Monday, September 12, 2005
- The Sundevils were left to wonder
just how this game got away from them after doing seemingly all that was required to cause
an upset. For the Knights it was time to celebrate a return to the National Championship
game in Sheffield and a chance to defend their Championship - but only just!
The Semi-Final stage of the play offs very rarely provides an easy passage on to the big
stage - the Knights knew that playing the Sundevils three times in a row would make the
game all that more difficult. Having won the two regular season games and the Conference
Championship made the Knights the favourites but the Sundevils young team had progressed
steadily as the season developed and their win on the road that put the Northern
Conference runners up (Gateshead) out of the competition made a clear statement that this
team were for real.
The pattern for the game was set early on as both Defenses got a grip on their opponents.
The Sundevils could find very little in the way of yardage as Tony Mackenzie led the home
defenders in shutting down the visitors running game and the Knights secondary closed out
their passing attack. The Knights offense moved the ball early on but the Sundevils dug in
as soon as the home team got into their territory and neither end zone was seriously
threatened in the first half. The teams went into the break at 0-0.
The pattern was repeated as the third quarter started - the Knights with Kingsley Ejiogu
and Paul Attia leading the rushing attack made yards but couldnt get into scoring range as
the young Sundevils defense held firm. The Knights defense remained dominant with Will
White and Tim Siewert both making their presence felt.
The two punters were in a competition for field position and with 9 minutes remaining in
the third quarter the Sundevils Leo Lindsay punted the ball out of bounds at the Knights
33 yard line.
The Knights offense took the field and QB Ashley Heath threw a short pass to WR Rodney
Edgerton , as the Knights receiver got his hand to the ball he was hit hard by LB Dayle
Powell and the ball spilled to the ground, it bounced up into the hands of the Sundevils
GB Linebacker and he sprinted 33yards to the Knights endzone and the officials signalled a
touchdown. There then ensued a discussion with the Knights insisting that the play was an
incomplete pass - the referees first response was that it was an interception, then a
complete pass that was fumbled and finally it was decided that it was an incomplete
lateral pass that resulted in a live ball and therefore the touchdown.
The Knights were clearly stunned as the Sundevils ran a two point conversion play that saw
Scott Miller crash into the endzone to give the visitors a 0-8 lead.
With plenty of time on the clock the Knights Offense went back to work and drove down the
field. At the visitors 30yd line they faced a 4th down and 3yds to go - the Sundevils
defense siffened again with former NFLE star Tom Tovo making the crucial stop.
Again the punting battle took hold as the third quarter ended and the final period began.
The Knights then staged an impressive drive with Paul Attia making good gains on the
ground and Moses Tomas and Rodney Edgerton picking up first downs with receptions from QB
Heath. The drive took the Knights to the Sundevil 5 yard line but a personal foul penalty
saw that key play called back to the 40yd line and the Sundevils held the Knights on the
subsequent plays to end the drive.
The Knights held firm again but the Sundevils had pinned the home team deep in their own
terriitory and with both teams running the ball the time was running out for the Knights.
Attia found running room again as the Knights Offensive Line opened lanes up - as soon as
the Devils crowded the line of scrimmage QB Heath found WR Mike Dunson for a key first
Time however was against the home team and with just 1min 37seconds remaining they found
themselves in a third down situation on the Sundevils 27yd line. This time Heath dropped
back and found TE Derek Freeman with a pinpoint pass just as he broke clear of the
Sundevils coverage - he hauled in the ball and spinted in to score the vital 6 points that
gave the Champions a life line.
The drama was far from complete, the Knights knew that they must convert a 2 point play to
give themselves any hope of winning the game. Star running back Kingsley Ejiogu got the
call and sprinted right, patiently following his blocking he chose his time perfectly to
use his speed to find the corner of the endzone and the score stood at 8-8.
The Knights knew that they could not afford to give the Sundevils an opportunity on the
kick off return - but that is precisely what happened as the Devils returner broke the
kick coverage and was running free down the sideline for what would have been a game
winning score. Kicker Steve Belcher was the last line of defense for the Knights and his
tackle at the Knights 28yd line was crucial.
Neither team had any timeouts remaining and so with 1min 27 on the clock the Sundevils had
a final chance to win the game in regular time. They threw everyting at the Knights -
including a half back option pass but the home defense held firm as the pass was batted
away by Mike Dunson and Marvin Jimerson.
So the game went to overtime. The system used in the British League is the same as in
American College Football - not sudden death as in the NFL - with each team having equal
possesions from their opponents 25yd line. The Sundevils won the toss and elected to go on
defense for the first possesion.
The Knights Offense took the field and the Offensive Line took up the challenge. With
Moses Tomas assisting with lead blocking Ejiogu was on fire. A quick first down run to the
14yd line was followed by an incredible touch down run - Ejiougu was hit hard at the 8yd
line - looked to be falling forwards but kept his legs pumping and regained his balance to
score. Knights Head Coach Steve Rains then faced a tough decision - 1 point or 2 for the
conversion?. He decided on one point and kicker Steve Belcher duly obliged by perfectly
splitting the uprights. The Knights led 15-8.
The Sundevils now had their possesion from the 25yd line and knew they had to score to
keep their dream alive. A quick fire pass totheir tight end saw the ball at the Knights 8
yd line. Their second play - another pass - saw WR Simon Hoque haul in the ball in the
endzone to bring the game to 15-14. Now came a tough decision for visiting Head Coach Jim
Roberson. 1 point to tie the game or 2 points to win? He elected to go for two and the
drama was complete as American Running Back Eric Lewis was grabbed by Richard Rochester at
the 1yd line and a hoard of Knights defenders including the unstoppable Tony Mackenzie
completed the tackle and sealed an improbable win for the Champions.
Knights Head Coach Steve Rains said "If you had been asked to bet your house on who
was going to win this game with 1min 37 to go in regulation time - you would now be
homeless! I am so proud of this team - we refused to lay down. The Defense had kept us in
it all day and it was fitting that it was that unit that finally sealed it. Full credit to
Coach Roberson and his players - it was a fantastic game and they certainly did not
deserve to lose it, but in the end our Offensive Line showed why they are regarded so
highly and Ashley, Derek, Kingsley and the rest of the Offense took full advantage of the
opportunity they provided"
Defensive Co-Ordinator Ian Ellis added "Playing any team three games in a row is hard
- its especially tough when they are a talented young team with an excellent coach. We
knew this would be tough but nobody could have forseen this drama. Our guys gave
everything, they all deserve to be going back to Sheffield and I am just pleased that we
have a week to get over what was undoubtedly our toughest physical game of the season to
Club Chairman Dave Maskell concluded "What a fantastic game - but way way too
exciting! We are delighted to be going back to Sheffield - the third National Final for
the club in four years - we now face the London Olympians in a match up that nobody
interested in Britball should miss"
The Knights travel to Sheffields Don Valley Stadium for the National Championship Final on
the 25th September. Kick off will be at approx 3pm following the Division 2 National Final
between the Coventry Jets and the Kent Exiles.