The Guildford based Personal Assurance Knights became only the 6th team in
the history of British American Football to be crowned Brtitish National Champions when
they defeated the London O's in the final at Don Valley Stadium Sheffield in front of an
enthusiastic crowd and the SkySports cameras on Sunday.
The Knights had completed an undefeated regular season beating the
O's and ending the Londoners 7 year undefeated streak in the process. Despite that, many
informed observers were convinced that the London team would bounce back for their 8th
consecutive championship bolstered by players returning from the professional NFL Europe
league and the newly aquired Canadian/British GB quarterback Adam Lane.
Pre-game speculation featured discussion around two big topics.
For the O's - who would start at Quarterback ? Perennial
championship winner Stuart Franklin had a knightmare performance in the final regular
season meeting between the two teams - throwing 6 interceptions including one that was
returned by the Knights Cameron Saylor for the only TD of the game. Franklin had however
bounced back to form leading the London team to a very convincing 53-0 semi-final triumph
on the road in Scotland. Waiting in the wings however was the Canadian/Brit dual passport
holder Adam Lane who had signed from Austria's Graz Giants just before the league cut off
date. He had shown his prowess in leading the GB National team to the European Nations B
championship final - under Head Coach Riq Ayub who also leads the sideline team for the
Coach Ayub played his cards close to his chest - announcing Franklin
as the starter in the programme and giving a vote of confidence to his established team
leader in the build up - come gameday however it was the man from Graz that got the nod.
For the Knights the question was which of the clubs 8 North American
players would fill the permitted 5 spots. In the final regular season game all five places
went to the defense with linebackers Ken Ross and Moses Tomas being joined by defensive
backs Chris McIver, Marvin Jimerson and Cameron Saylor. The defense had performed
brilliantly shutting out the O's powerful offense - but without either of the Knights
American running backs the Knights offense had failed to score a TD in the 13-2 win. Would
Head Coach Steve Rains dare to abandon a winning format by giving the offense one or two
of the places available?
Coach Rains rang the changes - giving the O's a look that had not
been seen all year by bringing in tailback Corey Smith and the vastly experienced Tony
Stitt (playing his last ever career game) to partner him in the backfield. Ken Ross and
Cameron Saylor were the unlucky ones who were forced to drop out by the rule which
restricts North American participation (a bit like the old foreign player rule in English
Football that has now been abolished).
So the stage was set and the Knights enthusiastic supporters, backed
by 20 Cheerleaders from Hemsworth (Yorks) community school - coached by Danni Rains, gave
the Surrey team a fantastic welcome with a barrier of noise that was to continue
throughout the game.
The Knights received the opening kick off and were pinned back at
their own 8 yard line after a nervous start from returner Chris McIver.The Knights all
American backfield set the tone for the day with both Smith and Stitt carrying behind the
Knights big Offensive Line moving the ball out to the 21yd line in 4 plays. British QB
Ashley Heath hit Tony Stitt on a 5 yard pass play and Smith then moved the ball to half
way with a burst off left tackle. The Knights however were then slowed down and Jon Wyse
was brought in to punt to end the 10 play drive.
The O's took the field at their own 27yd line. Lane completed a
screen pass to Junior Price but he was dropped for a 2yd loss by Marvin Jimerson as the
Knights Defense made it clear that they had come to defend the pass. A 10yd gain
Lane/Palumbo was followed by a penalty and an incomplete pass then saw the Londoners
punting. Two further penalties on the punt pushed them further back and following the 17yd
return by Chris McIver the Knights were set up on their own 43yd line.
The O's defense came back aggressively and stopped Smith short on
first down - Heath then hit favourite target Rodney Edgerton for a short gain before
disaster struck on third down. A miscommunicated audible led to a fumble which the London
The O's turned to their ground game but two carries from Roland
Williams saw only 1yd gained as Moses Tomas and Liam Smith combined on the tackles -
Lane's incomplete pass to Junior Price made it a 3 and out and Andy Boyle punted leaving
the Knights relieved at having suffered no detriment from the turnover as the first
quarter ended with the score locked at 0-0.
With both Defenses in fine form the Knights also went three and out
on the first drive of the second quarter. Runs from Gavin Hart and Tony Stitt were
supplemented by a Jaimie Wilkinson reception from Heath but Jon Wyse had to come in to
punt as Aden Durde made an impact. Backed up on their own 24 yd line - Wyse (later named
as the games MVP) boomed a 63yd punt which the Knights downed at the London 13yd line.
Adam Lane missed Junior Price on 1st down but then hit successive
passes to Clive Palumbo for 15 and 17 yards. A high snap then put the Londoners in trouble
as Lane took a loss of 17yardson the next 1st down. Two plays later Andy Boyle came in to
punt and the Knights had the ball back on their own 34yd line.
The O's then gave up successive penalties to help the Knights keep
their drive alive following a short gain from Tony Stitt. on 1st and 10 at the O's 42 the
Knights fumbled and picked up a yard in recovering the ball. Quarterback Ashley Heath took
the initiative on 2nd and 9 and lauched a 41yd bomb neatly into the hands of #88 Steve
Belcher for the opening score of the game. Jon Wyse added the extra point. and with a
little over 7 minutes to go in the half the Knights led 7-0
The O's had picked up a 15yd Personal Foul penalty on the scoring
play and as a result Jon Wyse easily kicked for a touchback on the subsequent kick off.
Starting their drive on the 20yd line the Londoners found themselves
two scores behind within 7 seconds of the Knights opening TD. Knights Safety Marvin
Jimerson intercepted an errant Adam Lane pass and raced the full 20yds to the Knights
second TD. Wyse again added the PAT and after a whirlwind half minute the scoreline
stretched to 14-0.
Lane seemed determined to put things right and the next drive for
the O's started positively with a 20yd connection to Marvin Allen followed by a 5yd hook
up with Palumbo. On the next play however Tony Mackenzie burst through the O's line to
introduce himself to the Quarterback - sacking him for a loss of 9yards. Undaunted Lane
hit Jeremy Simms on the next play for 27yds and an O's first down. The next play saw the
introduction of NFLE running back Warren Keen for the O's and he jinked his way past
Knights defenders for a 31yd gain that set the O's up at the Knights 8yd line. The O's
called a time out to talk things over and with 4 minutes remaining in the half they looked
certain to peg back the Knights lead. The Knights Defense however had other thoughts. Will
White brought down Keen after a 4yd gain on first down and then first Mike Dunson and then
Jon Wyse defended passes to leave the O's looking for a Field Goal. A 21yd kick is
normally an automatic for NFLE kicker Andy Boyle but not on this occasion - his kick
sailed wide to the right of the posts and the Knights 14-0 lead was preserved.
The Knights went 3 and out on their next drive but Jon Wyse boomed a
52yd punt to leave the O's with a lot to do in the last minute of the half. Two short
passes saw Price and Sims tackled in bounds by the Knights leading tackler Chris McIver
and the clock ran through to half time with the Knights on top 14-0.
Following the kick off the O's took the first possession of the
second half from their own 18yd line.
They then embarked on a 9 play drive - assisted by two disputed pass
interference calls - to Roland Williams 2yd scoring burst off left tackle. Boyle added the
PAT and the O's had started a threatened comeback at 14-7.
Despite two powerful runs from Corey Smith behind the blocking of
Tony Stitt the Knights were left with 3rd and one on their next drive. Okpoti stepped up
for the O's to stop the third down attempt and after a quick 3 and out the Knights were
forced to call on Wyse to punt.
The O's had some momentum and Lane hit Marvin Allen and Clive
Palumbo on successive plays to put them in a first down situation on the Knights 34 yd
line. Two incompletions forced by pressure from the Knights D Line saw the Londoners with
a big third down situation. Lane went after Junior Price down the left sideline but Great
Britain Defensive back Simon Kockleburgh stepped in for the Knights with a leaping
interception. Kockleburgh then used his speed and the blocking of his colleagues to give
the Knights possession at the O's 12yd line after a 44yd return.
Corey Smith went left for 2yds on first down and then Tony Stitt
burst up the middle to the O's 2yd line. The game was delayed at this point by a worrying
injury to the O's GB Lineman Marco Fasulo - he was taken to hospital and thankfully was
later released. On the restart the Knights loaded the backfield and it was the former
SanFrancisco 49ers practice squad player Tony Stitt - playing his last ever game after a
32 year career - who powered over left guard for the third Knights TD. Wyse added the PAT
and the Knights restored their two score cushion at 21-7.
With 20 minutes left in the game the O's still had time to mount one
of their famous escapes but disaster struck on their next possession. A Jeremy Simms 16yd
reception was sandwiched between penalised plays against first the O's and then the
Knights. on 2nd and 10 at the O's 43 yard line Lane threw his last pass of the game as MVP
Jon Wyse stepped up and intercepted him for the 3rd time in the game. Wyse then embarked
on a dazzling, twisting and weaving run that saw him leaving mesmerised would be tacklers
in his wake - 50yds later he had added the Knights 4th TD - for good measure he kicked the
extra point and the Knights led 28-7.
The O's brought Stuart Franklin into the game to replace Lane on the
next drive but three incomplete passes saw Boyle back in to punt.
With 17 minutes to go the Knights were looking for a long time
consuming drive to eat up the clock. BSL Div 1 rushing champion Kingsley Ejiogu entered
the game and took his first carry 13yds for a Knights first down, again though the next 3
plays yielded 9 yards - one short of another 1st down - at the London 35 Coach Rains
showed faith in his backfield trio and called for a run to keep the drive going - alas for
the only time in the game the Knights made a false start and the ensuing 5yd penalty saw
them forced to punt. Jon Wyse made a perfect 38yd kick and the coverage team stopped the
ball as it rolled to the O's 1yd line.
This gave Franklin a 99yd challenge as he went under centre for the
first drive of the final quarter. Roland Williams darted right for a 10yd gain to give his
QB room to work in. After an incompletion and a penalty the game hung in the balance with
a crucial 3rd and 15 - Franklin was up to the challenge completing a perfect pass to Andy
Boyle for a 37yd gain. The O's knew they had to score to keep the slim chance of retaining
their title alive. After a further incompletion and an 8yd hook up with Allen, Franklin
again kept the drive going with a 10yd completion to Junior Price on 3rd and 2. Two plays
later the volatile playcaller threaded a pass between two Knights defenders to find Andy
Boyle for a 29yd TD. Boyle kicked the PAT and the O's were in fighting spirit but trailing
28-14The Knights embarked upon a drive that would take 3 minutes off the clock - a
significant figure with just 12 minutes remaining - but it so nearly ended as a three and
out. Kingsley Ejiogu made two good runs to put the Knights at 3rd and 4 on their own 26 yd
line. The O's were coming hard after the run and pressuring the Knights backfield - the
screen pass to Stitt that was called was the right play but the pass was agonisingly
incomplete off his outstretched finger tips. The Knights set up to punt - Jon Wyse spotted
the Londoners dropping off to set up a big return and decided to run left in search of the
required 4yds - he got that and more as he scampered out of bounds after a 16yd gain.
Corey Smith made a small gain on first down and then appeared to
have broken the back of the game with a tremendous 25yd run to the London 30yd line.
Unfortunately for the Knights the play was called back for holding and two plays later
Wyse was forced to punt.
With 8.50 remaining in the game the O's needed another inspirational
drive from Franklin - the Knights needed their defense to stiffen for one last time.
A Knights penalty started the drive and at 1st and 5 Franklin looked
deep for a quick strike - with nothing open he scrambled left with the ball and picked up
20yds before going out of bounds to preserve the clock. Roland Williams ran for 6 yards to
give the O's 2nd and 4 at the Knights 38yd line. Indiscipline then cost the Londoners
heavily as a Paul Evans illegal block in the back set them back 15yds. Incredibly on 2nd
and 20 the penalty was repeated and Franklin saw his completion to Palumbo for 6 yds
result in a further 10yd loss. At 2nd and 23 Moses Tomas eluded the O's offensive line to
sack the London QB for a 2yd loss. This brought up 3rd and 25 and an incomplete pass gave
the O's no option other than to punt the ball away.
Okpoti downed the ball at the Knights 5yd line and the Guildford
based team set about killing off the 6minutes left on the clock.
The Knights brought a full house into the backfield as Ejiogu joined
Smith and Stitt in the backfield to grind out the ball on the ground. All three carried
the ball as the Knights took 5 plays to move to a 3rd and 2 at their own 31yd line. The
O's defense were too keen to get involved and a hard count from QB Ashley Heath saw them
jump offside to give the Knights another 1st down. QB Luke Smith stepped into the game and
the young former O's playcaller was joined by Marc Saunders and Keith Theobald to partner
Stitt in the backfield giving a semi-heavy backfield look as the Knights continued to eat
the clock. Saunders pounded the ball 24yds upfield on 4 consecutive carries behind the
crushing blocks of Theobald, Stitt and the magnificent Knights OLine. With 1.20 remaining
on the clock Coach Steve Rains gave Tony Stitt the last two carries of his notable career
to finish the game and start the celebrations.
Head Coach Steve Rains said "This is a tremendous moment - we
have come so far in such a short space of time. To join the elite group of teams who can
claim to have been Brtish Champions is just unbelievable. We owe so much to our sponsors
Personal Assurance for their support - we sat and planned this back in 1999 when we were
struggling to survive after relegation to Division 2 - its been hard work but what a ride
!!. I am so pleased for this group of players - they have been doubted and overlooked -
they are a real team and a great one at that - I am also delighted for my Coaching Staff
who have worked so hard to get the guys to the point where they could take this huge
Asst Head Coach James Mitchell said "For any team to go
undefeated in a season is a tremendous feat. To do that and beat a team like the O's 3
times along the way after they had not lost for 7 years is just outstanding. Today we
performed on both sides of the ball this was mistake free football - we knew our strengths
and we played to them - we knew the O's strengths and we cancelled them out - I am
Defensive Co-ordinator Ian Ellis added "If anyone doubted the
spirit and togetherness of this club they should have spent this weekend with us. A
National Championship is something you aspire to and never forget. A National Championship
won with a team and club who - from the coaching staff to the players - the supporters -
the families and our tremendous sponsors that is this focused and together is just
Offensive Co-Ordinator Rick Bice concluded "Two major Finals
(EFAF Cup and BritBowl), a Conference Championship and a National Championship - thats the
Knights 2004 - I think that more than justifies our claim - this is Knightime !!!"