Strong start to Opal season for EKP women’s flag
October 3rd, 2019
There were plenty of changes for the East Kilbride Pirates Women’s Flag Team to ponder at the start of the 2019 Opal season. A new coaching staff, several new players and a new league set up would need to be navigated in order to continue the success the team has enjoyed in the past three seasons. With the Opal Series adopting a four-conference format, the Pirates found themselves in the Highland North Conference, alongside the Manchester Titans, Chorley Buccaneers and Staffordshire Saxons. The first of two rounds of divisional play took place this past week at Sir Stanley Matthews sports centre in Staffordshire, as the Pirates made their longest travel of the season at its earliest point. Heavy rain was the forecast for the day, and this delivered throughout each bout.
In the first contest, the East Kilbride side took on a familiar foe in the Buccaneers. In the past, Chorley have been tricky opposition for the Pirates, as they aim to frustrate and play safe, mistake-free football. The offense struggled in the early exchanges, but a game-breaking interception by team captain Heather Spurling-McGowan set up the offense to pile on the points. QB and offensive captain, Aynsley Barclay, found Clare Dynes on a beautiful pass in the front right of the end zone to give the Pirates a commanding early lead.
The defense was relentless, as a pair of interceptions from defensive captain Robyn McCluskey held the Buccaneers to 6 points, as the offense capitalised on their way to a 41-6 win to open the year.
Next up, a new opposition in the Staffordshire Saxons awaited. The Saxons looked impressive offensively against the fancied Manchester Titans, but the Pirates defense put in another stout performance, conceding only 6 points while notching another bounty of interceptions. Robyn ran back a pick for a score, while the returning Amy Rodger snagged a wayward pass, returning it to well within striking distance. The final score was 61-6, as the offence was met with little resistance – the highlight of game for the scoring unit was a length-of-the-field TD run from Clare Dynes, as she beat defender after defender to run it home from the shadow of her own endzone.
The final contest of the day was the pundits’ pick for the battle at the top, and thankfully the rain subsided for the marquee matchup. The Manchester Titans came into the game undefeated also, and looked impressive in their wins. They have had strong recruitment and an excellent set of coaches, meaning the Pirates would need to be at their best to compete.
Things didn’t start well, as an interception gave the Titans the ball in Pirates territory. A 4th down stop by the defense gave the offense the ball back, as they looked to open the scoring. They were stopped agonisingly close to paydirt, as the teams began to trade stalling drives. Finally, a 4th down heave from the Titans found its way over the outstretched hands of the Pirates D and into the end zone for the opening score of the game, 6-0. The Pirates O responded in kind with their own scintillating strike, Stacey Johnston was on the end of an exceptional pass from Aynsley in the middle of the field for a score between three defenders, 6-6. Both teams struggled for offensive consistency, as the half ended all square.
An early stop for the Pirates D gave the offense momentum and they capitalised – a 25 yard toss to Paige Cawley at the front of the end zone gave the Pirates a 12-6 lead. The Titans looked to reply, but a huge interception and return on 4th and goal from Robyn gave the offence good field position, and they capitalised as Paige ran it home from close range for her second score of the day. Louise Donnelly added the XP to give the Pirates a 19-6 advantage.
Things got nervy though; a quick strike from the Titans pulled the game back within a score, and when the Pirates offense was stopped again, it looked like momentum was fading fast. That was until Robyn jumped the first pass of the ensuing Titans possession and ran it back to within the five yard line.
The Pirates aimed to run the clock out, and on 4th down with minimal time remaining, Aynsley threw a dagger through the Titans defense to Louise for the game-sealing score, Paige added the XP on a leaping effort at the back of the end zone.
The defense forced their final turnover, and the Pirates were able to kneel the ball out – final score 26-12.
Starting strongly in difficult circumstances, this was an excellent result for the Pirates. Next up they take on the teams from the North England Conference – Leeds Samurai Queens, Sheffield Hallam Rangers and Warriors and the division leading Sheffield Giants all await the East Kilbride side in Manchester on Saturday 12 October!
Defensive – Robyn McCluskey
Offensive – Stacey Johnson
Report by Andrew Gibson
Photos courtesy Taz Carr
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