Pulling The Flag

Opal Series: The Final Gameday

Opal Series 2016: The Final

(Credit to P&M Photography for the featured photo)

The Coventry Cougars have reclaimed their Opal Series national title at the final tournament in Sheffield this weekend.

Seventeen teams made the trip to compete in the final weekend of the national tournaments this year. The top eight teams, four from the North and four from the South, played for the title, while the remaining teams fought for position.

Ranking Games

With Sandwell Steelers and Staffordshire Surge unable to make the trip, some teams could be left feeling short-changed. For example, Chichester travelled up the night before to find they had fewer games than most. Never downbeat though, they made the most of the opportunity and arranged some friendlies. While the Iceni Spears took part in the mannequin challenge with the Cardiff Valkyries (see Facebook). Great to see the usual Opal spirit ever-present at the final!

Chorley Buccaneers were also affected, being handed a win over the Surge. This seemed to boost the team, who have had a tough journey this series, and they put in a dominant performance over the less experienced Peterborough Royals. With maiden TDs for Andrea Hudson-Thompson and Pip Riddoch, QB Jen Collier spread the ball across her offence to put up a massive 42 points. This was topped off with a pick 6 from Elaine Kyle, and defensive coach Judeth Sinfield saw her team secure their first shut out. This left Peterborough sat in 17th, while a loss against Chichester placed the Buccs in 16th.

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Credit to P&M Photography

Wembley, Cardiff and Chichester slotted in at 13th, 14th and 15th respectively. The University of Nottingham had a tough start to the day with a loss by 2 points to EKP. Veteran QB Emma Bowman stepped up to give her receivers a pep talk and instil some confidence. Rookie Laura Dedicoat responded with an impressive four touchdowns against Iceni, helping to secure a 34-19 win. Nottingham went on to beat Wembley, with more touchdowns from Dedicoat and Steph Warren and boosted by a pick 6 from Laura Outhwaite. This handed them the 11th place position, with Iceni and Wembley slotting in behind. Manchester put up a strong performance to go 3-0 on the day, securing 9th place with EKP behind in 10th.

Title Games

Portsmouth had to hit the ground running, facing Coventry Cougars as their first game of the day. Their defence showed some promising signs but the Cougars run game was too strong. The Portsmouth’s QB and receivers struggled to connect and were terrorised by linebacker Sophie Jones who bagged herself 4 consecutive picks – 3 of them ending in the endzone. Needless to say, the Cougars came out on top.

Meanwhile the Cougars Youth team faced Northants Titans in a fiery game with both sides showing determination to make the semi-finals. Blitzer Monica Curle gave the Youth’s QB very little time and some rushed passes were easily broken up and picked off by linebacker Hannah Smith and shut down corner Tendai Chieza. On offence, QB Jade Archibald efficiently drove down the pitch spreading the ball between quick passes to rookie centre Kerry James and deep passes down the sidelines to Beca Sparrow and Lindsey Johnson. They secured a comfortable win to see them through to the semi-finals.

Warwick also had a tricky start to the day, losing veteran and GB captain Louise Lee to a broken leg during the game against Teesside. Though they have several players with international experience, the Warwick team have seen many rookies join this year as well as a change up in coaching staff. Teesside’s experience in comparison paid off, securing them a very narrow one score win. Completing the semi-final line up were Sheffield who defeated the Pink Panthers.

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Credit to P&M Photography

Portsmouth’s tough day continued in their fight for 7th place against the Pink Panthers. Their offence still struggled to connect and Abi Snelson capitalised, stealing a pick 6. The Panthers’ offence was steady throughout the game, and with three passing TDs they secured 7th place.

Warwick and Coventry Youth battled for 5th. In their rookie year, the Youth have put up a great fight throughout the tournament with only 5 players playing both sides of the ball in every tournament. They secured a well-deserved win, leaving Warwick to take 6th – not bad for a team who have faced so many changes in the past year.

Teesside had the final almost within their grasp, but had a formidable obstacle in the way; the Cougar Ladies. The Steelers are one of the more established teams in the Opal Series, with international players like Becky Rafferty proving hard to cover on offence and hard to get past on defence. But it’s hard to compete with the Cougars on experience and they aren’t ones to fall at the final hurdle; they made light work of securing their spot in the final.

Sheffield and Northants faced off for the other spot. As this was the first time the two teams faced each other this season, it really was anyone’s game. Sheffield’s blitzer made herself known, rushing the Northants QB leading to some early picks. Northants went into the second half a couple of scores down but came out fighting with adjustments on defence creating a few significant 4th down stops. However, they couldn’t hold out and Sheffield QB Amy Slater found her wide receiver on a deep pass to secure the win.

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Credit to P&M Photography

While Sheffield and Coventry prepared for the final, Northants and Teesside played for third place. An injury to Kerry James left the Titans’ offence without a significant weapon, but Jade Archibald consistently found her wide receivers for her trademark deep passes into the endzone. Teesside put up a good fight, but the game ended with a very comfortable win for the Titans and they took home the third place trophy.

The Final

With London Warriors not entering this year, we were guaranteed a new national champion. The final is becoming something of a habit for the Coventry Cougars, but it was Sheffield’s first appearance. In their game earlier in the season, the Cougars secured the win over the Warriors – so Sheffield had something to prove.

The Cougars were quick off the mark to secure the first touchdown of the game, using misdirection with runs, fakes and reverses to march down the field. A quick handoff from Millie to Kellie Barrett, followed up by a shovel to Grace Conway for the extra point put the Cougars up 7-0.

Sheffield’s offence was slower to get started; QB and receivers could not connect on the deeper passes, and Sophie Jones and Grace Conway allowed little gain with strong front zones to cover the shorter routes. Their defence however came out firing on all cylinders. Sheffield’s blitzer is positioning her as one of the best in the women’s game. She rushed the Cougar QB and caused a throw into double coverage with #8 for Sheffield coming up with the pick. But once again, Sheffield’s offence could not move the ball.

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Credit to P&M Photography

On the next drive, blitzer Sabrina Edwards continued to cause havoc. She secured two consecutive sacks and a strong defence backing her up ensured the Cougars moved nowhere. Finally, Sheffield’s offence came to life with a great deep pass to Lottie Laidler gaining them their only first down of the half – unfortunately, it was not quite enough to even the score.

The rest of the first half seemed to be a battle of wills between the Cougars’ offence and Sheffield’s defence. The Cougars continued to march down the field with runs and short passes, and it looked like they’d gain another score, but vital tackles by Tanya Boyes just outside the endzone initially prevented them. Even the best defences have a weak point though, and Millie Barrett found it; just before the half, she hit Ivanah Page on a deep pass in the endzone. Kellie caught a tipped pass for the extra point and the score was 14-0 at half time.

The second half saw a feisty Sheffield offence come back and take some risks with some deeper passes. The Cougars defence stood strong, with several passes broken up and eventually a pick by Kellie Barrett. The Cougars had made some adjustments to their game plan during the half, and they began to beat the quick blitz with trademark tricky passes behind the line of scrimmage. This created space for QB Millie Barrett to steal her own TD on the ground. With a failed extra point, the score was 20-0.

Sheffield’s offence took the field again and QB Amy Slater seemed completely unaffected by the earlier pick or the scoreline. With calm and confidence, she drove her team down the pitch, steadily gaining yards and spreading the passes across her receivers. Finally, persistence was rewarded and rookie Amy Wells scored and converted the TD to make the score 20-7.

A fired up Sheffield defence took to the field and put up a great block against the Cougars. Tanya Boyes once again made some key tackles, and the blitzer secured yet another sack. QB Millie Barrett was visibly frustrated and gave away an unfortunate penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct. Sheffield started their next offensive drive with a 15yd advantage. The Cougars defence retaliated with a gravity-defying jump by Grace Conway to haul the ball out of the air and steal a pick.

In the following drives, both defences put up bulletproof shields and neither offence could move the ball. With the Cougars in possession, the two minute warning was announced and they were left to run out the clock down the centre of the pitch. Making good yardage on each play, Kellie Barrett found the endzone once again to seal a 27-7 victory.

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Credit to P&M Photography

So the Coventry Cougars have reclaimed their national title, undefeated. If you wish to re-watch the final, it was recorded by Double Coverage and can be found here: https://youtube.com/watch?v=RmJBwBuSERY&feature=youtu.be

 

Final Standings

1- Coventry Cougars

2 – Sheffield Hallam Warriors

3 – Northants Titans

4 – Teesside Steelers

5 – Coventry Cougars Youth

6 – Warwick Wolverines

7 – Coventry Pink Panthers

8 – Portsmouth Dreadnoughts

9 – Manchester Titans

10 – East Kilbride Pirates

11 – University of Nottingham

12 – Iceni Spears

13 – Wembley Stallions

14 – Cardiff Valkyries

15 – Chichester Golden Arrows

16 – Chorley Buccaneers

17 – Peterborough Royals

18 – Staffordshire Surge

19 – Sandwell Steelers

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