22.09.2008 Coventry Cassidy Jets
Coventry first time British Champion
The Cassidy Jets picked up the Boston Trophy after a thrilling come from behind victory, erasing an 18 point first half deficit to snatch a 33-32 win over defending Champions the London Blitz. Rookie kicker Fraser Houston, playing only his second game, booted a 40 yard field goal with just 4 seconds left to put the Jets ahead for the first time in the match and ensure that retiring Coach Gerry McManus would go out on a winning note.
Houston, who just one month ago was coaching “soccer” in the US, had never even thought about playing American Football until a colleague recommended he try it out. Upon returning home Houston got in touch with the Jets and 10 days later kicked a 33 yard field goal that was the difference in a semi-final victory over the Bristol Aztecs. Britbowl XXII would test the kicker’s mettle once more. Houston missed a chip shot from 27 yards before adding the final 6 points of the game with kicks of 43 and 40 yards.
Coventry looked shaky from the start and their run defence was not up to it’s usual high standard as it was ripped for 282 yards, 207 of those by Gareth Dauley alone. Both teams failed to gain a first down on their initial possession but the Blitz didn’t take long to shake of the Jets shackles. Dauley plunged in from 5 yards out after setting the drive alight with a 29 yard run. Nick Holt missed the point after kick to leave the score at 6-0 for the Blitz.
Dax Michelena was unable to spark his offence into life as London’s ferocious defensive line applied constant pressure sacking the American quarterback for a loss of 5 yards and forcing Mark Cohen to punt. Dauley again had the Blitz rolling with scampers of 9 and 16 yards. Stuart Franklin hit Rod Bradley from 11 yards for the score and Holt’s kick extended the Blitz lead to 13 matching their points total from the 2007 Championship game with 52 minutes still to play.
Finally beginning to move the ball, the Jets offense marched 51 yards to get into field goal range. The drive was not as smooth as the Coventry faithful have come to expect; Michelena, Cohen and Kofi Campbell all fumbled the ball with the Jets luckily retaining possession. Houston entered the game to kick what was expected to be an automatic 3 points, however, his thundering boot edged just narrowly wide of the right upright as it sailed high over the top of the post.
Dauley delivered a 69 yard touchdown run which was fortunately called back for holding at the line of scrimmage or else the game could’ve been over in the first quarter. As the second quarter began the Blitz drive came to an end. Fabricio Gargiulo punted 33 yards to the Jets 15 where Tony Perkins fielded the ball. The explosive running back lit up the Keepmoat Stadium as he broke several tackles on his way to an 85 yard return to drag the Jets into the game. Houston put his earlier miss behind him to nail the extra point for a 13-7 scoreline.
London’s following possession again ended in a punt. Perkins once more managed a great return handing his team excellent field position as momentum appeared to be shifting in favour of the Jets. Michelena drove down to the 5 yard line before a Mark Penfound interception brought a promising drive to a juddering halt. The linebacker, who led his team in tackles with 12, rumbled back 61 yards before Michelena caught him to save a touchdown.
Franklin drove his team down to the Jets 2 yard line converting a massive fourth down play with a 10 yard pass to Talla N’Diaye. The next play saw Jonathan Chilton dive across the goaline for another rushing touchdown. Holt again missed the extra point kick, leaving the score at 19-7. Another short possession ended in a punt for the Jets with rookie Shadrach McCook getting downfield quickly to make an excellent tackle.
Running back Dauley was beginning to stake his claim for game MVP as he rattled off 70 yards virtually untouched for what appeared to be a back breaking score. Franklin couldn’t extend the lead on the extra point as nose tackle Mick Mills broke through the line and dropped the quarterback to keep the score at 25-7. The Jets greatest come from behind victory happened 3 years ago when they overturned a 14 point half-time deficit in the Division 2 final versus the Kent Exiles. It would take a momentous effort to come back from 18 down versus the defending champions.
With less than 2 minutes remaining before half-time, Coventry abandoned the running game and put the ball in the hands of Michelena. Completions of 13 and 19 yards to James Hossack got the Jets down the field in a hurry before passes of 15 and 10 yards to Cohen the later of which for a touchdown which kept the Jets in the game. The 57 yard drive took just 54 seconds and Houston’s extra point left the half-time score at 25-14.
The Cassidy Jets would take the ball first in the second half and Offensive Co-Ordinator Tony Athersmith engineered a balanced series that ended with a spectacular diving catch by Jeremy Simms for an 18 yard touchdown. Fraser Houston made it 3 for 3 on extra point kicks to put Coventry within 4 at 25-21. London responded with a heavy dose of Dauley, the speedy back carried the ball 6 times on the ensuing drive, gaining 50 yards topped off by a 25 yard score. Holt hit the extra point and pushed the lead back out to 11.
Coventry’s response was immediate as the two teams traded blows early in the third quarter. Michelena hit Simms for 44 yards and then dove in himself from 1 yard on the following play. McManus opted to go for a 2 point conversion to put the Jets within 3 but Michelena’s pass was deflected leaving Coventry on the wrong end of a 32-27 scoreline as third quarter came to a close.
Houston was called into action early in the fourth quarter as a promising Jets’ drive came to an end. The kicker showed he had shrugged off his earlier miss by splitting the uprights from 38 yards, however, a five yard penalty wiped the score out and he had to do it again from 43. An identical boot sailed through with yards to spare pulling the Jets within two points of the Blitz.
Both defences raised their game stalemating the opposing offences for the next 10 minutes as the game drew towards a thrilling climax. With just five minutes to play the game appeared to be beyond the Jets. Michelena was once more dropped by the Blitz d-line, Paul Summers forced a staggering eighth Jets fumble, this time recovered by fellow Blitz lineman Julian Tovar on Coventry’s 22 yard line.
Franklin directed London’s offence down to Coventry’s six yard line before the defence stiffened, forcing Holt into a 23 yard field goal attempt. The kicker, who endured a woeful day, forced this one wide of the left post and breathed new life into the Coventry sideline. Michelena again switched into 2-minute offence mode as the Jets took over with just 2:45 remaining. Chipping away with short completions to Simms and Cohen, Coventry drove into scoring range.
An intentional grounding call followed by two incomplete passes landed the Cassidy Jets in a big hole. Facing a fourth and twenty outside field goal range Michelena abandoned the playbook, telling his receivers to “just get open” and his offensive line to give him “as much time as possible”. Everyone clearly listened as Simms got far enough downfield to gain the first down that kept the game alive. A spike to stop the clock, followed by a Campbell carry for no gain left the Jets at 3rd and 10. Michelena headed for the sideline to but couldn’t get a first down or get out of bounds to stop the clock.
McManus used his final timeout with 8 seconds remaining and sent his field goal unit out onto the field. As the ball was set for play Houston prepared himself to win the game. However, just before the ball was snapped London called a timeout in an attempt to give him the jitters. Houston showed nerves of steel as he endured a long wait before finally stepping up and firing a rocket between the posts as the Jets sideline erupted in jubilation pouring onto the field of play.
With 4 seconds still to play Coventry’s wild celebrations were penalised, forcing the Jets new hero to kick off from his own 15 yard line. A booming kick caught the Blitz by surprise as it sailed 73 yards and couldn’t be fielded. No time ran off the clock leaving London one final chance to reclaim the lead they’d held for so long. Franklin picked out Marcin Lai for a gain of 16 yards, the shifty receiver tossed the ball backwards, rugby style, to Rod Bradley in an effort to prolong the play. Free safety Stuart Ennis, who led the Jets defence in tackles with 8, was alive to it and dragged the giant receiver to the ground to seal the victory as time expired.
The enthralling 33-32 win handed Coventry it’s first ever National Title in American Football and marks an incredible achievement for a club in only it’s fifth season. Dax Michelena was named game MVP for his performance which saw him complete 21 of 36 passes for 308 yards and 2 touchdowns whilst rushing for another. Simms finished the game with 7 receptions for 126 yards and 1 touchdown. The victory also sees the Cassidy Jets complete the first ever perfect season in the BAFL Premier Division.
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