Pulling The Flag

The Quick Slant – Opal Series 2 Edition

Another tournament’s in the books, and there’s a lot to talk about. So what’s Neil Wymer got to say about all the action going down in Salford and Hatfield?

Additional reporting by April Heath and Nathan Coles. Headline pic by Garry Charles.

Opal Series Sceptre (North)

The Smell of Sweet Success

There’s a saying in sport, that is commonly used upon achieving victory. That saying is “The Sweet Smell Of Success”

In Salford, Manchester at the weekend just gone, there was an unbearable stench drifting across the pitches of the Opal Series Sceptre (North) tournament. It stemmed from a nearby sewage facility behind the AJ Bell Stadium. It was that kind of smell that made you feel so uncomfortable in your own skin, that you felt like you were physically eating it!

Who knew the Labyrinth was set in Salford?

However, by the end of play, there was one team that were able to raise their heads above the thick wall of funk and smell the roses, having taken part in their début tournament and winning the whole thing. The team? Leeds Beckett-Carnegie Women’s American Football Club.

Leeds were unable to field a team in the opening event down in Northampton two weeks previous. With ground to make up, they rattled off three wins in the group stage. Wins over The University of Nottingham (38-26), Warwick Wolverines (12-6) and Derby Braves (33-8) and would set up a tie with hosts, the Manchester Titans.

Tournament two winners Leeds Beckett Carnegie

Tournament two winners Leeds Beckett Carnegie

After a strong showing at tournament one, the Manchester Titans also won their three group games against Teesside Steelers (13-7), Gloucester Centurions (25-18) and Sheffield Hallam University (27-13). The Titans seemed to utilise their impressively large squad very well to make their own final.

Who Needs a Stadium to Make Noise?

Scant recognition has come the Titans way, until this tournament. What should be recognised is that they only set up a women’s team in the last three months and now find themselves third overall in the Opal Series standings. Quite an achievement!

The Titans, were easily recognisable from the other teams taking part, as they were the team who seemed to be attempting to make more noise than Seattle Seahawks famous “12th Man”.

Manchester Titans & Gloucester Centurians

Manchester Titans & Gloucester Centurions

One thing’s for certain, they get behind their team and create a hostile environment and make life difficult for their opponents. It wasn’t to everyone’s tastes, but personally I was quite taken with it and it added a bit of spice to proceedings.

What was noticeable through the tournament, was that some players from certain teams were from a contact background. When the game was in full flow, that led to a lot more contact than usual, and seemed to slow the games at times. In fact, in the final, there was a scenario where a player deliberately set out to shoulder barge the blitzer. That kind of play can definitely stay in its contact format, thank you very much.

Better still, save it for the ring

The final itself was one of the hardest fought games you could wish to see. Manchester took an early 7-0 lead. Impressive play from their Quarterback, Sian Perry, was one of the highlights of the tournament. Throwing deep at every opportunity, touchdowns seemed to be raining down from the sky all day. The most remarkable thing about Sian is that she has only been playing for four weeks, and for over half of that she trained at the running back position.

Grande Cojones

Possibly one of the bravest calls of the day was when Leeds scored their first touchdown of the final in the first half. Instead of taking the easy option, they chose to go for two points and expertly converted it. Ultimately, this would see them win the tie 14-13 as they missed their one point extra point after their second touchdown. Manchester were unable to convert one of their extra points and narrowly lost out of winning on their home ground.

Leeds were not without talented play makers of their own. Quarterbacks Deidre Nganjo, Vicky Thompson and running back Olivia DalbyNaylor caught the eye. Nganjo looked particularly at home in the final, spreading he ball around the field with aplomb.

Whilst Manchester lost out in the final, their spirits did not seem to be dampened. I managed to catch up with Titans player Danika Scargill after the final and get her thoughts on proceedings.

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Opal Series Crown (South)

London Calling

Down in Hertfordshire, the tournament split into two. For the first time in the United Kingdom, two women’s tournaments ran side by side in different locations.

The London Warriors had put on a decent showing in tournament one. This time around, they seemed to have grown even stronger, and seemed comfortable mixing up their line-up throughout the day to claim a place in the final against the unbeaten Coventry Cougars.

Seasoned player Chloe Baton inspired the Warriors to victory over the University of Royal Holloway Bears (18-13) and tournament one joint winners the Northants Titans (26-14).

One slightly curious element was the Warriors interpretation of rules in the opening game. A few of their players thought the play wasn’t dead when the knees touch the ground, if the flag hadn’t been pulled. But hey, we all live and learn.

You sure about that one?

Champions Elect

Like most teams who are successful, the more you win, the more you crave more. The Coventry Cougars seemed to raise their game to another level in the group stage. In three games, they comfortably dispatched against the Solent Thrashers (46-6), Portsmouth Destroyers (50-6) and host  team Hertfordshire Tornadoes (38-7), and showed why they are likely champions elect again this time around. Some teams have one or two players who can hurt the opposition. The Cougars have a whole squad of them.

The London Warriors, however, did make the Cougars work for their second straight tournament win. A close-fought final saw them narrowly take victory  by a score of 12-6. Both teams showing that they have strong defenses as well as powerful offenses.

With the score tied at 6-6 at half-time, an upset could have been on the cards. However, a second half touchdown by Kellie Barrett put them in the lead. A tense final few minutes would see the Cougars hold out. But watch out for the Warriors, they were beaten by a much clearer margin by the Cougars in tournament one and have clearly learnt from that opening encounter.

Zebra Crossing

One of the more puzzling things to reflect on from the weekend was the lack of folk in stripes officiating the games. With the university contact season now started and the NFL international Series being played at Wembley on the Sunday, you couldn’t swing a cat and hit more than two referees within ten miles of a flag football pitch at either location. Well, not one that knew they were a referee before the days play anyway.

He wants to swing what now?

I myself stepped up and was required to officiate games in the tournament in the North. Now, I’m more than happy to chip in and help out when required. I see it as valuable gained experience as a player and a coach. Having said that, I don’t know every single rule and I have no issue owning up to that. What was startling, was that we don’t seem to have many officially trained flag football referees knocking about.

Is this going to be addressed? Let’s hope so, as it does lend itself to some criticism, not only in real time during play, but among friends and on various different threads on social media.

Love For The Game

Lastly, I am going to leave you lovely readers with my final thoughts on women’s flag football in general.

I love it!

I hadn’t seen that much passion, determination and will to win on a flag football field all season, in mixed, or youth level. It’s hard fought, incredibly skilful and as entertaining as it comes.

So if you find yourself in a winter flag related depression, why not get yourself to London or Teesside on November 22nd and see for yourself what the next instalment of the Opal Series can offer and see if that sweet smell of success rubs off on you!

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