Blitz final defences too strong for Pirates invasion force
September 8th, 2019
London Blitz 26 v 0 East Kilbride Pirates
When the East Kilbride Pirates strode proudly onto the field at New River Stadium just before noon last Sunday, it was the end of a long journey. The final 100 or so yards they walked from the changing room to their side-line, only added to the well-over 2000 miles they have travelled throughout this season. In that final leg of their epic adventure, they could have imagined they had home field advantage, due to the noise from their incredible supporters who made the same, tiring, 9-hour trip down to London with them.
It was also the end of a journey for many of the players who had grown and matured through the excellent youth and U19 systems. Players like Cochrane, Gallacher, Girvan, Hewitt, Murdoch, Rubuga and Smith. They would be moving into the Pirates Senior team next season and would be giving their all for one last victory to add to the many successes they’ve enjoyed together as ballers and brothers.
Most importantly, it was journey’s end for Head Coach Matthew ‘Spoonie’ Davies. This larger than life character is a legend of the Pirates and the British game – if you don’t know Spoonie, you don’t know BritBall. He admits freely that when he looked out to the practice field on that first team get-together before Christmas last year and saw a group stacked with rookies and inexperienced players, albeit with some graduates from the U17 BritBowl winning squad. The best he was hoping for was maybe a 4-2, win-loss record, with them possibly scraping into the play-offs. This was the youngest ever team he’d coached going into to any season. His primary hope was that he could nurture a solid foundation for incoming Head Coach Nicky Smith to inherit.
However under his guidance and that of his fellow coaches, the players worked and worked, on the field and in the gym. The afore-mentioned senior players mentored the rookies and the team over-achieved beyond their years and experience. A perfect 6-0 regular season over all the heavy-hitters of the Northern Conference, combined with an exciting, nerve-jangling win over the Lions in the semi-final brought them to where they were today. The Big Show. The BritBowl Junior Championship Final.
Pirates won the toss and decided to receive, ignoring the rigid notoriety of the Blitz’s defense who had only given up 1 TD in the regular season. The decision seemed a correct one as the Black twins, Greg and Mathew, celebrated their 18th birthday in style, by breaking through for large gains and successive first downs on the first two plays of the opening drive. The London D adjusted however and started filling the gaps with linemen and linebackers to stifle any channels the EKP running backs hoped to find. An unsuccessful pass attempt on 4th down gave the Blitz the ball on their own 35 yard line.
The Pirates defense were also indifferent to the reputation of the Blitz’s ‘Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse’ – the name given to the running backs the London team rotate through – and held them for a 4 and out, forcing them to punt to EKP’s 24 yard line.
On the 2nd down of the drive, a bad snap from the Pirates recovered by the Biltz, gave them strong field position just outside the red zone. Again their running game was closed down effectively by EKP’s defense, so QB Marco Livi decide to go to the air on 4th down. His pass to the back of the end zone was pulled in by receiver number 84, Leonardo Sophoclis, who just managed to get one foot inbounds for the score. The extra point attempt was blocked and Blitz take a 6-0 lead just as the first quarter ended.
EKP were forced to punt on their next drive and despite Pirate James Richards nearly picking off a Blitz pass they managed to get down to the Pirates 16 yard line with a complete set of downs. An offensive pass interference call on 1st down pushed them back to 2nd and 25, but then QB Livi connected with number 82, Emmanuel Akaba to take the score to Blitz 12 – 0 Pirates.
The two teams then exchanged turnovers with Ben Gallacher recovering a Blitz fumble and giving his team good position on the 18 yard line.
Pirate’s QB Scott McKigen wasted no time trying to reduce the deficit and threw what looked like a certain TD pass to receiver Josh McArdle, before Blitz cornerback Khalid Adisa fouled him just as he was gathering the ball. The linesman agreed and flagged for pass interference. This took EKP to 1st and goal from the 8 yard line. Whereas the Pirates strong running game would have been a good option against other opposition – the Blitz were packing the box with up to 7 bodies at a time and controlled the edge immaculately. So the aerial route made most sense for McKigen. Unfortunately after a short completed pass to McArdle, the Pirates’ QB didn’t see Blitz linebacker, Tunde Ganiyu, had dropped back into coverage and picked off the next pass, returning it 90 yards to the Pirate 4 yard line.
A block in the back penalty on the return took them back to the 19 yard line, but yet again they were in the Pirates red zone and despite great efforts to stop the rush by Richards, Murdoch and Letham on the defense – QB Livi again went to Sophoclis on 4th down with a 13 yard scoring pass. Blitz 18 – 0 EKP.
The half ended with no more scoring with both defenses performing well against the run game of their opposition.
There was some joy at the break for EKP as Chairman Amanda McDonald collected the John Slavin Award for best game day management presented by BAFRA (British American Football Referees’ Association). This year Amanda and her team of game day volunteers won the awards for both Division One and the overall Junior division. Congratulations to everyone involved and more information can be found at www.bafra.info/info/jst/BAFANL2019.pdf
After the half, the Pirates again started brightly. Penalties forced the Blitz into a long 1st and 23 situation on their opening drive and then Pirate’s MVP, Richards forced a fumble on the subsequent play which fellow linebacker Gallacher recovered. Pirates had the ball on the Blitz’s 26 and were hoping to try and get back into the game. After a nervy false start put them 5 yards back, Blitz Linebacker, number 55, Suen Oshin (who had an outstanding game) timed his run perfectly and blasted through the O-line, causing a fumble, and shutting out the EKP comeback before it even started.
Some strong running from the Blitz got the ball to the 31 yard line of the Pirates a few plays later and QB Livi hit receiver Sophoclis once again to complete his trilogy of TDs. I am not sure if he is named after the ancient Greek Tragedian ‘Sophocles’ – but he was indeed turning the day into a dismal drama for the Scottish and Northern Division champions. Blitz 26 – 0 Pirates.
The Pirates were now playing for pride and to give their dedicated supporters something to cheer. Unfortunately the flow of game was now getting very disrupted by numerous penalty flags which the teams exchanged, as well trading fumbles and punts taking the game into deep into the 4th quarter.
After yet another fumble recovery by Gallacher who has led his defense by example all season, the Pirates had the ball around the midpoint of the field with the clock approaching the two minute warning. Desperate for a score, EKP were now fielding 4 receivers in search of a breakthrough. Adam Gilchrist pulled in a nice grab but was smothered quickly before he could make significant yardage up field. Yet again EKP were forced to punt on 4th and 5. EKP’s version of Taysom Hill – all-rounder, Jack Cochrane had obviously been given the nod he could fake it, if the opportunity was there for him. His run was closed down quickly and despite getting his kick away, his face mask was grabbed by a Blitz rusher and now EKP had four more downs from the Blitz 31 yard line.
On first down, running back Matt Black found the edge sealed perfectly by Pirate’s left guard, Michael Girvan and a further, great block by Cochrane opened up some room for him. A tackle from the Blitz unsteadied Black, but he pushed back from the impending astroturf with his free hand and got his team all the way to the 5 yard line.
Would this be it? Cochrane tried twice and on the 2nd attempt he got agonisingly close with his run stopped on the 2. QB McKigen then tried a sneak only to lose 5 yards and it was back to 4th and 7. Coach Davies sent on kicker Ben Hewitt and the field goal special team – he was determined to go away with something from this game…
…of course he was never going to kick it, that’s not how Pirates go out! The ball was snapped to holder, Matt Black, who juggled it slightly, put his head down and headed for paydirt. Huge hits came in after only a couple of yards from the Blitz D, but he found himself being carried forward on a red tide of Pirates. Every lineman, every member of the offense, every player and coach on the side-line, every EKP Ultra in the stand was willing him on. It would have been no surprise if we’d seen Coach Davies himself at the back of the ruck trying to push his team over the final hurdle.
Inches short. The end of the ridiculously fun voyage that Spoonie and his 2019 Junior Pirates have given us. The London Blitz deservedly kneel it out and are worthy champions with a team full of absolute ballers destined to play at a high level. Congratulations on the #back2back2back.
At the end of the game, Coach Spoonie collected his beautiful, 4 year old daughter, Harper from the stands and ran back on to the field with her on his shoulders and her cherry-red curls bouncing in the sunlight. As he watched the Blitz collecting the trophy, he said to her, “Daddy’s team didn’t win today”, she looked down and patted him on the head and replied “oh well, maybe tomorrow”.
One thing for sure, that ‘tomorrow’ is indeed truly bright for the whole of the East Kilbride Pirates organisation, thanks to people like that wise, little girl’s Daddy. And whatever Spoonie’s ‘tomorrow’ is, we hope BritBall hasn’t seen the last of him and wish him every success in any journey he wants move on to.
Report by Kerr Girvan
Share this article