Pirates juniors best Birmingham to clinch Britbowl berth

August 24th, 2019

East Kilbride Pirates 13 – 9 Birmingham Lions


The East Kilbride Pirates are now just one-win-away from Britbowl glory after defeating the Birmingham Lions in the BAFA U19 semi-final last Sunday. 

Although in the same conference, both teams came into this game as fairly unknown quantities for each other, unusually having not met in the regular season.  However the defensive coaches of the Pirates and Lions had obviously studied the film closely and both came up with game plans that blunted the claws and cutlasses of their respective opposition’s offense.

So whilst this wasn’t a high scoring contest – it was still a humdinger of a game that could’ve gone either way and kept the bumper crowd at Braidholm on the edge of their seats.  The Pirates walked proudly on to the pitch to face the pride of Lions behind a bagpiper and drummer playing ‘Scotland the Brave’ – but the teams of both nations played with a tremendous courage and passion throughout the day.

The boys from East Kilbride came out the blocks quickly and were on the scoresheet after just 6 plays.  Strong running from Robbie MacGregor initially, who then passed the baton on to Rory Hutton to sprint in from 33 yards for the opening TD.

The EKP defense then got their O the ball back quickly after smothering the Lions attack and forcing a punt on their opening drive.  However Pirate possession only lasted 3 plays before an uncharacteristic fumble re-gifted it right back.

The Lions then put together a solid drive with some strong rushing from standout back Jeremy Kwanzambi-Beni who took the ball to the edge of the Pirate’s 20 yard line before sacks from Jonathon Letham and Jack Cochrane halted their progress.  Turnover on downs.

The next drive of EKP also faltered – however on 4th down and 2 from their own 27, a faked punt and run from Cochrane kept it going just as the 1st quarter ended.  More yardage on the ground from Matt Black, got his team a first and goal on the 4 yard line, before Cochrane finished what he started and punched in for the TD.  Ben Hewitt with the extra point and Pirates 13 – 0 Lions.

Again some excellent running from Kwanzambi-Beni took the Lions into the red zone on their next drive, before it was their turn to fumble in the testing weather conditions, allowing the Pirates to takeover.

The teams then exchanged punts due to more hard work from their defenses and although the Pirates forayed as far as the 15 yard line of the Lions, the half ended with no further scoring.

After the break, the big cats of Birmingham started purring along and yet again it was QB Nathan Lester handing-off to Kwanzambi-Beni that was causing problems for EKP’s defense.  This time they got all the way down to the 8 yard line before a last ditch tackle from corner Ethan Stewart stopped them on the 3 as they ran out of downs.

Although happy to prevent the score, the Pirates now had their backs against the wall and on the 3rd attempt to make significant, safe yardage away from their goal line, the hard-working, all-rounder Cochrane unfortunately fumbled into his own end zone which Lion Alex Scott pounced upon for the TD.  The successful extra point brought the scores to 13-7.

The Pirates and their supporters were stunned.  Although the Lions had always been in the game, the TD came out of nowhere.  The noisy crowd tried to rouse their boys and roared Ssarien Liddell to a 35 yard return from the kick off.  From the good field position this gave him, EKP QB Scott McKigen connected with receiver Josh McArdle for another 35 yards.  Now deep into Lion territory, it was the turn of RB Greg Black to take the ball to touching distance of the pay dirt.  But a superb stand by the big men of the Lions D-line prevented any score.  Turnover again on downs.

After a penalty on first down pushed them further back, it was now Birmingham’s turn to have the ball in the precarious position just outside their end zone, with the 3rd quarter coming to a close.QB Lester held his nerve and bulleted a pass 51 yards down the field to his receiver.  The Pirates defense were rattled and yet more hard work from Kwanzambi-Beni took the Lions to the 3 yard line with 4 downs to try and score.

Pirates and GB captain, and linebacker Ben Gallacher decided this was a good time not just to sack QB Lester once, but twice in succession.  A penalty on the resulting 3rd down (declined by EKP) meant the Lions had one last chance at 4th and 18.  Letham and Cochrane then blasted through the trenches to race each other for a further sack on Lester.  The Pirates had the ball back on their own 23 with the two-minute warning fast approaching.

They did manage another set of downs to burn up some more of the clock, but were forced to punt from the 33 yard line.  In yet another incredible twist to this game, the punt was blocked and recovered by the Lions.  They now had another chance to win the game, 1st and 10 from the Pirates’ 16.  Controlling the clock effectively with use of their final time-outs and further strong running from “you know who”, they got to a first and goal on the 5 yard line.

What followed will go into Pirate folklore.  First a flurry of flags combined with some tough tackling from EKP, pushed the Lions back to 3rd and goal from the 20. This was followed by an incredible clutch pass on the run from Lester to his receiver taking them back to the 6 yard line.

4th down and the Lions were inevitably going to give the ball to Kwanzambi-Beni, but what was the play?  It was a sweep left away from the chasing EKP pack, a good block from the receiver in motion took out a Pirates’ linebacker.  More defenders dived for the tackle, missed, and the running back was now at top speed heading for the corner of the end zone.  Then a flash of red, and safety Ronan Haddow flies in ‘outta nowhere’ and wipes Kwanzambi-Beni out on the side-line, preventing him from breaking the plane by inches.

The noise that erupted from the crowd and from the EKP side-lines was sweeter than any massed chorus of bagpipes one could ever imagine.

Unbelievably the game was still not over and EKP had the ball on their 1 yard line.  Although it looked like Pirate running back Matt Black had made it out the end zone with his 1st down run, the zebras called a safety.  Pirates 13 – 9 Lions.

One important last kick from Hewitt and he powered it all the way down to the 1 yard line of the Lions.  McCardle raced down the gridiron to make sure the returner didn’t get much further and the Lions had the ball, but with no time-outs and seconds remaining.

Pirate Hewitt buoyed by his almost perfect kick, then went to work as defensive end and made the tackle on first down, then a sack on 2nd!  On 3rd down, Lester was flushed out the pocket while looking for what would have been an incredible Hail Mary pass and it was left to Steven ‘T-Bar’ Murdoch to make the final tackle.  Pirates win!

What a fantastic game this was, played in great spirits with both defenses performing to the absolute best of their abilities.  Pirate cornerback, Ethan Stewart won gameday MVP, sponsored by OnPoint Financial, for his excellent pass coverage and often being the last line of defense against the Lion’s tough, running game.

This was a fitting finale for Head Coach Matthew ‘Spoonie’ Davies’ last ever home game in charge of the Pirate Juniors.  He is a big fan of the Jurassic Park film franchise and just like the massive stars of those movies who left behind dino-sized footprints as they departed – Spoonie will not only leave an epic imprint on the club as a whole, but leave huge ‘heartprints’ on everyone he’s been involved with or coached throughout his time in the junior game.

His team now meet the London Blitz on Sunday, September 1st, in a repeat of 2017’s spectacular shootout of a final.

Can the man with ‘Mr DNA’ tattooed on his calf, crack the right genetic code to find one last win?  Can he lead his raiders in red on a mission to cherry-bomb the Blitz?

All will become clear in the neutral venue of London’s New River Stadium on Sunday 1 September from 12.00pm.  You can follow the game via a live-stream thanks to BAFA and Onside Productions.

Finally the Pirates players and staff would like to thank Committee Room No. 9 for match sponsorship and all the supporters who not only created an incredible atmosphere at the game but raised a significant amount of money that will help fund the long trip down to the Britbowl Final in the quest to become British champions.

Report by Kerr Girvan
Photos courtesy of Duncolm Photography


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