Lions start title defense on song
The Lions, back together as one team again, opened up their Season 3 campaign in resounding fashion last Saturday after despatching both Hertfordshire’s Tornadoes and Manchester’s Titans courtesy of strong displays of power and precision.
With all national championship round one games taking place at Leeds Beckett University’s Headingley Campus, first up for the Lions was last year’s Sapphire Series runners-up, Hertfordshire.
Having last faced the Tornadoes in the aforementioned final, ten months prior – which the Lions won handsomely, 26-0 – the Lions again worked their magic straight from the off scoring 30 unanswered points before the half-time whistle was heard: three touchdowns between Quarterback Jo Kilby and Tail-back Ruth Matta book-ended Cornerback Nancy Stone’s fumble recovery (for six) alongside three respective 2pt conversions.
Impressive showings from rookie Defensive Lineman Mena Fombo and Wide Receiver Kim Tsiga were complimented in the second half with appearances from a further five rookies – Abi Fitzgerald, Poppy Forshaw-Perring, Rachel Trim, Alex Wadeson and Natalie Parker – all contributing meaningfully alongside former Sandwell Steelers’ lineman, Lauren Mills’ promising debut. Add to that the fact that Cornerback Sophie Etheridge and Tight End Caren Goodman were embracing new positions for the first time this season and the Lions can be very proud of how they handled a team that have this season assembled seven European silver medallists amongst their rank.
Rallying in the second half Hertfordshire showed some mettle in netting a 10pt haul to reduce the deficit, first by reeling in rookie Quarterback Natalie Parker for two safeties and second by sending their maul-like wedge in from close range to give the impressive Alexis Anusi her first score of the day. That Parker had a steep but valuable introduction to tackle football was something of an understatement but from there on in she ploughed on ably and with her next drive moved the offense down field and came within inches of a score, courtesy of carries from Tsiga and Matta; some fine cover tackling from Herts, saving the day.
A steadfast performance from the Lions’ defense was rubber-stamped when Linebacker Alice-Mary Smith grabbed a pick-six, 5 yards out to end a good day for the #darkside: 1 interception (Smith), 3 fumble recoveries (Stone, Nena Killick & Laura Moore) and two touchdowns (Stone & Smith) was concluded with an MVP award for Smith to boot. Final score, Lions 36 – 10 Tornadoes.
The Lions second game of the day was against Manchester Titans. With the likes of Lions’ GB Linebacker Phoebe Schecter rested for this match-up – having lead the tackle stats in game one – others continued her destructive trend in similar vein. Fitzgerald and Stone worked overtime to halt much of Manchester’s momentum all alongside smart support from Middle Linebacker Afia Law, who’s awareness and execution not by chance put her in the right place to secure a safety, mop up two fumble recoveries whilst taking one of those to the house.
On the other side of the ball the Offense rotated their Backs with no loss of service, Fullback’s Steph De-Haven and Emelie Taylor featuring notably: the former’s seismic 7yd run to the end zone still an emblazoned sight to behold was duly complimented by Taylor’s three consecutive carries from the 5yd line all the way to the goal-line for her first score of the season, setting a none-too-shabby 9.6yd average per carry in the process (and earning Taylor pleasing MVP honours as a result).
Efforts in the air subsequently followed with the like of Hannah Pye and Matta picking up scoring receptions courtesy of 63 combined Kilby-Parker QB passing yards…but it was perhaps the less visible work of the Receivers that demanded most praise, much in thanks to their down-field blocking: the receiving quartet of Pye, Tsiga, Trim and Celine Bisson all delivering useful, and play-by-play improving blocks to give their ball-carrying team-mates the chance to prosper.
With the game quickly and clearly swinging the Lions’ way plenty of game-time followed for all and with returners and rookies alike hustling to deliver for their team, Manchester could neither score nor stop the Lions scoring, despite at all times, fierce and valiant efforts from a number of their players. Final score, Lions 51 – 0 Titans.
Birmingham now move on to round 2 of BAFA’s Sapphire Series which takes place at Manchester’s impressive AJ Bell Stadium on Saturday 12th March. The Lions will feature against the hosts and the only other unbeaten side in National Division One, Leeds Carnegie, for a winner takes all top of the table clash. Games start at 1pm with the Lions taking to the field at (approximately) 2pm.
Addendum: May we extend a big thank you to Antoinette Morgan, Fran Collingswood, Chloe Spalding, Amy Goodwin and Aneesah Raqeeb for assisting the team on the day and to (photographer) Garry Charles for covering our games. Finally, many thanks to the supporters that travelled north-bound to cheer us on, your sideline support was much appreciated. #PartofthePride.
Image courtesy of Amy Goodwin.