Pulling The Flag

Regional Playoffs Predictions – South

You chose an auspicious day to log on to the Pulling the Flag website. Why? Well, we are only one day away from the playoffs and we chose today to give you our preview on the South first round match-up.

Cardiff Hurricanes vs West Essex Showboats

To say that the Hurricanes (13-3),  have breezed (see what we did there?) to another playoff spot is probably a little too much credit – they’ve had their fair share of hairy moments this season, but by and large, another very dominant season for the Welsh outfit.

An early upset against the Stampede at the beginning of the year and a brace of last second losses to the Titans and Thunderducks at the end, is all that’s stood between the Canes and the No. 1 seed in the South – games we’re sure they’d like to have back.

As for the Showboats, they’ve had an up and down season squeaking into the playoffs with a .500 record at 7-7. With news that they will no longer be playing ball in the league, as of 2018. That surely raises concerns about their motivation going into this weekend. Also claims of not holding a training session since 2014, are quite the revelation.

The Showboats have shown some prolific offence though this season, throwing up some big scores and staying in tight games, with some of the best in their conference. But playoffs are a whole different ball game, so can they up the ante to keep up with some of the best in the South?

Quarterback Nick Bertenshaw hit 43 touchdowns, notably hitting Reisse Muckley and Sam Taylor a chunk of 24.

Defensively, Muckley is a pest, notching 14 sacks, with three games forfeited. So Cardiff quarterback, Matt Thomas will have some pressure coming his way.

Prediction:

With an impressive showing against the number 1 seeds, the Birmingham Lions, and a dominant performance all year, it’s going to be a tough task chasing this storm.

We anticipate the dominant Hurricanes defence to keep the Showboats tumultuous offence anchored in the dock, while Quarterback, Matt Thomas, (76 touchdowns) carves it up on the other side of the ball.

Richard Phelps hauled in 19 of those touchdowns, with Chris Jones, Josh Cranton and Kostas Karass also chipping in with 29 of those together as well.

There are rumours of some injuries in the Cardiff camp towards the end of the season, including star player Joe Cotterill, who pulled in 13 offensive touchdowns, but also scored 4 picks sixes, out of his 14 picks in total. Otherwise a fully armed and operational Cane-Train is a formidable force of nature.

If the Showboats do field a strong team, expect a reasonably close affair, but we fancy the Hurricanes for this one.

Northants Titans vs Reading Lions

Now this matchup looks to be tasty!

The Titans will be riding high after winning a thriller versus the No. 2 seeds, the Cardiff Hurricanes, on the final day of the season. They’ll have to keep their focus firmly in front of them if they don’t want to be upset by the resurgent Reading Lions.

Quarterback, Adam Grindrod has been a stalwart leader on the offence and his impressive 52-4 touchdown to interception ratio is a big reason why they’re the SWC Central Champions.

The word on the wire is their quarterback will be absent on Saturday and they will actually be down to their fourth choice signal caller.

Impressing though, is defensive back, Connor Melay, who has been a quarterback’s nightmare on defence, racking up an impressive 24 interceptions.

On the other side of the ball, Nathan Coles continues to excel with another outstanding season, hauling in 29 touchdowns, in what was an injury plagued season.

Meanwhile, in the SEC, the Lions have quietly put together an impressive run of the table, most notably capped off with a 34-20 victory over, the (then weakened by missing their quarterback Vince Machi), Baker Street Buttonhookers.

Nick Schippers, with 54 touchdowns, shows the Lions offence has consistently put up big scores and even lay to waste their Division Champion rivals, Chichester Sharks, in a thrilling shootout in the regular season.

Keep a look out for the name of Dominic Howard, who scored 17 touchdowns this year. He’s likely to be their main target.

An unfortunate 3 game forfeiture on day one, has us wondering what could have been if we’d gotten to see those games play out. Howard and Schippers would have padded their stats for sure.

Prediction:

The old saying goes, “defence wins championships” and whilst we believe that the Titans have the edge on this front, the news that he Titans are so far down their depth chart at quarterback, will hamper their ability to keep pace with the potent Lions offence.

The Lions have conceded the least amount of points in the SEC, (257) and is third only to Cardiff (249) and their opponents the Titans (207). That must be tempered somewhat, as they did forfeit three games and had the benefit of receiving one back too, courtesy of the Showboats.

With such a high powered offence in the Lions, there is only so much bending without breaking and if the Titans offence struggles to keep pace with their opponents, this one could be mistaken as a win for the Northants outfit on paper.

In highlight of that news, we’ve got to go with the Lions for this one!

Chichester Sharks vs Hereford Stampede


​Speaking of consistency, this game has potential to come down to the wire as well – provided the right Hereford team turns up (No Big Bowl reference intended).

At times this year, the Stampede have looked dominant, even managing to top the division Champions, Cardiff, 26 – 24, in a thriller earlier in the year. However, the Stampede seemed to spiral into meltdown midway through the season and struggled to get back on track until the last game day of the season.

With quarterback, Steve Hall back under centre, following on from his 43 touchdowns, Hereford looked a little more like their pre-Big Bowl selves again as they hosted the final game day of the SWC schedule.

On a day where the No. 2 Spot in the SWC South could have been taken by all four of the remaining teams, the Stampede needed to win at least two of their three remaining games. Hereford saw off the favourites, Plymouth Buccaneers, but couldn’t do the double over the Hurricanes.

It came down to a nail-biting decider with the dark horse Merthyr Tydfil Thunderducks, but the Stampede were able to pull off a heroic 40-39 victory, edging into the No. 2 spot on the net points per games played tie breaker, over the first year upstarts, the Exeter Falcons.

On the other side of the coin, the Chichester Sharks have been a picture of consistency – sure there’s a game or two they’d like to have back, but the the SEC veterans have methodically marched their way to a 10-4 record that few could argue with.

With three of those losses coming from the dominant SEC Central (Rebels, Buttonhookers, Victoria Park Panthers), the Sharks have otherwise clinically put away the rest of their opposition on their way to a division championship.

Prediction:

Hereford have the talent to make a game of this, but they’re too inconsistent for our money.

The distraction of moving into kitted had us all thinking that they would likely fade away in the last game day. However, that turn around has us all looking at them in a different light again.

The Sharks have been around the block long enough to not let the occasion get to them – the likes of veteran signal caller, Neil Henderson with 58 touchdowns, Gary Robinson 10 caught from centre and receiver, Peter Steel, 4, they have been to enough playoff games to stay cool, calm and collected when the pressure is on.

Add into the mix the flare of their star player, Cory Bedford, who pulled in 26 touchdowns, in a abridged fixture list, due to receiving what seemed like more forfeits than they ever had games played this year and they have genuine reason to feel good about advancing.

The Sharks experience and composure should be enough to get them through this round but look for Steve Hall and touchdown machine,  JJ Spencer, who scored a spectacular 36 touchdowns, despite Quarterback issues, to put on a show.

We neutrals could be in for a treat if the Stampede can produce the form they’re capable of!

Duh Dum, Duh Dum… Sharks win here!

Just!

Aylesbury Vale Spartans vs Coventry Cougars

The Aylebury Vale Spartans have been around a while and have shown signs of improvement over the last two years.

Thats largely down to a strong team ethic and some real development of quality within their ranks. Most noticeably GB player Jeff Bond.

In tandem with the ever impressing play of Dan Benning, Quaterback Harry Staszewski (55tds), has two out and out ballers to aim at.

Bond racked up 18 touchdowns, but also shared the load with Staszewski, with 21 touchdowns thrown.

Benning pipped Bond with 26 touchdowns, in what was a real eyecatching season from the maisy runner.

On the other side of the ball, Sean Martin caught the eye, with 12 interceptions. So the Cougars will be looking to stay clear of him for sure.

The Spartans have now ousted the Showboats as the class in the SEC North, claiming their first division title, with a 8-5-1 record.

They have yet to beat, what we’d call a premier outfit, since their upward curve began. But it’s only a matter of time until they do!

The Coventry Cougars (8-7) are also a team who are arcing upward. You forget that kids grow up and this Cougars team have done just that.

The average age of the team is 18 years old and  that is with the likes of older players such as Danny Cabellero in the squad.

Quarterback James Ashmore has taken his Brit Bowl winning form from youth and transferred that winning mentality to adult.

Sure he’s shown signs of immaturity at times, throwing 23 picks and being sacked 24 times. But he has thrown 55 touchdowns and missed a full game day and played some receiver in there too, scoring 5 Tds.

It certainly helps that he has one of the fastest players in the league to throw to, in all rounder, Kieran Eaton.

Eaton has totalled 35 touchdowns and 15 interceptions, 3 going back for scores. That’s not half bad for an 18 year who was voted MVP at the Super 5s this year.

Sam Finnie has also chipped in with an impressive 18 touchdowns and we are not sure if bit part Cougar, Jacob Few will be suiting up for the Cougars? But if he is they have yet further talent to pull on.

The savvy pick up of Caballero was also a major factor in them making the playoffs. That measure of level headedness really showed towards the back end of the season, where they needed a strong character to pull them through.

The younger female members of the Cougars squad, who are separated away from their older female teams mates, haven’t racked up high stats, but they will have a role to play come game day.

Prediction:

This game could very well be one to over-spill into added time. Both seem fairly evenly matched going into this one.

The Spartans have the confidence of claiming their first division title and have the maturity and experience, but the Cougars have the no fear factor of youth.

Lets not forget, the Cougars in terms of years played, actually have more in the bank, when you consider how long they have been playing and playing together.

So this one is hard to call who will come out on top, so we’re going to sit on the fence and call it as an overtime game with the winner being anyone’s guess!

We do know the Spartans beat the Cougars pre-season, so maybe that’s an indication there?

London Rebels vs Northants Phantoms


​Oh man, this one’s tough to write… We are sorry Phantoms, you’ve really drawn the short straw here.

11-4 is an impressive record by any standard, but it really is difficult not to make the playoffs when two of the other two teams in your division are sitting at 1-14. That being said, the Phantoms have shown a lot of offensive and defensive proficiency at times.

They pushed the Birmingham Lions all the way, and saw off both the Plymouth Buccaneers and Coventry Cougars mixed in fine style.

Their key contributor is quarterback Jez Smith. He was missing last season when the Phantoms made their first ever playoff appearance. He looks likely to be playing and will really boost their chances of that is correct. 67 touchdowns in the season is top stuff from the Canadian.

The Hoskin and Tarry combo accounted for 56 of those touchdowns. That’s the joint highest receiving combination in the whole of the league tied with Josh Allen and Luka Fadrique of the Sheffield Giants.

So all is not lost!

Sitting at 12-2 in arguably the most competitive division in the country, the Rebels have been hot on the tails of their division rivals, the Baker Street Buttonhookers since day one and will no doubt be looking to avenge their only losses of the season.

It’s a rough life in the SEC Central, but the Rebels’ illustrious history is proof that they’re built tough and that they’re definitely one of the “teams to beat” in the upper echelon of the BAFA National League.

Prediction:

Depending on if the Phantoms team are at it, they could potentially give the Rebels a game. Consistency is the name of the game here and the Phantoms will have to be nigh-on perfect to keep pace with the Rebels.

The Rebels squad may have a few gaps with absent players, but that shouldn’t affect their first round match-up. That said, with 19 touchdowns from Akshay Singal in the regular season, him not being available on Saturday will be missed.

Kehinde Bello will likely pick up the slack there, probably using just one hand and looking into his smart phone!

Hell hath no fury like Calvin Tarlton scorned. With 67 touchdowns, he’s still the man!

The Rebels live for playoff football and we don’t anticipate they’ll miss a beat in their pursuit of a shot at redemption and the chance to retain their title.

Agree with us? Disagree?

Feel free to drop us a line, better still keep and eye out for PTF live streaming games in the South, hosted by Birmingham this Saturday and come say hello! 

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