when they went for it on 4th down and the Devils would take over on their own 15 yard line. It was a devastating blow to the Pumas’ Offence who had looked to get back into the game early in the second half, made even worse having lost their starting QB in the process.
Opting to rest starting Quarterback Belles-Flores, Offensive Co-ordinator Craig Thompson brought on back-up Chris Wilkinson. Straight away Wilkinson showed the Devils strength in depth as he read the Pumas’ coverage perfectly and launched a long ball to Tightend Charlie Keohane to take the ball up to the Half Way Line. Showing good footwork he then found Wide Receiver Howes for a short gain and then returned to Tightend Keohane to pick up the first down. A Face Cage Penalty during the tackle took the Devils down to the Pumas 17 yard line but the drive seemed to have stalled after a tipped pass missed its intended open Receiver in the End Zone and the Devils found themselves at 4th and 7. Coach Thompson allowed Quarterback Wilkinson to try and finish his drive instead of going for the easy 3 points and the veteran back-up did not let him down. A perfect pass into the corner of the Endzone found Wide Receiver Howes for his second Touchdown of the game and the Quarterback was able to complete the 85 yard drive. Harris Todd was able to convert the extra point and the Devils left the field very pleased with their efforts and in the ever increasing temperatures hoping to add to their score and initiate the running clock.
Score: Devils 33 – Maidstone Pumas 6
Another good return by the Pumas Special Teams Unit was stopped by Dom Howes at the 30 yard line and the Pumas began their next drive. Going with their running game, possibly due to the absence of their starting Quarterback they quickly made it down to the Devils’ 24 Yard, only the tackling of Linebacker Harrison-Reid seeming to stop them. A Block in the Back Penalty took them backwards however, and good pressure from Defensive Lineman Joe Waller kept them from getting any sort of good pass away. When Harris Todd, in at Defensive End due to injuries, dragged down the Pumas’ Running Back for a little gain the Pumas found themselves at 4th and 12 on the Devils 26 Yard line. Forced to go for it, due to the scoreline, the Pumas went for the pass but good Coverage from the Devils Secondary almost resulted in a pick for Linebacker Pony Murphy and the Devils would take over on downs.
Looking to run down the clock, and with a number of Back-Ups on the field, the Devils went to their run game. But, a good run by Running Back Baxter-Smith was brought back for an Illegal Formation Penalty when the Wide Receivers failed to line up on the line. The Devils failed to make the first down after that and were forced to punt and the 3rd Quarter came to a close with the Pumas on their own 37 yard line.
End of 3rd Quarter Score: Devils 33 – Maidstone Pumas 6
A False Start Penalty immediately took the Pumas backwards and a burst through the line by Linebacker Harrison-Reid took the Pumas’ Running back down for a further 2 yard loss. Defensive Lineman Joe Waller’s good tackling kept them from making any further Yardage. Forced to go for the Pass at 3rd and long the Pumas failed to connect and the resulting big punt meant the Devils’ Offence would take over on their own 13 Yard Line.
Running Back Matt Ward returned to the field having not been seen for a while and it quickly became obvious he had been taking advantage of what little shade the sideline had. Full of energy he quickly made his way upfield for two first downs. When the Devils Centre snapped the ball before being asked, quick hands and thinking from Quarterback Wilkinson enabled him to find Wide Receiver Harris Todd free upfield with a long bomb and it looked like Todd would be waltzing into the end zone for his second score of the game. A perfectly timed tap tackle by the diving Pumas’ Cornerback however, took Todd down at the Pumas’ 19 yard line. The Devils went back to the run but, a fumble during the handoff by Running Back Ward, meant the ball was juggled before ending up in a Puma Linebacker’s hands This resulted in a foot race back towards the Devils Endzone. Despite Quarterback Wilkinson’s efforts the race was won by the Pumas’ player and the Pumas, even though the two point conversion was unsuccessful, were rightfully able to celebrate their second score of the game.
Score: Devils 33 – Maidstone Pumas 12
With their tails up the Pumas avoided the Devils Blockers and chased down the Devils Returner quickly and the Devils would begin their first drive from their own 12 yard line. The Pumas continued to put pressure on the Devils, buoyed by their unexpected score, and a sack on Quarterback Wilkinson resulted in the Devils ending up yards from their own goal line. Finally forced to punt, and with their Punter in the back of the Endzone the Devil’ Line provided good protection for Harris Todd to get the ball away. A good punt meant the Pumas would begin their next drive from the Devils’ 40 yard line.
Good tackling from Linebackers Kyle Bowen and Piers Harrison-Reid at first kept the Pumas’ Run Game to a little Yardage. However, the Pumas were not to be denied and a good 10 yard gain with the run took them closer to the Devils’ Endzone. Safety Ricky Darrall prevented a touchdown with the Pass and following another run the Pumas looked like they had found themselves within the Devils’ 5 yard line and pushing for another score. However, an Unsportsmanlike Penalty against the Pumas’ Wide Receiver, who for some reason had picked a fight with the Devils Cornerback away from the action, resulted in them being being moved back to near the 20 yard line. Eventually they found themselves at 4th and long and attempting an option swing play. It didn’t fool Safety Ricky Darrall, who came up and made the tackle on the Pumas’ Running Back for a loss and the Devils took over on downs on their own 22 yard line.
The Devils brought on Running Back Baxter-Smith to try and get some first downs and run out the clock as the 2 minute warning was signalled. Not giving up, the Pumas brought blitz after blitz and Baxter-Smith was unable to get any significant yardage up the middle. Eventually the Devils were forced to punt at 4th and 1 to wild celebration from the Pumas’ coaches. Unfortunately they failed to cover the fake however, and Punter Harris Todd was able to run upfield for a first down. Following that Baxter-Smith was able to find a quick first down and run out the clock for the win.
Final Score: Devils 33 – Maidstone Pumas 12
Defensive MVP – Russ Groves
Offensive MVP – Dom Howes
As the Devils got back on the oven like coach, for the long ride home back to Norwich, they could be thankful they hadn’t slipped up in their chase for a playoff spot. The result had never been in doubt since the opening 5 minutes and despite not really getting out of second gear the baking hot conditions had taken its toll on the players. Ultimately though the Devils were happy. They had kept the winning streak going and given their whole squad some some valuable playing time. Sure some players had found themselves in different positions and it had been a learning experience for both them and the lower end of the depth charts, but that only benefits the team in the long run.
Another decent showing from the Devils on all three phases of the game. After a shaky start on their first drive our Defence didn’t concede any more and the Offence pretty much consistently drove downfield and put up 33 points.
Heat is always a great equaliser in this sport. It’s very easy for people to dehydrate and overheat. This game was insanely hot and the dust from the dry hard ground didn’t help. That’s where our amazing sideline support staff really come into their own. They kept the water flowing, sun cream available and sugar levels of the players up so they could do what they do on the field.
Although we travelled with a relatively light squad, well light for us, we still performed very well. Rotating heavily and able to give vital experience to our depth players, which will only help us going into the latter stages of the regular season.
I’d like to thank the Maidstone Pumas for our fixtures this season. They really are a class outfit and genuinely don’t deserve the flack they get. They play and compete (Despite the score lines ) because they love the sport and their team.
As for the Devils, we move our focus on to Ipswich.
Chris Mills, Devils Head Coach
Next up for the Devils is the eagerly anticipated away game at the Ipswich Cardinals. It’s likely whoever wins the derby fixture will secure a berth in the post season while the loser will have to see if other fixtures go their way. Combined with the long rivalry between the two teams, and indeed cities, it’s sure to make it a hotly contested game that supporters of the game shouldn’t want to miss. The Devils are sure their supporters will be keen to take the short drive down to Ipswich to support the team and we look forward to seeing you all there.
The Devils’ committee would like to thank their support staff, who’s tireless efforts on Sunday despite the extremely hot weather were very well appreciated.
They would also like to thank our fans who attended the game despite the travelling distance and supported us via our social media sites. T
Finally they would like to thank the the Maidstone Pumas for two well played fixtures this season. Despite what some say about them the team plays their heart out and play with an integrity and commitment severely lacking in some more successful teams around the league. They are an excellent team with a great spirit who we look forward to doing battle with more in the future.
The Devils will be playing more league games in 2018.
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