Devils fall to first loss of the season against high flying Spartans

Sunday 30th June 2019 against the Essex Spartans at Pound Lane, Norwich

All eyes where on Norfolk this weekend as the Norwich Devils, sitting second in the SFC2 East with 4 wins and a draw, would welcome the 5 wins, 0 loss Essex Spartans to Hell’s Gate.

Last seasons only encounter between the two teams saw the Devils emerge victorious with a 23-26 win, however a lot can change between seasons in Britball and with both teams undefeated it would be tough to pick a winner.

The Devils would win the toss and let the Spartans offence take to the field. A nervy first play would see the Spartans running back miss a toss in the backfield, but with Devils defenders bearing down upon him, he was able to recover the ball to continue the drive, much to the relief of the Spartans sideline. Strong gang tackling from the defensive unit would bring up 4th down and a punt away from the Spartans.

The Devil’s offence would begin their first drive from half way. Running back Matt Ward would bounce to the outside right as his running lane diminished for a gain of 8 yards, but a false start would wipe away 5 of those yards on the next play and stutter the Devils first drive.

Both teams exchanged possessions with little gain, the coaches using plays to probe for weaknesses to exploit. The Spartans offence would be the first unit to gain the first 1st down of the game. Setting up in trips to the left, the Spartans would use their WR No 13, who’s only movement on the snap was to move toward the Spartans QB and receive the ball. With Devils defenders backing off into zones, the receiver had time to turn and dart in between the Devils Defenders for a gain of 8 yards. Powerful running from the Spartans full back was met with a crunching stop by Linebacker James Harrod who would prevent a large gain, but not the first down.

Devils defenders would scupper the run up the middle to bring up 3rd down. The Spartans would look for a fake handoff and pass out to the left to their Tight End. Linebacker Ed Bowling spotted the danger, closing the receiver down as he took possession of the football for no gain on the play.

Over to the Devil’s offence from the 40 yard line, Quarterback Harris Todd would bring his Tight End in Motion to the left, opening up a quick pass to Wide Receiver Adam Jones who would spin away from the Spartans Cornerback for a gain of 5. Running back Richard Gray would be handed the ball, and with good offensive line blocking, he would power forward to bring up 3rd and inches. Running back Joe Jacobs would pound home the Devil’s 1st down and a close to the frantic 1st quarter with no score.

The offensive unit made no further improvement on the drive and punted away to pin the Spartans at the 15 yard line. Bringing up 3rd and 7, the Spartans would target Wide Receiver No 13 on a post route, however Devils Cornerback Daniel Hewitt would leap like a Yorkshire Terrier up to the heady heights of the big receiver and bat the ball away, nearly scooping it for an interception in the process. A good punt block would set the offence up 30 yards out of the endzone.

Despite running different options, the Devils couldn’t break the Spartans Defence and on 4th down opted for a field goal. With a clean snap and placement from the holder, Kicker Adam Jones struck the ball down the middle of the field, the kick looking good all the way, only to drop an inch short the wrong side of the cross bar and keep the game deadlocked.

Another 3 and out from the Spartans would force the punt. Adam Jones would take the ball at the Devils 30 yard line and with space opening up, Jones would peal to the right of the field, dodging a diving tackle before eating up yards. Hitting the Spartans 40 yard line, Jones looked to cut back in field to avoid a tackle, but with the field opening up further, his foot gave out on uneven surface to bring him disappointingly down on the 35 yard line.

A false start would set the Offence back further and leave the Devils on 3rd and long from the 40. QB Harris Todd would send his Tight End Charlie Keohane in motion and with his offensive line holding a perfect pocket and Running back Matt Ward securing a blitz pickup, QB Todd had time to find his Tight End who had found a gap between the Middle Line backer and safeties. Making a little juke step to beat a tackler, Keohane surged to the end zone for the first score of the game. Spartans – 0, Devils – 6.

Celebrations would be muted on the extra point though, as a low kick would be batted by a Spartans player, and with no one in the back field, would recover the ball and run it back for 2 points. Spartans – 2, Devils 6.

With the Spartans Offence back on the field, Defensive Lineman combo James Sambandan & Regan Cashman would gang tackle a run play for no gain on 1st. Good coverage in the secondary would stop the Spartans Quaterback from finding an open target and bring another 3rd and out for the visitors.

A collapsed pocket would send Devils QB Todd on the run on 1st down, with planned routes out the window, Wide receiver Sam Simpson looked for space behind the corner but couldn’t bring the ball in for the reception. Todd would motor his legs again on second down with coverage nullifying his receiver options and the quarterback would run out of bounds for a 14 yard pick up. A looping pass on second toward wide receiver Daniel Middleton looked to be completed for a gain of 15, but the tall target man had the ball tipped out of his fingers by the Corner as they went to ground. Despite going for it on 4th down, the Devils would turnover possession on the 30 yard line.

Two minute drill time for the Spartans and the offensive pace picked up drastically. Two passing plays looked for the big No 13 – the first one shut down, the second one completed for a gain of 20 yards. Moving the ball to half way, the Spartans passing game was in full swing. A cross field route from the right hand side receiver was met with a perfectly timed pass by the Spartans Quaterback to secure another first down on the Devils 27 yard line. A penalty would take the Spartans back and with better coverage on the next two passes, the Devils felt momentum swing back their way. with 4th and long, the Spartans looked for a target, but with outside pressure from Lineman Luca Ferrera on one side and Linebacker Ian Hardy on the other, the Quarterback had no where to go as Hardy took him to ground to bring up half time.

Half Time – Spartans 2 – Devils 6

Wide Receiver and kick returner Oli Engler would gaining 30 yards on the kick off return & help the Devils offence begin the second half from the 55 yard line.

Wide Receiver Adam Jones would get the Devils rolling on 3rd down, catching the ball out wide on the line of scrimmage before nimbly navigating between three tackles before being brought down heavily. Quarterback Harris Todd would be forced out of the pocket twice on the next set of downs, the first scrambling for a gain of 8 yards. The second would see Todd with his eyes downfield and on the run, but with no receivers breaking the Spartans coverage, Todd would be tackled to the ground and the ball knocked from his possession – The Spartans would dive on the ball and take over on the 30 yard line.

The Spartans where quick to get going, a reverse sweep would open the left hand side of the field for an immediate 1st down and a gain of 15 on the play. Taking the ball a further 8 yard to bring up 3rd down, the Spartans would look long down the middle of the field. Safety Ricky Darrall reacted to dive in front of the receiver for an in-completion but a flag on the play would take the Devils back to the 35 yard line. The Spartans would suffer a penalty of their own, holding on Defensive Lineman Regan Cashman which would set them back 10 yards.

With 2nd and 20, the Spartans Quarterback would have time in the pocket to target WR No13, Cornerback Wayne Diggins jumping with the tall reciever to pat the ball away from his grasp. An early snap on 3rd would send the ball off course and into the backfield by hitting a motioning receiver. Quick reactions from the Spartans would see them regain possesion, but pressure from Regan Cashman, Ed Bowling & Matt Thompson would force the QB down on the Spartans 35 yard line and force the punt on 4th.

The Spartans would force a 3 and out on the Devils and with the clock winding down on the 3rd Quarter, so would the yards for the Spartans.

Strong running would see three first downs on the drive to end the quarter and as the teams changed ends, the Spartans rallied and continued the barrage against the Devils Defense. Heavy continuous tackling couldn’t prevent the Spartans from creeping downfield and despite a last chance stand at the goal line, the Spartans would break through 4th for a Spartans touchdown. A bad snap would cancel out the extra point but the damage was done and the Spartans would take the lead. Spartans 8 – Devils 6.

A sense of urgency could be seen on the Devils Offence, with so much of the third quarter eaten up by the Spartans it was now or never.

Running back Richard Gray would pick up 15 yards on 1st down from the 20 yard line, with fellow running back Tim Johnson etching another 7 over two plays with the new set of downs. The Devils offence would catch the Spartans defence offside for another fresh set of downs just shy of the half way line.

Quarterback Harris Todd would fire a quick shot to the wings, Wider Receiver Adam Jones beating the one on one coverage to catch in bounds for a 13 yard pickup.

Inside the Redzone and 3rd down and 20, Todd would take aim to the corner of the endzone. This time though the Spartans where taking no chances and with double coverage on Jones, the pass would be intercepted.

A late field goal attempt from the Devils would also go incomplete and with it the Devils would fall to their first loss of the season in a game they really should have put to bed.

Head Coach Andy Starling reflected on the game this week;

“Approaching the back of a busy schedule of 5 games in 7 weeks we always knew this game was going to be really tough. We played the Spartans in a very tight game last season and knew this would be no different. We fully knew the impact this game would have on who would be Division Champions and we’re well prepared. We played great, disciplined football, took the lead and held it, and held it. Tough battling by both sides. We led for much of the game but couldn’t add to our lead. When the Spartans took the lead we created a comeback opportunity which we were unsuccessful on and the Spartans ran out the clock showing great game management. Great game by both teams. We came up short, but no blame on anyone. Everyone worked their butts off and played with pride, passion, and discipline. While I hate to lose I’m proud of this Devils Team. And most importantly, we’re still in the playoff hunt”

Photo’s courtesy of supporter – Niky Ellison

Game Report Written by Charlie Keohane

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