Warriors fall to Eagles at season opener
By Tim Owen
American Football BAFA Division One Central
South Wales Warriors 12, Ouse Valley Eagles 14
The South Wales Warriors returned to the second tier of British American Football with a bump and fell to an agonising defeat in their league opener.
With seconds left in the fourth quarter, the Warriors put themselves in position to salvage a draw against the Ouse Valley Eagles at Llanharan’s Dairy Field when quarterback Dean Jackson found wide receiver Joshua Hurford in the end zone to bring the home side within two points of their visitors.
A successful two-point conversion would have secured a draw but star running back Josh Hughes was stopped in his tracks from three yards out. With time expired the Eagles were able to celebrate a win to start the British American Football Association (BAFA) National League Division One Central season.
Warriors head coach Geraint Roberts said despite the painful 12 –14 loss his team still have much to look forward to in their first Division One campaign since 2012, having taken voluntary relegation from the Southern conference of the BAFA Premiership.
“Gutted,” was Roberts’ initial reaction after the Warriors came so close to snatching a draw in a game in which they’d always trailed after falling behind to a second quarter touchdown from Eagles RB Ben Cockin.
“I’m disappointed with the result but we know we’re better than that and it’s good to know we can improve. Like one of our guys said, we lost the game, they didn’t win it. We also gave away too many penalties, in the first 20 minutes I think we gave away at least 100 yards on defense.
“But there are positives moving forward and a lot to build on.”
Among the positives was the performance of RB Hughes who took the game to the Eagles with his powerful running that inspired the second half fight back.
It was a cruel irony that it should have been Hughes, who’d done more than any of his offensive colleagues to keep the Warriors in the game, who was stopped as he attempted to punch in the two-point conversion.
With 58 seconds remaining in the game QB Jackson found WR Hurford, slanting across the centre field, for a crucial fourth down conversion to keep what looked like an unlikely comeback alive. RB Hughes then produced another long run, gaining 25 yards, to take the Warriors inside the Eagles 20 yard line.
Jackson twice looked to his right, for Hurford, but overshot his receiver. On third down Jackson wriggled his ankle free from the clutches of an Eagles defender and rolled out to his right and spotted Hurford free in space behind a crowd of Eagles defenders. Jackson made no mistakes and drilled an eight yard pass to the receiver who was waiting in the end zone.
It was the hero receiver’s namesake running back Hughes however who had sparked a previously ineffective Warriors offense on its first possession of the second half.
The short and stocky 24-year-old bulldozed his way through the Eagles defense, running over giant defensive end Ross Hubbard and leaving him on the ground, on his way to a 25 yard gain that moved the Warriors deep into their opponent’s territory.
A Jackson pass to James Bastille took the Warriors inside the Eagles 10 yard line and from five yards out Hughes powered through the middle to put the home side on the scoreboard. But Hurford failed to convert the single point conversion attempt and the Warriors trailed the Eagles who had added the extra point to their second quarter TD.
Scorer Cockin immediately responded for the Eagles, returning the Warriors short kick 50 yards inside the Warriors 30 yard line. Cockin then thought he’d scored with a diving 14 yard catch and run but a yellow flag on the floor indicated a penalty against the Eagles.
However on the very next play American QB Justin Laroda zipped a 21 yard pass down the left flank to WR Bob Benny for the Eagles second TD. Kicker Mike Turner again added the extra point to stretch the Eagles lead to 6-14.
RB Hughes again dragged the Warriors offense forward making a lung busting 65 yard run through the centre of the Eagles defence. He only ran out of gas with the goal line in sight as the Eagles speediest defenders caught him. Rather than trusting Hughes to punch in the score from the five yard line Jackson ran to his left but was sacked for a 12 yard loss. His fourth down pass to the end zone was batted down by two Eagles defenders.
Laroda and Cockin marched the Eagles downfield to give Turner the opportunity to attempt a 27 yard field goal that would have put the Eagles 11 points clear but his kick fell short leading to the tense closing stages.
Eagles head coach Neale McMaster admitted he was relieved to escape from South Wales with the victory. He credited the Bedford-based side’s victory to their preparation after both teams, who’d never previously met, swapped game films ahead of the opener.
He said: “I’m absolutely delighted we won a really tight contest. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t worried at the end. I thought our defense did exactly what they were supposed to do and squeezed them and it’s just a little bit of luck at the end to get the win.”