Lions Dominate Over Imperial
Going into this game, the Lions knew that a win would secure them a place in the BUCS semi-finals ahead of the final game of the season against Hertfordshire. The reverse fixture in London was unfortunately cancelled due to a waterlogged pitch, with the Lions taking a walkover victory, so the Immortals came to Birmingham looking to take down the Lions at the first opportunity. Apart from the delayed start due to traffic, the conditions for the game were somewhat better than the previous week vs Bath, as Birmingham looked to put the previous weeks sub par performance behind them.
The Lions started with the ball, moving nearly 50 yards in 2 plays after a completion to Alex Salter and a strong run by Xavier Ajuwon, who looked to be harshly judged to be out of bounds near the goal line. An unfortunate interception by QB Alex Wake handed the ball to the Immortals and brought the Lions defence out for their first series. As has been the story the entire season, Birmingham forced Imperial to go three and out after just one first down. A strong return by A-Jay Crabbe put the Lions firmly in imperial territory and it took RB Elliot Walters one play to barrel his way into the end zone after trucking an Imperial linebacker nearly double his size! The extra point attempt by dependable Lions kicker Charlie Hardman was good, giving the Lions a 7-0 advantage.
After an unsuccessful Lions drive the defence immediately forced Imperial to punt the ball away on fourth down. The short punt gave Birmingham’s offence great field position and after a strong plays by Will Hussey and Tunde Adelekan on screen plays it was left to RB Stefan Knowles to race into the endzone on a well blocked stretch play. Another good extra point attempt by Hardman followed and the Lions led 14-0.
Imperial’s run heavy offence seemed to really struggle against the sizeable Lions front seven and they were unable to gain any momentum down the field. Another punt away to the Lions gave Birmingham another chance to drive towards the end zone, and without hesitation they duly obliged. A screen pass to Ollie Waldren-Smith and another strong rush by Ajuwon brought the Lions to the Imperial redzone, where Waldren-Smith was able to make his second catch of the drive in the endzone for a touchdown. Again another good kick left the Lions 21-0 up midway through the second quarter.
Imperial looked to mount a fightback after gaining only their second first down of the half in the form of a rush to the outside, yet again strong play by the Lions D-Line and Linebackers led to another Imperial punt on 4th down. With only time for two plays before half time, the Lions led a valiant effort to get into the Imperial endzone, with Ajuwon falling just short after a well constructed screen pass and rush.
Half time score: Lions 21-0 Immortals.
The 2nd half started much the way of the first; Lions dominant on defence and the offence doing the damage. QB Sammy-Lee Baker took the reigns for the remainder of the game, though he was only able to hand the ball off on his first drive with Walters once again racing away for a touchdown on the first play. This time the point after was no good, but at 27-0 it looked to be that it was the Lions’ game to lose.
More defensive stops followed in the quarter as the run game for Imperial just could not get going and with the start of the fourth quarter came another touchdown for the Lions; this time Will Hussey had his name on the scoresheet as he stretched the ball across the goal line with a diving effort. Hardman added the extras and at 34-0 the game looked to be done. With the fourth quarter came in the rotation of backups to preserve the starters for the game next week against Hertfordshire, yet the intensity did not let up. After giving away a couple of first downs on defence to strong rushing plays, DE Josh Vines recorded a massive sack on the Immortals quarterback as he attempted only his fourth pass of the day. The ball came out and Vines was there to recover, giving the ball back to the Lions and Baker to register yet another score. And after a linebacker found his way into Baker’s throwing lane on a designed screen play, the QB pulled the ball down and rushed 30 yards into the endzone for what proved to be the final nail in the coffin.
All that was left was for the Lions defence to shut down the run-only Imperial offence again, which after a couple of late first downs they duly did. After QB Baker was shortly injured on an option play it was left to first Will Hussey and then, to the Birmingham sideline’s delight, veteran cornerback and team captain A-Jay Crabbe to see the game out. Crabbe nearly had a passing touchdown to his name in what will be his final regular season game at home for the Birmingham Lions, a good deep throw to Joe Wise evading his grasp.
With the victory the Lions secure their place in the BUCS playoffs and know a win against arch rivals the Hertfordshire Hurricanes will guarantee them the Premiership South title and a home semi-final. An impressive bounce back performance from their previous outing against Bath, and the Lions will feel that their flow has really come back just at the right time.
Full time score: Lions 41-0 Immortals.
Text by Laurence Matthews