Abu Dhabi Outfoxed by Al Ain in Thrilling EAFL Desert Bowl V
In what was already the most exciting and competitive Emirates American Football League (EAFL) season to date, last month’s finale was fittingly decided by a dramatic triple-overtime victory for the Al Ain Desert Foxes over the Abu Dhabi Wildcats in the closest Desert Bowl in the league’s 5-year history.
With former Heisman Trophy winner and 2012 NFL Rookie of the Year Robert Griffin III performing the coin toss, expectations were high that this year’s Desert Bowl would surpass the end-to-end drama witnessed during last season’s final. On that occasion, Dubai Barracudas snatched victory from the jaws of Abu Dhabi Wildcats with a touchdown with less than two minutes remaining in regulation to secure their first title.
In a clash that most pundits could see coming as early as mid-season, Desert Bowl V saw the two best sides in the league face off under the lights at Dubai Sports City. Perennial finalists, the Wildcats were making their fourth visit to the big show in five seasons and had only one blemish to their regular season record – to Al Ain. The Desert Foxes therefore entered the game in a confident mood and with momentum, hot off the back of a 28-0 drubbing of reigning champions Dubai Barracudas in the semi-finals.
In what proved to be a tight, defense dominated match up with both sides causing turnovers, the Wildcats took a 6-0 lead into the fourth quarter thanks to star running back Vivaldi Tulysse’s 25-yard touchdown reception. With each team trying to put together game-winning drives late in the game, Desert Foxes quarterback Jay Hall – voted the game’s MVP – tied it up at six-apiece on a five-yard option run.
With neither team wanting to make a potentially costly mistake, Paul Carrizosa hauled in an improbable 35-yard touchdown catch to put the Wildcat’s up 12-6 in overtime, much to delight of the travelling supporters. But the resilient Foxes would fight back once again, replying immediately with former Dubai Stallions running back Davion Miller punching it in from 5 yards out to tie things up.
As the game entered a third period of overtime, the Wildcats’ bid to earn a third Desert Bowl crown was thwarted by Dino Drimakis’ interception, giving Al Ain one last chance to taste glory for the first time in the EAFL men’s division. Having proved to be a thorn in the paws of the ‘Cats for most of the evening, Al Ain quarterback Jay Hall found a wide open Nicholas Amica on a 25-yard touchdown toss to end the game in the most dramatic of circumstances, by a score of 18-12.
Following the presentation of the Desert Bowl trophy, Desert Foxes’ head coach Johnny Sharp revealed this was the culmination of a game plan he’d been working on for years. “It’s been a collective effort all season. It’s about the program – once people bought into it, it was just a matter of time before we started winning. You have to believe you can win, and unlike before, this season we did,” he enthused.
It was to be last-gasp heartbreak for a second successive season for the Abu Dhabi outfit and their head coach, former standout Georgia Tech defensive lineman Tony Robinson: “We knew it was going to be a gritty game, a defensive game – just like the last time we played them [in a 14-0 defeat]. We fought hard and now we look forward to getting to work next season.”