Sunday 16th June 2019 against the East Essex Sabres at Pound Lane, Norwich
The Devils returned home to defend Hell’s Gate after a successful and undefeated away campaign and with a hard earned draw against the Cardinals two weeks before, the Devils where keen to get back into action and welcomed the East Essex Sabres to the Gridiron.
American Football can be somewhat unpredictable from one game to the other, much like the weather pre kick off, which graced the teams with a deluge during warm ups. As the teams lined up for kick off though, the clouds parted and graced the hardy crowd with sunshine.
The Devils would choose to receive after the Sabres lost the coin toss but would start their first drive on the 10 yard line after a penalty for offside on kick off. The drive didn’t last long – 3 and out and a punt back to the Sabres would leave the Defence to stand at the Devils 32 yard line.
A quick pass followed by a run would gain the first down for the Sabres and leave them 2 yards inside the Redzone. Defensive end Regan Cashman would swamp an outside run on the new set of downs for a loss of 4. A false start would give the Defence a little more room to breath on 3rd down. The Sabres QB would look for a pass, but with the Devils coverage swamping advancing receivers and his offensive line collapsing, he would bolt to the sideline with no gain to bring up 4th down. Sabres would punt back to the Devils in an attempt to pin the Offence inside their own 10 yards but a touchback would set up a new drive from the 20 yard line.
What would become a theme of the day for both offenses, the Devils would struggle to find the first down marker despite small gains for another 3 and out. Adam Jones would get a clean punt away from his 20 yard line which would take a bounce on the 50 yard and kindly roll in the Devils favour down to the 33 yard line for the Devil’s Defence to take over.
Defensive Lineman Ben Hart and Regan Cashman would force the offensive line to collapse toward a back peddling Sabres QB to hustle towards the sideline, a gaggle of Defensive players bearing down to sack the QB for a loss of 12 – Ben Hart first to make first contact to bring him down. Two quick changes in possession would end the 1st Qtr and the game scoreless.
The Devils offence would begin to gain some rhythm to start the new quarter, utilising the power run to gain 8 yards before Quaterback Harris Todd would find Adam Jones 35 yards downfield, leaping into the air between the Sabres Corner and Safety, turning his body athletically to reach for the ball but as it neared his hands, the Sabres defensive player shoved Jones’s chest to force him out of bounds with no attempt to play the ball. Yellow flags rain down faster than the pre match downpour for Pass interference and the Devils advance to their 37 yard line.
Celebration for the gain would be short lived, despite some strong running from Matt Ward, the Sabres defence would apply pressure to break the offensive line on 3rd and 4 and force QB Harris Todd to scramble and look downfield toward an open reciever but a short pass would bring up 4th and another turnover on downs for the Devils offence.
The Sabres offence would leave the field after just three plays, the Devils Defence quickly shutting down the run play with Linebacker Chris Waterhouse taking advantage of a huge gap to swallow the Sabres running back on 3rd down and knock the ball loose. Lineman James Sambandan would react first to dive on the ball and give the Devils offence great field position just 3 yards from the Redzone.
Creeping up another 5 yards after three downs would put the Devils within field goal range and with a clean snap from Phil Ward to Holder Harris Todd, Adam Jones would get the kick away between the uprights for the games first points and the Devils took the lead 0-3.
The Sabres would make a quick 1st down after kick off to take them within the Devils half. Lineback James Harrod spotted a Sabres reverse hand off on 2nd down and tackled smartly to stop the Sabres for a loss of 4 yards and halt the progress downfield.
The Devils offence showed signs of promise, with two strong runs from Richard Gray and Matt Ward to bring up 3rd and 5yrds. Quaterback Harris Todd would look toward his Tight End Charlie Keohane on a quick out, but with a Sabres defender hot on the TE’s heels, the play failed, much to the visible frustration of the offensive unit.
Defensive Lineman Dan Thomas would beat his guard on the Sabres next offensive drive to shout down a run play for a loss on third and force the punt. The Sabres would look to their bag of tricks on the punt, the snap aiming to the right behind the pocket for a quick run outside. Although nearly thwarted by a high snap, the Sabres player was able to get fingertips to the ball and let it kindly fall into his arms to race for a first down on the 45 yard line. A momentary lapse of concentration straight after would catch the Devils Defence offside taking the Sabres up to halfway.
A superb reaching one handed snatch from the Sabres No.80 out toward the sideline would gain another quick first down and some rare momentum for the Sabres offence on the day. A quick pass to the 35 yard line would stir some nervy looks from the Devils home crowd. The Sabres passing game was springing to life. Space opened up in the Devils coverage for the Sabres Tight End to complete a reception for 2 yards, but Cornerback Daniel Hewitt would close down the reciever to negate any further progression.
On 3rd and 5 the Sabres QB would continue to utilise the aerial threat, but this time he would miss his target and gift Corner Wayne Diggines with an interception and a close to the first half.
Half Time Sabres 0 – Devils 3
The Defence show would continue straight away in the second half.
The Devils Secondary would close off open routes on a first and long, allowing Lineman Ben Hart time to wrestle past his blocker and sack the Sabres QB. With another pocket collapsing on 2nd and long the Sabres would look for a receiver on a cross field route, only to find the hands of Linebacker James Harrod for an interception who would run the ball back to the Sabres 30 yard line.
An excellent position for the Devils Offence who where desperate to start recording some positive yards on the drive. It didnt begin well, a miss-timed hand off would waste the first down. With no progress on the next two tries, The Devils would attempt a field goal from the 35 yard line, which would fall short.
Back over to the Devils Defense then, who would bring up a quick third down and 7 yards after strong gang tackling on two run plays. The Defence would face another aerial attempt to the left hand side of the field. With no pressure, the Sabres QB had time to telegraph where he wanted the ball to go, and Safety Ben Rayner made sure he was the one to pick it for another interception. A penalty flag for a late hit on Rayner after going to ground would tack on 15 yards to the return and the Devils offence another shot from 35 yards out.
Frustration was showing with the ball not flowing for the Offensive unit with another 3 and out adding to the gripes. A good punt away would pin the Sabres back at the 7 yard line.
It wouldn’t deter the Sabres however, who would air it out to the sideline on 1st down toward WR #11 for a 30 yard gain. More good coverage from the Devils secondary would thwart the drive for the Devils offence to take over on the halfway marker after a good gain on the punt return from Adam Jones.
Running back Tim Johnson would take advantage of some excellent blocking from his teammates on two consecutive plays for a total of 23 yards. The Devils would go for it on 4th and 4 yards, but the Sabres would swallow up the run attempt and regain possession on the 30 yard line.
The Sabres offence would be feeling similar frustration with their drives, Lineman James Sambadman once again causing havoc in the backfield to stop the Sabres running back for a loss of 1. They would spill the ball on a hand off on 2nd down and with a scramble on the ground, James Harrod would come up from the pile with the ball.
The offensive unit had clearly been discussing issues on the Sideline and returned to the field determined to create better drives, Running back Tim Johnson leading the charge for a quick 5 yard gain. QB Harris Todd would see a gap to gain another 3 before RB Richard Gray would pound home the first down and end the 3rd quarter.
Quarterback El Foley would enter the fray as Todd limped to the sideline, but the Sabres would stand strong against the run to bring up third down. Forced out the pocket, QB Foley would look for a gap between blocks but a Sabres defender would snag him, knocking the ball loose and the Sabres would recover the ball.
First down and a pass over the middle looked set to be completed by the Sabres offence, but Cornerback Wayne Diggines made an excellent play to track alongside the receiver and at the last moment bat down the ball between the receivers hands for an incomplete pass.
More excellent defensive play on second down would see Cornerback Daniel Hewitt identify a quick pass out to a Sabres running back. Darting across field, Hewitt made a thumping well timed tackle on the advancing runner, knocking the ball loose but the Sabres would recover.
Corner Wayne Diggines would be involved again intercepting a long pass out to the left hand side of the field, but the referees spotted correctly that Diggines had a hand on the WR’s shoulder throughout the play progression and taking the Sabres inside the Devils half. The Sabres wouldnt capitalise and loose ten yards for offensive holding before The Devils defence shut the doors to force the punt.
A series of plays would result in the Sabres offence looking for 2nd and long from the 25 yard line. Chasing the game and with the clock ticking the Sabres QB looked for a pass to the outside receiver. Corner Wayne Diggines clocked the ball in the air, this time making sure he could fairly get in front of the intended recipient to steal the ball for his second interception of the game.
A spell of turnovers on both sides would drive the clock down inside 4 minutes and with the Sabres offense pinned deep in their own half they would look for a deep pass. Safety Ricky Darrall dropped wide, head fixated on the ball to see it into his grip for the interception, and to allow the offense to see out the game for the Devils 4th win of the season.
Not a game for those looking for an offensive shootout, but for the defensive minded, a solid performance from both teams.
Final Score : Sabres 0 – Devils 3
Defensive MVP – Wayne Diggines
Offensive MVP – Tim O Johnson
Head Coach Andy Starling reflected on the game this week;
“Sunday was a really tough game. We knew it, we expected it.
Sabres have a really good Defence and it’s hard to put points on them. There record does not reflect how well drilled they are as a team. A tough day for our Offence but they worked really hard.
It’s tough to know what to say when you win 3-0. Offence got us in a position to Kick the game winning FG in the Second Quarter so congratulations to Phil Ward on the Snap, Harris Todd on the hold, and Adam Jones on the Kick. Tough day against a good team.
We won the battle on Defence and on Special Teams. If you win two out of three phases of the game then you should emerge victorious.
We did that and now sit at 4-0-1 on the season. We’re in a great position. But games aren’t going to get any easier. Time to get ready to fight, time to knuckle up.”
We would like to thank all the fans who watched the game, despite the initial rain to support the teams. We look forward to seeing you at our second Home game on June 30th against the Essex Spartans.
Photo’s courtesy of John Mallett Photography.
Game Report Written by Charlie Keohane