Game 6: Centurions @ Bombers

The biggest game of the season. The loser of this Roses 2017 preview would end the season with a losing record and would be subject of all the trash talk leading up to Varsity. Storm Doris had battered Lancaster’s field but realistically it isn’t proper BUCs football if you don’t sink a few inches into the pitch every step. Starting QB Tom Lathem remained on IR for the fixture as did CB Zyen Ubaid and star DT Joe Atkinson, a couple of rookies stepped into the lineup and took up the Centurion standard.

The opening kickoff got the tracks rolling with a nice return from WR Yuki Shiroo and some violent blocking. Offence were in no mood for niceties as a short pass freed up WR Max York to skip through the Bombers defence. He was brought down by the Bombers Cornerback that had failed to cover him initially, his pursuit was filled by nothing but guilt and embarrassment. York threatened to stall on the one yard line but RB Kevwe Uwotu didn’t fancy that and forced the ball in for the opening score. FS (Now maybe Fullback) Stephen Bates came in for the goal line heavy set and helped C Alan Gray and LG Ben Grainger (returning to face his former team as an honourary captain) clear a way for big FB/RB/QB Dalton Weir to slam home to the two point conversion.

The Bombers did not lie down however, they but together a good drive. Their pulling guard swept up LB Andrew Chudnovsky and exposed a gap which the running back hit at speed. He displayed surprising elusiveness for one of the smaller backs we’ve faced. The Bombers drove to the nine yard line before LB Dan Denby forced a fumble but could not recover it for an important turnover. Lancaster out foxed the York Defence with a QB Keeper, Bates channelled his inner torpedo (Having been raised in the Harry Rackham school of tackling) and halted him at the one yard line. Big DT Satnaam Singh came in for the goal line stand, Lancaster responded with a dreadful High-Low block that saw their TD get chalked off and were given a 15 yard penalty flag instead. Ultimately York’s defence stood firm.

Dalton Weir had a couple of nice plays including dropping the boom on to a Bomber in the hole for a nice 4th down conversion. Rookie RB Jacob Bilborrow clocked his first career reception on a very dodgy tipped pass, he went full deer in the headlights after catching it and got drilled. The Bombers recovered possession and drove downfield to score, again finding joy as the run gaps weren’t getting stuffed quickly enough, the two point attempt was dropped by their wideout. What followed was a bit of a farce, York stuffed Lancaster with minutes to go in the half. Lancaster’s punt unit came on as did York’s return team. However due to some negligent Chain Crew officiating (I am only allowed to say that they were supplied by Lancaster) it somehow remained 3rd down after a lengthy conversation from the officials. This extra down was inevitably converted into a huge first down pass and then another for a long pass brought up a score for the Bombers who took a 14-8. Details deliberately vague, there was an incident after the Touchdown that resulted in a lot of penalty yards and an ejection. This also meant Lancaster kicked off at the Centurions own 30 yard line, as coaches and players desperately attempted to line up an onside unit the kick sailed out of bounds and the penalty flags rained down. A very British University American Football play if there ever was one. The Bombers took their lead into half time and seemed to have some sort of dance off to celebrate it.

The second half was a midfield joust for much of it. Max York resumed kick return duty as Shiroo received a nasty knock. The Bombers Steams player had been watching a little too much NFL as he attempted to stop a punt rolling into the endzone by popping it up in the air. It went straight to Max York who rumbled 40 yards down field after CB Ben Faulkner blindsided a bomber and knocked him into next week, Bates also blocked a Bomber into the Centurions players box. Sadly one Lancaster player slipped through and brought Max York down to stop him scoring what could have been a 99 yard touchdown. Offense then kicked into gear again, the Offensive Line who had struggled with Lancaster’s pash rush and six front all game gave QB Theo Hewit a clean pocket to throw from and he popped one to the back of the Endzone. Max York was already being tackled way before the ball arrived but he extended out a single paw and plucked the ball out of the air. After rolling over and the referee seeing he maintained possession, the touchdown was signalled and York were back at level pegging. A questionable play call for the two point conversion saw Hewit get knocked out the game. Step forward rookie Dalton Weir.

The referees called for calm and sportsmanship as the speaking captains went out for the coin toss. Having correctly called heads, Bates was immediately giving a warning for over celebrating. York took the ball and had passing on their mind. After a couple of plays Lancaster’s red sea defence parted and Dalton Weir delivered a strike to Max York for the OT Touchdown. The two point attempt was probably the biggest calamity of a play imaginable with approximately 75% of the Offence doing the wrong thing.

It fell to Defence to hold them out and take the win. LB Rafe Hunter Hallett continued to add to his tackle tally and LB Dan Denby dialled up some more timely blitzes to drag the Bombers to 4th and long. Lancaster called a timeout and defence drew their breath, they promised themselves and the team just one more play. Rookie DE Shaz Altaf bull rushed the Offensive Lineman and forced the quarterback to throw a skyward duck that trickled harmless to the ground as York took the victory. The sideline was overjoyed to take the win and condemn Lancaster to a losing season but it was marred by the knowledge that the Centurions did not play up the standard they are capable of and ultimately the game was too close comfort. With time to iron out the mistakes and the missing players to get healthy the Centurions cannot wait the do battle with Lancaster on home turf at Roses 2017.

Game 5: Napier Knights @ Centurions

Edinburgh Napier Knights brought an impressively sized squad, and an impressive 5-0 record, to York on a mild Wednesday afternoon. In truth York were still slightly battered and bruised after grinding out a win against Edinburgh Predators only three days earlier, starting QB Tom Lathem couldn’t make it through the warmup. The coaches ensured that this hadn’t fazed the squad. York took the ball but couldn’t do much with it, other than throw an ugly interception on the first play that got returned dangerously close to the redzone by Napier. They sent on their offence and the size differential was painfully obvious, they ran their full back downhill with the ball as they crashed out a few three and four yard gains. DT Bart Hayden dragged the ball carrier down for a loss and then LB Dan Denby stuffed him just past the line once more. A Fake run Quarterback rollout pass nearly outfoxed the Centurions but FS Stephen Bates was able to recognise it and bring down the Tight End, who must have been about 6ft 8in, before he could do any real damage. Disappointingly they converted their fourth down and moved in position to score. The Fullback was walled first by Bates and then by LB Rafe Hunter Hallet but on the third down they broke through, Rookie SS Jacob Beaman unable to bring the guy down in time. The point after attempt was a dreadful kick and Napier assumed a 6-0 lead.

After the fireworks of the first drive there was not a lot else to write about in this game. Both teams attempted to run fake punts, both teams failed to successfully run fake punts. The Centurions turned the ball over a couple of times, Napier’s security was significantly better but was not much of a factor as they offered very little offensively for the rest of the game. Rookie RB Jacob Bilsborrow continued his linear running style and found some joy every so often. C Alan Gray and RG Ben Grainger fought hard in the trenches and dealt with the rotation on Napier’s D-line admirably. Needing something, the Centurions went for it in a risky fourth down situation but were unable to convert. Napier took the ball field goal range and bulldozed up the middle for a further 4 yards in three downs, DT Tom Hodgson and DE Ben Matthew throwing their weight around to close up running lanes. The Napier kicker remembered what he was supposed to be doing and split the uprights for a field goal to make it 9-0.

QB Theo Hewit couldn’t spark the team late on and tossed another Interception to close out the game, Napier found a crease and even lateraled it a couple of times but mercifully the returner was brought down before the scoreboard was affected.

Napier Knights proved why they were undefeated with some stellar defensive play in the game. By their own admission, their Offence was rattled after the first drive as they could not get much going and were held to only 23 yards on the day. Alas York could not capitalise but kept pace with a now-promoted side, the Centurions’ attention turned to dismantling the Lancaster Bombers at the end of the week and completing 3 fixtures in an 8 day stretch.

Game 4: Centurions @ Predators

The York Centurions made their first trip to the land of whiskey and haggis with an ugly 1-2 record to their name. Beginning a period of three fixtures in seven days, York were in remarkably high spirits for a 5am meet. The coach journey saw a cautious optimism creep in as the squad seemed up for the challenge…even if a number of players were asleep on the aisle floor of the bus.

After observing some of the Heriot Watt vs Edinburgh Napier fixture beforehand, the Centurions had a good warm up and were ready to come out firing. A couple of three and outs for both teams to begin before FS Stephen Bates jumped a route concept over the middle and got a timely hand on the football. This tipped the ball away from the receiver and into the expectant hands of Cornerback (And former Edinburgh Predator) Zyen Ubaid to come away with the INT. Sadly, Offence couldn’t capitalise on this opportunity. The frustrations of the previous fixture reared their head once again as an Edinburgh run broke outside of the poorly positioned York Cornerback and the Predators ball carrier went 50 yards untouched to the endzone. The last three Touchdowns the Centurions had given up were alarmingly similar to one another.

The two point attempt was foiled as Bates dialled up an uncharacteristic blitz and decked the Quarterback in the backfield. The Centurions offence subsequently put together a great drive with some touch running from Rookie RB Jacob Bilbsborrow and got within a fingernail of the endzone. WR Yuki Shiroo was sent on a sweep but as he attempted to extend the ball for the score, he fumbled it into the endzone for a touchback. The halftime team talks called for the Centurions to remain calm and trust in themselves to get this game back.

Offence obliged as QB Tom Lathem threw deep under pressure. WR Max York wrenched the ball out of the Predators CB’s hands, who seemed to be already planning the speech to his mum about the pick that he got against the Centurions. Max York took it the necessary 66 yards to the house. It almost goes without saying that York missed the two point attempt. Edinburgh regained the ball after a couple of drives in great field position. They were able to float the ball in, the Predators receiver got drilled in the air and completed a full 360 degree rotation. Somehow he held on to it for the Touchdown. The score sat at 12-6 as the forth quarter ticked on. Injuries crept in to Offence as FB Alex Kirkup had flare up of a recuring injury so Bates was sent on as the Full Back. With 1:30 on the clock Lathem found himself in a clean pocket and expertly pump faked three of the Predators, reset his feet and the lofted an elegant pass to Max York at the back of the endzone. The Predators seemed convinced a Full Back dive was coming on the 2pt and so loaded up the middle. In reality Rookie RB Aadum Jung took the handoff and bounced it to outside to walk in for the go ahead 2pt score.

Edinburgh rattled off a huge pass to take them past halfway after a timely York touchback. The Centurions were not to be denied today. Excellent zone cover from the LBs Andew Chudnovsky, Dan Denby and Rafe Hunter Hallett coupled with great push from the Defensive Line meant that a rushed,loopey pass was picked off by Bates to seal a 14-12 win for York.

Reinvigorated by the win that few people predicted them to get, York’s long bus ride home was buzzing from start to finish. The focus quickly shifted on to the next two fixtures as they were taking place in three and seven days respectively. A visit from the undefeated Edinburgh Napier Knights and then a trip to bitter rival the Lancaster Bombers.

Game 3: Centurions @ Cougars

York were set up for the first away game against Teeside, a team they had not played in almost four years. News that the intended pitch for game was unusable filtered through the Centurion ranks as the bus made its way there. The game went ahead on a pitch that seemed little more than concrete covered in a thin, green, sandy carpet. Nevertheless the Centurions took to the field with a number of rookies and back ups in the lineup, illness and unavailability plagued the starters.

Teesside came out and ground the ball up the gut on several plays but gained precious little in doing so. Their backfield looked more like an Offensive line than their actual line did. York’s Offence could not get anything going either and as Teesside’s play calling dared them to pass, the Centurion receivers could not take advantage of the vast open spaces. A calamitous decision to attempt to run a punt by WR Ed Mamet sent the defence on to the field backed up against their own endzone. However they were able to hold firm and repel the brutish onslaught once more. A nice snag by Rookie WR Alex Wehrli was a highlight amidst a boatload of agonising drops that had touchdown written all over them. As three and outs were the flavour of the day, it became about which defence was going to crack.

Unfortunately the Centurions fell first, another run was stuffed at the line but the Running Back was not brought down despite multiple players getting hands on him. The Centurion’s Cornerback lost his outside contain which opened a clear path to the endzone for the Cougars. Their RB was a large man but once up to speed refused to go down. Content with their score, Teesside were happy to grind out the rest of the game as if it were a chew clock drill. York’s offence remained off rhythm for the remainder, the receivers could not figure out how to hold on to the ball and the Running Backs struggled to power through the front eight of the Cougars.

With time running out, York had to force a turnover to have any chance of levelling the score, Coach Claringbold sent the house at Teesside. Despite again getting hands on the running back, the outside contain broke down and they notched a score after a literally identical long run.

A heart breaking loss for the Centurions who missed the players that did not make the trip, good experience however for a number of the rookies that saw game time and hopefully a valuable lesson learned. The frustrations were apparent as the record became ugly, the Centurions need to regroup and right the wrongs that have cost them in both the last two games.

Game 2: Heriot Watt @ Centurions

York welcomed another set of Scottish opponents down to Fort 22 as Heriot Watt came to play ball. Relatively unknown as a team to the Centurions, the Scottish outfit started quickly and caught them off guard. They completed a long deep pass after some nifty footwork from their under pressure Quarterback. Some confusion in the coverage call for York allowed a man wide open in the endzone to catch the touchdown pass. Heriot Watt then ran their QB in to tack on the extra two points. Some elusive running from RB Kevwe Uwotu dragged York down field and into the redzone but they were unable to make that final push. Heriot Watt continued their blistering offensive start in a similar fashion, a few bruising runs followed by a well worked deep bomb. York found themselves 16-0 down and the Centurions defence were left reeling.

The Centurions Offence settled into the game and ignited the team with an electrifying pass from QB Theo Hewit to WR Max York, who turned on the after burners and took the ball home for the score. Two Heriot Watt players collided on the tackle attempt and one of them sustained a nasty looking ankle injury as a result. After the injury delay, York stayed true to tradition by failing to score their 2pt attempt.

The second half started with both teams trading punts. However backed up in their own redzone, Heriot Watt were spooked by a punt block stunt that allowed big DT Joe Atkinson to maraude down the middle unblocked. A dodgy long snap left the punter fearing for his life and in his attempt to escape Atkinson he stepped out the back of the endzone for a safety. Clearly enthused by this, the Centurions wedge clattered into the Heriot Watt kick off unit and bull dozed a huge hole for WR Yuki Shiroo to accelerate into and take the resultant kick back  all the way for another score. The two point attempt was, of course, no good.

Atkinson was not done for the day on special teams as he got a big hand on a later punt and blocked it to give the Centuirion offence great field position. It did not take long for Uwotu to get his name amongst the Touchdown scorers as he finished off the drive which was punctuated by the play fake trickery of Hewit. The Centurions picked up the two points this time after a run up the gut caught Heriot Watt totally off guard. The Defence could not hold this new found lead however as they were unable to pick up a number of consecutive stretch plays, Heriot Watt drove into the redzone. A pass once again flummoxed the Centurion’s Cornerback as Heriot Watt picked up the TD but a nice bat down stopped the two point attempt and left the scores level.

York had their chances to seal the game and had two extended drives that were halted due to careless turnovers. The Centurions thought they had set up the go ahead score as a pass was deflected into the hands of WR Ed Mamet but the euphoria of the huge gain turned to despair as he fumbled it upon being tackled and Heriot Watt recovered. Coach Claringbold was left collapsed in an exasperated pile having seen the ball come lose.

The game went to overtime. Heriot Watt got their play calling spot on and exploited the soft zones of the defence to notch up a quick score, Offence could not respond as the ball security issues continued to haunt them into crunch time. Ultimately the final play was a fumbled toss that Heriot Watt recovered to take the win.

A tough first loss of the season for the York Centurions in a game that was agonisingly winnable, there were at least a few positives to be taken away. Aside from some basic mental lapses that ultimately cost the team against a very well coached Heriot Watt side, the Centurions are finely poised to kick on and play some better football later in the season.