Birmingham lead Division One

Birmingham lead Division One

The Lions travelled to Manchester last Saturday for Round 2 of BAFA’s Sapphire Series, and in the shadow of Sale Sharks’ AJ Bell Stadium, they met up with National Division 1’s only other unbeaten side, Leeds Carnegie, for the club’s first ever match-up.

Sizing each other up across opening drives, it was the Lions that subsequently struck first, on their second drive, when Tail-back Ruth Matta took a pitch 13yds to the end zone, Wide Receiver Hannah Pye (2pt) converting, courtesy of a deft lob from Quarterback Jo Kilby.

With the Lions defense intent on keeping a clean sheet, the likes of Aimee Cottingham, Afia Law, Phoebe Schecter, Nena Killick and Nancy Stone mopped up anything that moved, as such Leeds first efforts were repelled, particularly so after a series of false starts penalised them royally. Needing no second invitation to push on, the Offense took to the field and courtesy of a broken play turned good, Kilby scampered 27yds for a score, before again, in replica fashion, Pye found her way to the corner of the end zone for another 2pt conversion (16-0).

Leeds, putting a number of strong ball carriers into action, picked up some hard yards and some well-earned first downs along the way, but the Lions’ defense simply wouldn’t let up – best surmised perhaps by the defending champions 48 tackle-assist stat more so than anything else.

Pye rounded off an efficient day, completing her hat-trick of scores, this time with a 6-pointer, to ease the Lions into a commanding 22 nil half-time score, before a raft of changes saw the Lions slow their scoring prowess but not by now their stranglehold of the game.

On the offense jinking carries from Running Backs Emelie Taylor and Suzi James were complimented with positive contributions from rookies Kim Tsiga (including a debut touchdown) and Rachel Trim, much of this down to the hard-work of the team’s Offensive Line, which only a few days earlier had been horribly disrupted with the loss of influential Centre, Elisha Huxtable in the run up to Round 2. However, under the keen supervision of OL Coach Carl Lewis, adjustments were made, with Great Britain’s starting Left Tackle Michelle Gywnne moving in one (from Left Guard) to pick up snapping duties leaving a first start at Guard, for Tight End Caren Goodman, and what a job she did, along with Lauren Mills (at Right Guard) with Gwynne, acting as the glue in the middle, to help provide the back-bone for 183yds offensive yards (…noting that the pitch size in 7s is only 40yds long).

With Natalie Parker now pulling the strings at Quarterback, Ruth Matta was released for one final score before the Lions’ defense closed out the game – Law leading the way from Middle Linebacker with enviable support from fellow GB Backer, Laura Moore.

Next up for the Lions was the Titans, and the home-side, buoyant from a competitive, battling loss to last year’s runners-up, Hertfordshire Tornadoes, came out to play, and whilst the team in blue’s commitment was never brought into question the Lions just had too many weapons on both sides of the ball for the hosts to accommodate.

With Parker leading the team out a 35yd opening first drive from the Lions was finished supremely with a somewhat trade-mark crash over from Fullback Steph De-Haven before Taylor crossed the white-wash for a further 2pts and an 8 nil opening salvo. The defense, working overtime against a fast improving Titans side, crashed the home sides’ party early with four straight strike outs to return the Offense to the field. Re-entering the fray, they did so fashionably, courtesy of a dynamic contribution from Suzi James (only back with the team since the first week of March): first up 35yds on the first carry – touchdown…but with a flag in pursuit; second carry – 9yds, a big block from Wide Receiver Celine Bisson giving James room to run; third carry – a 2yd bash; fourth carry – 10yds and a first down; 5th carry – touchdown, James finding a sweet cut-back lane courtesy of the OL’s adventurous downfield progress. Parker grabbed the 1pt conversion with a cute sneak to break the Lions away (14-0).

The Titans returned to the field determined to leave a mark, which was very nearly achieved courtesy of influential Quarterback Sian Perry’s last gasp dive towards the pylon, but prior, well executed play-calling had constructed a length of the field drive to put the home-side in contention but the Lions simply would not concede, stretching every fibre – Stone and Corners’ Helen Gent and Chloe Spalding with cover from Smith in particular – to deny the Titans points in the corner.

With a number of starters taking reduced roles by now, brief appearances from Kilby and Matta conjured up yards and a couple of aerial scores (Kilby to Pye (24yds); Kilby to Tsiga (4yds)) before Parker wrapped up proceedings – a strong personal 41yds rushing care of 5 carries (including 4pts in conversions) contributing markedly to the Offenses’ 245 combined yards and 37pts on the day…the Lions’ defense kept their scoring hand in also, contributing 6pts of their own thanks to DL Mena Fombo’s exerted pressure and Law’s quick thinking to pick up the subsequent loose ball before dashing across the line.

With all of the Lions’ 28-woman squad getting rotations (including more season debuts from James and Katie Davenport on the OL) as well as first scores registered for two further players (Tsiga (2 on the day) and James) the Lions can be satisfied with a good day’s work, taking a further two wins from two, to position them atop National Division 1, but with Sapphire 3 and another date with second placed Tornadoes still to come, it’s all still there for the team that wants it the most.

Game MVPs: Afia Law (Defense) and Kim Tsiga (Offense).

Image with thanks to Garry Charles Photography and © MyLonelyTreeMedia.

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