Lions victorious at trip to Brighton
Article by Laurence Matthews; Not a deflated ball in sight.
After a stay in a luxury hotel the night before the game, the Birmingham Lions were fresh and ready to kick off the new calendar year with their opening fixture against the Brighton Tsunami. Yet, an unexpected delay caused by ambulance issues led the kick off to be delayed by almost two hours. Despite a battle to stay focused and warm during the delay, the Lions looked to hit the ground running from the opening kick off.
As has been the story of the season so far, the Lions defence forced the Tsumami into a ‘three and out’ on their opening drive, leaving the Birmingham offence with good field position after the Brighton punt. It took the Lions two plays to score the opening points of the game with Running Back Xavier Ajuwon bursting through a gap between the tackles and racing a way for a 49 yard opening touchdown! The PAT was neatly dispatched by Charlie Hardman to put the Lions into an early 7-0 lead.
More disruptive play from the Lions Defensive Line halted Brighton’s run game on their second drive of the game, and despite a 9 yard rush on third down they were once again short and were forced into punting the ball away. The Lions offence once again started in good field position and after strong play from Alex Salter on a screen pass and Mason Baptiste on a deep fade the Lions were into the Brighton ‘red zone’ again. After a short rush by Ajuwon the drive was finished by Salter who, after catching the ball on a quick slant, rounded the Tsunami secondary for the Lions second TD of the game. As ever, Hardman was able to tack on the extra point moving the score to 14-0.
Brighton’s run heavy offence was proving ineffective against the strong Lions front seven and for the third time in the first quarter they were forced to punt the ball back to the Lions without gaining a first down. A short punt by the Tsunami was fair-caught by returner Hardman on the Brighton 40, giving the Lions’ high-powered offence more great field position. And true to the flow of the game the position was capitalised on when first Alex Salter was able to reel in a 30 yard fade to take the ball to the Brighton 10 and Ajuwon found the end zone after a pitch on an option by QB Alex Wake for his second score of the game. Despite the PAT miss by Hardman, the Lions had gained a sizeable lead before the end of the first quarter.
Despite a near pick by corner Sam Jeater, Brighton started to march Lions territory for the first time in the game, mostly down to ill discipline on the Lions behalf. After gaining 45 yards on near consecutive penalties Brighton found themselves firmly in the Lions ‘red zone’. A strong covering tackle by A-Jay Crabbe prevented Brighton from scoring on third down which set up a fourth down conundrum for Brighton. Electing to go for the touchdown on 4th and goal from the 5 yard line, Brighton’s QB fumbled, with Defensive End Will Stone recovering the ball. Starting from close to their own goal line the Lions drove the length of the field in just three plays: a catch from Ajuwon out of the backfield for 17 yards, a rush by RB Darius Price for 15 and then the pick of the bunch, a 64 yard catch and run by Alex Salter on a slant-fade pattern in double coverage. With the following kick deemed good the score moved to 27-0, the game almost out the reach of Brighton midway through the second quarter.
The ill discipline that had dogged the Lions defence had disappeared by the time they took the field next and they returned to their dominant ways with yet another three and out. The Lions once again marched down the field, firstly the Wide Receiver Hardman breaking a tunnel screen up field for 16 and then a pass interference call on fellow WR Ollie Waldren-Smith taking the Lions to the edge of the Brighton 20. From here Darius Price was able to get his first TD of the day, following great blocks from the Offensive Line to rush into the end zone almost untouched. After an unsuccessful PAT attempt the Lions gained the ball back fast from Brighton once again. Strong coverage on special teams pinned Brighton back inside their 30 and a massive sack from DE Josh Vines left Brighton with a 4th and 24 punting situation nearly on their own goal line. A short punt that was very nearly blocked followed, leaving the Lions with what seemed like one last chance to score before half time. After the first fade to WR Dom Hayhurst left him just short of the end zone, QB Wake once again looked to Hayhurst on the next play to finish the drive with a jump ball in the end zone which Hayhurst came down with. The extra point this time was good, bringing the score to 40-0. With less than a minutes to go, Brighton looked to see the half out by rushing the ball, yet a fumble on 3rd and 20 left the Lions with one play to try and score before the half. Despite the screen pass being completed to Ajuwon, a strong tackle by a Tsunami outside linebacker brought the play to a stop and with it came the half.
The Lions received the kick off to start the second half and showed no let up in their intensity. A strong return from Hardman was followed by a explosive run by WR Tunde Adelekan to take the Lions once again into Brighton territory. After a pass interference call on the Brighton defence, it was left to RB Elliot Walters to open his account for the day, again almost untouched due to excellent blocking by the line and receivers. After a good extra point kick by Hardman, the Lions had their ideal start to the second half.
The story continued with regards to the Lions’ dominance on defence; Brighton gained a solitary 1st down on a 10 yard pass but a tackle for loss on third down forced them to punt to the Lions once again. After a couple of incompletions by new QB Sammy-Lee Baker, Birmingham faced their first 4th down of the game. However, rather than punting the ball away, WR/Punter Will Hussey raced away on a fake punt, nearly scoring a touchdown after superb blocking after the deception. The play was not only memorable for the superb run by Hussey, but also for the monumental block delivered by A-Jay Crabbe which may go down as the hardest hit of the season. With the ball on the Brighton 7 yard it was almost inevitable that Walters would get his second rushing TD of the day, again following strong blocking to cross the goal line.
Approaching the fourth quarter, the Lions rotated their backups in and took the opportunities to give rookies some valuable playing experience. Whilst there was no score there were two notable opportunities; a deep pass to WR Hedley Palmer just evaded his grasp and a screen with the final play of the game to WR Adelekan, who would have scored if not for an untimely slip. The score finished 54-0 in the Lions favour, who travel to Bath next week to play the Killer Bees. Another successful weekend for Birmingham who maintain their position at the top of the Premier South division.