xpLosION: Lions Start with a Bang
Birmingham Record Shutout in “XpLosIVE” Season Opener.
Report By: Laurence Matthews
The opportunity to open the season under the Bournbrook lights to a vast crowd of students makes xpLosION one of the main highlights of any Birmingham Lion’s season. With the recent restructuring of the BUCS leagues, the Lions found themselves up against the Hertfordshire Hurricanes, a fellow multiple national championship winning side and the most likely challengers to the Lions for the Premiership South. All things considered, this looked likely to be the xpLosION that British American Football had been long waiting to see.
The first quarter proved to be a tense affair, with the Lions offense giving away penalties that halted their progress in key situations. Looking positive for Birmingham however was their defense which put the Hurricanes offensive unit under some early pressure. The game soon found its rhythm though and it wasn’t long before the Lions found themselves closing in on Hertfordshire. However, after marching his team down the field, Lions QB Alex Wake threw an untimely interception which lead the Hurricanes to take over on their own two-yard line. The pressure of such tough field position, coupled with intensive pressure from the Lions defense led to a poor kick by the ‘Canes punter and a real opportunity for the Lions to open up the scoring. After gaining penalty yards for pass interference on Lions Wide Receiver Tim Curry, Birmingham were able to find the end zone when QB Wake connected with Stefan Rowden for the opening score. Whilst Kicker Charlie Hardman’s extra point attempt was blocked, the Lions clearly had gained momentum by claiming the opening points of the exchange. The half time score read Lions 6, Hurricanes 0.
The break in football did not necessarily mean a break in excitement, with performances by the University of Birmingham Dance Society and the ever spectacular Birmingham Pussycats. The Dance Society warmed the crowd with their enthusiasm and high energy before a nearly 5 minute long cheerleading routine from the Pussycats stunned the home crowd. Carefully choreographed dancing and high flying stunts certainly make the Pussycats look like a squad who will likely challenge for their national title this year!
The second half started much the same as the first, with strong defense from the Lions forcing the Hurricanes offense to go ‘three and out’ and punting the ball away. The Lions subsequent possession was also stifled, leading to a punt by Will Hussey. Facing pressure by A-Jay Crabbe, the Hertfordshire returner muffed the punt leading to the Lions taking over with great field position. An 18 yard completion to WR Tunde Adelekan left the Lions firmly in the ‘Canes red zone, leaving running back Xavier Ajuwon to speed into the end zone after a pitch by QB Wake. The Lions then went for two points on the conversion, with Wake finding a wide open Mason Baptiste to take the Lions 14-0 into the lead.
The Hurricanes offense started to look more promising in response, twice driving deep into Lions territory, but failing to add any points to the scoreboard. Birmingham also survived a lapse in communication, giving Herts the ball in great field position after attempting a fake punt inside their own twenty yard line. Fortunately for the home team they again shut out a faltering Hurricanes offense with a combination of strong pressure up front and tight overall coverage stifling ‘Canes QB Cunningham’s pass attempts. Regaining control, the Lions drove all the way to the Hertfordshire 3 yard line, only for Running Back Ajuwon deemed to have fumbled the ball into the end zone, resulting in a touchback.
Starting on their 20 yard line, the Hurricanes once again struggled to sustain an offensive drive leading them to punt the ball back to the Lions. An errant snap found Hurricanes punter Dom Gould chasing back towards his own goal line to recover the punt, which he subsequently kicked out the back of the end zone to avoid oncoming pressure, resulting in a safety to the Lions. To rub salt into the wounds the following kick off was returned back into Hurricanes territory by Hardman, with a 15 yard penalty tacked onto the end of the kick due to a personal foul penalty for the tackler pulling Hardman down by his facecage. And when Wake found Hardman on a slant for a ten yard touchdown, the game looked all but over at 23-0.
One more stagnant drive from the Hurricanes led to an incompletion on fourth down, allowing the Lions to run the clock down and eventually kneel the game out in victory formation. The win gives the Lions the advantage in the Premiership South, and an invaluable shutout will have done wonders to the Lions confidence on defense. Next up for the Lions is the Bath Killer Bees, a team which went undefeated in the regular season last year and will be looking to cause an upset on Birmingham’s home turf.
Pictures of the game can be found at:
https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10152490441212781.1073741844.9517102780&type=3 (Bec Edwards Photography pre game)
https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10152509032192781.1073741845.9517102780&type=3 (Bec Edwards Photography Part 2)
https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10152509045627781.1073741846.9517102780&type=3 (Bec Edwards PhtographyPart 3)
https://www.flickr.com/photos/whizzyfingers/sets/72157649158086151/ (Whizzyfingers Photography)