Devils secure playoff football in derby thriller

Sunday 7th July 2019 against the Ipswich Cardinals at Pound Lane, Norwich

A month has passed since the 62 point back and forth between the Devils and Cardinals at Northgate High School. The Cardinals, having notched two wins on back to back games and would now face the Devils for their third game in as many weeks..

The Devils on the other hand had scraped by a tough East Essex Sabres team and tasted defeat against the league leaders Essex Spartans in a game that the Devils knew they should have won.

With play-off football in the balance for both teams, the derby looked prime for more exciting action – and it didn’t disappoint.

The Ipswich Cardinals, returning the ball to the 42 yard line on kick off, came out intent on making the first mark. A run and pass for a gain of 8 shot the Cardinals up to the half way line before some excellent blocking on left side of the Cardinals offensive line would create a lane for Running back Jordan Mussington to gain the first down before bouncing back into the middle of the field, dodging Devils defenders with nimble footwork to take the visitors into the Redzone.

The Devils Defence seemingly caught napping from the off rallied together. Pilling into the middle, Lineman Ben Hart and Linebacker Ian Hardy stumped the Cardinals running back at the line of scrimmage. Lineman Regan Cashman would find space to catch the runner in the back field for a loss of 3 yards on the next play.

Quarterback for the Cardinals, Matt Agate would look for a quick slant out to his left on 3rd down, but with Corner Wayne Diggins side by side and Safety Ricky Darrall reading the QB’s eyes and backing off toward the receiver, time in the pocket ran out and the Devils swarmed together to sack the QB for 4th down. The Cardinals would attempt a field goal but drag the kick wide of the post, giving the Devils offence their first possession of the day.

Running back Richard Gray would start the drive with a powerful run for a first down before Quaterback Harris Todd would find his Wide Receiver Oli Engler in space for a 20 yard pick up.

3rd and 2 on the Cardinals 42 yard line, QB Todd would look for a quick pass to his Tight End Tayler Lawson who had acres of space in front of him. Plowing his way through a tackle, Lawson headed out of bounds for a 22 yard gain.

QB Todd would look for a favorable match up on his Wide Receiver Adam Jones, who had beaten his coverage to take the catch in the Endzone for a Devils touchdown. The extra point was good and the Devils took a lead after their 9 play drive, Cardinals 0 – Devils 7.

A series of possession turnovers around midfield would bring up the end of the quarter with a narrow Devils advantage.

The Cardinals Offence would look to continue the run package, another hand off to Jordan Mussington and space provided by his blockers would see the quick runner past the 1st down marker. Devils Defensive End Regan Cashman would bear down on the runner, punching the ball loose in the tackle for Safety Ben Rayner to recover the ball. The Devils offence wouldnt take advantage of the recovery and kick away to pin the Cardinals back at their 20 yard line. Or so they thought.

The Cardinals would stick their best play of the game, the offensive unit getting their blocking on point to open up a gap bigger than an East Anglian Football rivalry.

Cardinals Running Back Jordan Mussington was off to the races and with only the Devils Safety Ben Rayner to beat, a quick change of direction on the half way point would see daylight between him and the Endzone and the pacey runner would go the distance. The Extra point was good to even things up. Cardinals 7 – Devils 7.

The Devils offence sprang into action. Quarterback Harris Todd would audible his receiver Adam Jones out to the flat and with little coverage to beat, Jones would find 25 yards, before another target to Jones would give the target man another 20 yards, and the offense into the Redzone.

Seeing the flats wide open, Todd would look to his Tight End Keohane and with the ball in his hands, would turn and dart into the EndZone for the quickest scoring drive of the Devils 2019 season. The extra point would be missed. Cardinals 7 – Devils 13.

Cardinals would utilize their run game effectively up to the half way point but on 2nd and 7, a miss directed pass to the full back would bobble on the floor. Lineman Dan Thomas and Line backer Liam Lane would dive for the ball, only for it to pop up into the hands of Line backer Chris Miller for the fumble recovery on the Cardinal’s 40 yard line.

The Devils offence would go into 2 minute drill mode, QB Todd connecting again with Jones to take the Devils within touching distance of the Endzone, but the Devils wouldn’t convert.

Half Time – Cardinals 7 – Devils 13

The Devils offence would start proceedings by making a good gain with a sweep, Adam Jones turning running back for a play to pick up 25 yards, and despite small further advancements would stall on the Cardinals 43 yard line and turn over the ball on 4th down.

Cardinals would again go to their run package for their first drive of the second half, alternating handsoffs between Running backs Henri Clements and Jordan Mussington to grind down the yardage and take the Cardinals just outside the Redzone. 3rd down and Cardinals Quarterback Matt Agate would look to the flats and open Receiver Connor Phimster for a 5 yard pickup. Another run and the first down would be secured before Agate would this time hit his Wide Reciever Chris Cheek out on the wing who would hit the endzone and tie the game (extra point no good). Cardinals 13 – Devils 13.

The Devils offensive unit would get straight to business on their next drive, utilizing the power run game to chip away yards and creep past half way. Quaterback Harris Todd would find his Tight End Charlie Keohane for a gain of 8 before catching the Ipswich defenders offside to bring up the first down. Wide Receiver Adam Jones would find space to gain 4 yards before QB Todd once again hit his Tight End Keohane in stride for 11 yards and a new set of downs from the 15.

Running back Tim Johnson would pick up a screen pass and with his receivers blocking well downfield, Johnson would pick up 7 yards. Running back Richard Gray would take the ball within inches on 3rd down and a Quaterback sneak would keep the drive alive. Running back Johnson would then be presented the gap he needed by his offensive line and with Richard Gray leading the way, Johnson would waltz into the Endzone for another Devils score. The Devils would go for two, Wide Receiver Jones getting down smartly for the catch. Cardinals 13 – Devils 21.

A sense of deja vu then as we entered the 4th quarter. The Cardinals would receive the kick off from the Devils and blast up the right hand side of the field. Hitting the 40 yard line and the Cardinals kick returner looked likely to go the distance, but Linebacker Dan Walker broke down to trip the speedy runner with an outstretched arm to stop him at half way – but at great cost to himself. A severely broken wrist would unfortunately take him out of the game, and end his season of football.

Cardinals would once again go to their run game, with an added little misdirection from Quarterback Agate to pick up a first down on the Devils 40 yard line. More good blocking from the Ipswich O-line would give Running back Henri Clements room to drive to the 12 yard line for a 25 yard pick up.

The Devils defence would see the Cardinals onto 4th down, smart timing from Corner Daniel Hewitt to bat down a pass before Defensive end Luca Ferrera and Ed Bowling would scupper the diminutive Cardinals running back from making further progress. But they wouldn’t hold on.

Going for it on 4th down, Quarterback Matt Agate would roll out of the pocket, and find his Wide Receiver Chris Cheek running out to the sideline and into the endzone for the score. The Cardinals would go for two and get it, Receiver Ben Manning maneuvering into space behind the Devils and across the endzone for the score. Cardinals 21 – Devils 21.

The Devils however, where not giving up.

Running back Tim Johnson was handed the ball on the in the back field from the 20 yard line and good blocking in front of him would give the back space to pick up 30 yards.

3rd and long, Quarterback Todd would break out to his left, and seeing his Tight End Keohane sneak behind the Cardinals coverage and out toward the sideline. Todd would make a leaping throw in motion and a smart high catch would get the first down. A penalty would gift the Devils with another 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct.

Jittery nerves would set the Devils back 10 yards for holding and with the clock running down, Quarterback Todd would look to his left and Wide Receiver Oli Engler who make a terrific reception over the top of his coverage at the 2 yard line.

The Devils applied the pressure, with third down they would bounce out to the right, Quarterback Todd would find his running back Joe Jacobs out wide. Lead blocker Richard Gray, would get an almighty block on an advancing Cardinal to give Jacobs room to cruise into the endzone for his first Norwich Devils touchdown. The Devils would go for two but a dubious penalty would bring the play back. Opting for just a single point on the retry the Devils would fail to convert. Cardinals 21 – Devils 27.

Going down to the wire again, the Cardinals would advance the ball beyond the 50 and into the redzone with more strong runs from Henri Clements & Jordan Mussington. 2nd down and three to go from the 17 yard line, Cardinals Quarterback Matt Agate would look for a shot at the endzone to the right hand side but reading the play would be Corner back Daniel Hewitt to split the receivers path and take the ball for an interception to a roar from the Devils fans and sideline.

The Devils needed to wind down the clock and buy themselves some space and a well executed play would see Running back Tim Johnson acres of space for a 30 yard run, and the Devils the ability to take victory formation.

Offensive MVP – Harris Todd

Defensive MVP – Daniel Hewitt

Head Coach Andy Starling reflected after the game;

“After the disappointment of the Essex Spartans game the week before this was going to be a real test of us, of our composure, our mental toughness , our resolve. Anything that goes on between Norwich and Ipswich is going to be intense in any sport or event. Well this game didn’t disappoint. It was what we expected. Nobody took their foot of the gas, we just kept working – we just kept peddling ! We worked hard and got the win, the all important win. Now the focus is on our next opponent – we know who that is, but let’s not take them for granted because this could impact our post season. Great work so far guys we’re 5-1-1. We need another win.”

Photo’s courtesy of John Mallet Photography.

Game report written by Charlie Keohane.

The Devils return to action on August 4th with the last game of the regular season at Home to the Maidstone Puma’s – See you there!

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