Sunday 14th April 2019 at Maidstone
Cold blustery Winter pre-season days gave way to the sunshine of Spring as the Devils headed south for their longest away trip of the season to face the Maidstone Puma’s.
With a winning season behind them, the Devils where keen to get back down to action and were looking to improve on their positive return to league football in 2018.
Devils opted to receive the ball from kick off and a strong return set the offence up to begin their first drive of 2019 from the half way line. Misfires, penalties, a lack of 3rd down conversions and nervy starts had been a hot topic which had plagued the Devils offence in 2018, however these issues seemed a distant headache as a clean 14 play drive with three 3rd down conversions ended with new Devil, Tim Johnson (RB) marching his way into the endzone. The Extra point was good and Devils took the lead 7-0.
Norwich’s Defence had been a stalwart in 2018 and as they took to the field against the Puma’s it was clear the mentality of the defensive unit had stood strong during the off season. Two run plays were quickly shut down by an aggressive front before a miss-timed pass was read and picked off by corner, and another new Devil, Daniel Hewitt, who gleefully ran the ball home for a pick 6. Another successful extra point saw the Devils take an early 14-0 lead.
A quick 3 and out drive from the Puma’s gave the Devils offence their second possession of the day. Two flags in quick succession dropped the Devils back 10 yards to face a 1st and 20yrds. With the run making slim gains on 1st down, QB Harris Todd took to the air and connected with his Tight End Charlie Keohane on 2nd down to reduce the deficit to just 5 yards as the first quarter came to an end.
Despite converting on 4th down, the Devils drive stalled 3 yards out. A strong stop for the Puma’s Defence left the home teams offence pinned in as they took over possession on downs. Missed catches would force the Puma’s to punt back to the Devils who quickly found themselves 1st and goal after a 30 yrd reception from WR Adam Jones. QB Harris Todd, facing pressure from the Puma’s, took a heavy hit on 3rd down, forcing him to the sidelines on 4th and goal. Backup QB El Foley took to the field and following a miss step from his RB away from the play direction, scrambled the ball home for his first league touchdown. Missing the extra point left the Devils at 20-0.
A high snap from the Puma’s center looped the ball over the QB and quick reactions from the Devils Defensive line turned over possession in the Puma’s red zone. A quick screen pass gave WR Adam Jones the opportunity to juke his way to his first touchdown of the 2019 season. Another extra point missed saw the Devils increase their lead to 26-0.
Defensive Lineman James Sambandan lept out of the blocks on the Puma’s next offensive drive to swallow up the Puma’s running back for a loss of 6 yards, which the Puma’s would not recover from despite some deep attempts downfield. Devils would regain possession on their own 35.
A deep ball on 1st down saw QB Harris Todd once again connect with TE Charlie Keohane for a 55 yrd gain only for the play to be wiped out by Offensive holding. Despite this set back the offensive unit held strong, regaining the lost yards through hard running and an almost identical pass left the Puma’s secondary exposed for TE Charlie Keohane to secure the ball in heavy traffic for a 35 yard gain, but the half time whistle halted the drive in the red zone.
Half Time – Devils 26 – Puma’s 0
The Puma’s offensive unit returned to the field after the break and despite an initial loss of yards on the first play, the Puma’s QB connected with his WR who caught the ball and fought for a 13 yard gain and what looked initially like a first down, only to be ruled a yard short. Chasing the game the Puma’s decided to go for it on 4th down from their own 30 yard line, gifting the Devils offence good field position as their QB failed to connect.
Good gains from some hard running from Devil’s RB’s Joe Jacobs & Tim Johnson on the next offensive drive where quickly forgotten where a penalty saw the Devils face a long 4th and 25. Strong pressure from the Puma’s defence forced QB Harris Todd to scramble out the pocket, however Todd was not fazed, keeping his eyes downfield whilst on the move, took a risky throw toward WR Adam Jones who had streaked across the back of the endzone and made a superb effort to beat strong defensive pressure for his second touchdown of the day. The extra point was dragged to the left of the upright leaving the Devils up 32-0.
The Puma’s second possession of the half didn’t start well, Defensive End Regan Cashman exploited another Puma’s high snap to close down their scrambling RB for a loss of 8.
Taking over on downs and given the lead, the Devils offensive unit began to introduce rookie members to help gain valuable experience in game time. Turnovers in possession and an increase in run plays between the two teams saw the third quarter quickly come to a close.
The 4th quarter took a similar course to end of the 3rd. With heavy player rotation across both units the flow of the game began to ebb out, with missed catches and turn overs a plenty. The Devils defensive unit held strong throughout to bring home a well deserved shut out on the day.
Final Score : Devils 32 – Pumas 0
Defensive MVP – Daniel Hewitt
Offensive MVP – Offensive Line
Head Coach Andy Starling reflected on the game this week;
“I’m very happy with our opening day performance at Maidstone. We had a fantastic start in all 3 phases of the game. Yes there are areas we have identified where we need to work harder but that’s to be expected in week 1. New additions to the team proved their worth and we saw great improvement from a number of second and third year guys. By controlling the game in the way we did, we had the opportunity to rotate the whole squad during the game which is always great for player development. Obviously lots of work to do but a solid foundation to build on. I’m very proud of the team”
We would like to thank all the fans who made the trip to support the teams and look forward to seeing you at our next game.
The Devils will head to the East Kent Mavericks on 5th May 2019 for their second away trip of the season.