Team Cornwall Take Bronze at U17 Kitted American Football National Championships
Team Cornwall made the trip to Doncaster this weekend to take their place with the other 7 top ranked teams in the nation, having stormed through the playoffs to earn their position. They were up against teams that have much biggers squads and much more experience at the national level, but by the end of the Tournament they had been nicknamed “The Biggest Small Team in the Country”.
The first game was against the Chorley Buccaneers, who were ranked second in the country this season having gone 12 wins and 0 defeats. The setup for the finals was that the four winners of the divisions would play the four play-off winners. So Team Cornwall went into the tournament ranked 7 and were the definite underdogs.
Team Cornwall shocked Chorley by scoring first – on the first drive Ben Guy scored on a counter run and charged down the field for a touch-down point after was no good. This seemed to wake Chorley up and they scored on the next drive when one of the TC defenders fell over in pursuit of the Chorley receiver who proceeded to score, leveling the game and their extra point was good with the score then at 7-6. This was the start of a game that went too and fro with the decider not in play until the final dying seconds.
With quick reaction and great pressure from noseguard Cadan Brown who flushed out the Chorley QB enabling Ben Howis to tackle him in the end zone with the football for 2 points (a safety). Scornwall leading 8-7.
Again Chorley came back and scored on a pass with another good extra point making the score 8-14. This was the half time score when the Coaches made adjustments and warned TC that they would only lose the game with mistakes as Chorley had an unbeaten record.
Chorley kicked off in the second half and Ben Guy interecepted a wayward pass, once again with pressure from Cadan Brown giving Cornwall a chance for their offence to score and Ben Howis did that with a great run equalizing the score at 14-14 as once again the point after was no good.
So Cornwall were back in the game and with newfound confidence the defence stepped up to the next level and put pressure on Chorley and forced erros, batting the ball down and good tackling. Cadan Brown sacked their quarterback and this pressure eventually paid off with another run by Ben Howis (swing to him out of the back field) and he ran it bringing the score to 20-14 with 2 minutes to go. Cornwall just had to hold on, but it wasn’t to be, Chorley weren’t rolling over and tey fought back and when two of our defenders collided, the Chorley receiver was left wide open to score and with a good point after, they were once agin in the lead at 20-21 with only about a 1 minute and half to go. Team Cornwall fans were beside themselves, couldn bearly bring themselves to watch but with 30 seconds left on the clock Coach Kieran Salais, the offensive coordinator, called one of our best basic play which had been working all the game and Chorley adjusted to it, and with quick thinking Team Cornwall checked out of that play into a different play that took Chorley by surprise and on the snap of the ball, Chorley came up in an aggressive run defence which left Ben Guy open for the touchdown from a great pass from young QB Ryan Batt in only his first season. Ben Guy caught the throw at 25 yards with a spectacular catch and Cornwall were once again back in the lead on 27-21. This time they got the extra point from Ben Jenkin. With Chorley in possession and knowing they had nothing to lose, we knew it had to be a pass and Cadan Brown was told full pressure on the QB and he obliged by sacking the QB to finish the game and secure Team Cornwall’s place in the semi-finals.
A fifteen-minute break and Team Cornwall were ready to face the current reigning Champions, the Highland Wildcats who have been champions for the last four years. Standing on the sidelines they did look like the only team that might be able to beat the little team from Cornwall – an air of confidence, but not arrogance, well organized, great warm up routine, kept together and looked entirely focused.
Highland Wildcats won the toss and kicked off. Team Cornwall stopped them on the first drive, which was a good start, however when in possession Team Cornwall’s offense struggled against the number defense. Change of possession occured on the next few drives until the stalemate was broken by the Wildcats who scored on a reverse. Point after was good and the first points were on the board, wildcats leading 7-0. On the next drive, Team Cornwall stepped up and started running some play action and great catch by Ben Guy in the end zone put Cornwall’s first point up, but point after was no good. The atmosphere was electric as it dawned on the Wildcats supporters, that this would be a tough game.
Again the Wildcats struck back quickly leading 13-6 off a broken play when one of TC defenders was beaten for a great catch in the end zone. After this the Wildcats having identified a weak link in the Cornish defense exploited it to the maximum and to the shock of the TC players and supporters, the scoreline by half time was 27-6.
During the break the coaching staff reevaluated and made adjustments to try and put Cornwall back in the game. A play action pass to Ben Jenkin in the end zone for a touch-down gave Cornwall a glimpse of hope and determination that the adjustments had worked and the score was 27-12 however, the game got really physical and Cornwall’s defense stopped the Wildcats offense twice on key drives. Tempers were frayed on both sides and discipline broke down a little bit on the Cornish when the Wildcats tactics of targeting key players who unfortunately reacted and two big penalties against the Cornish gave away two unnecessary touchdowns and the scoreline was 40-12. This point, many teams may have given up but it took a timeout and some strong words from the Coaches to settle them, but when they returned to play it was the Team Cornwall that had made it to the finals. The clock by this time was against them the player knuckled down and played the best football of their lives – with six minutes on the clock what could they do?
Within four minutes they had pulled back to 40-20 with a safety and one touchdown. The most spectacular catch of the game from Ben Jenkins fell just out of bounds and so didn’t count sadly but undeterred he scored again shortly afterwards bringing the score to 40-27. The pressure was one and the Cornish Offense were pressing to score but were unlucky again when another Ben Jenkin catch was slightly out of bounds and a further three touchdown catches were batted down before they reached the safe hands of Ben Jenkin. To their credit the Wildcats defense showed their class and kept their heads and prevented Cornwall from completing the fightback as the Team Cornwall defense had completely shut out the Wildcats offense with the adjustments made. Seconds ticked away and there just wasn’t enough time for Cornwall to repair the damage the Wildcats secured their space in the final once again.
The officials and the opposing coaches gave credit to Cornwall for their amazing courage and fightback for such a small squad but it was now heads raised to fight for 3rd position against the East Kilbride Pirates, who had beaten the no. 1 ranked team Marlow Wolves in the first round.
Team Cornwall’s guts that had come to the fore in the game against the Wildcats continued into this game – they wanted Bronze. First touch-down was a defense touchdown from Cadan Brown and the defense completely shut down the Pirate’s Offense and the scoreline went into half time at 9-0 to Cornwall and when they returned to the second half they finished it off completely shutting-out the Pirates 24-0 final score – the only shut-out of the tournament. Team Cornwall had achieved third place in the nation and much Cornish Pride with flags waving, cheering and respect from their opponents.
Coach Brian Smallworth described his feelings about the day “Although we were technical underdogs, our reputation as a small, but hard-hitting squad who dealt surprises, had gone before us. So when all the teams were warming up prior to the start and other teams could see just how tiny our squad was, you could see they were wondering what our boys were going to do. I had spoken to the Wildcats Headcoach while TC were warming up and he said that the only team they were concerned about was from Cornwall. This was because he had done his homework and seen that we couldn’t be taken for granted despite our small numbers. This was heartwarming to hear and the boys did not disappoint. I can see areas where we need to improve on and off the field – because some teams were better organized – such as the Wildcats which had great support staff and brilliant routine and game plan. Each game they followed their routine and I am a strong advocate of that sort of discipline and we will improve in all areas as Team Cornwall has had a taste of the national stage and they are all determined to have another bite at it. I am so proud of our young gladiators. After their break, they go back to their local teams and recruit and prepare for the next season and I am sure the future is very bright for Cornish youth American football.”