Great Britain: Tamworth Phoenix historic, knock off London Warriors to reach Britbowl XXXI

The Tamworth Phoenix made history this past weekend when they beat the defending and four-time champion London Warriors 38-34 to book a trip to Britbowl XXXI.  So, for the first time since 2010, Great Britain’s title game will not feature two teams from London.

Three touchdowns from Will Hussey highlighted a fantastic team performance from the Phoenix, who out-lasted the four-time national champions as they secured their first ever trip to the national championship game.

The game began with the home team on their heels, as Great Britain international running back Dwayne Watson led the Warriors down the field with a 58 yard run down the sideline. The Phoenix defense dug in, before succumbing to a fourth down touchdown from one yard out.

The Phoenix weren’t phased, as the special teams answered right back, with Will Hussey returning the kick off deep into Warriors territory. Four plays later, the scores were equal, as quarterback Pat Daley found receiver Ben Burslem in the end zone for the score.

Tamworth’s defense shut down the Warriors on their next drive, with linebackers Ben Davies and Nelson Charles-Nwufoh making key stops, forcing London to punt the ball away.

The home side made the most of the possession, as on the very next play from scrimmage, Daley found a streaking Hussey down the sideline for a 76 yard touchdown. Alex Lenkowski made the extra point attempt, and the Phoenix lead 14-7.

Once again, the Phoenix defense dug in against a much larger and physical offensive line, and despite Warriors quarterback Jerome Allen finding James Cherry and Ian Jacquet on successive throws, the GB Lions quarterback was being hurried every time he dropped back to throw. The pressure eventually told, as defensive end Will Stone brought pressure off the edge and knocked the ball out which was gratefully scooped up by Wayne Drew to give the Phoenix the ball back.

Tamworth Phoenix QB Pat Daley Photo: Nick Mortimer Photos

Tamworth running backs Deji Alli and Adam Hope couldn’t find any space, on the next possession, so the teams traded possessions, and following another good defensive series, the Phoenix had the ball back with good field position.

Daley, who finished the day with 21 completions from 27 attempts for 279 yards, was instrumental in the following drive, as he lead his team down the field, eating up chunks of yards as the Warriors couldn’t match the speed of the Phoenix. A James Hossack grab was followed by a Burslem run and as Daley scrambled out of the pocket to give the Phoenix excellent field position, the home side were in the ascendancy.

On the 12th play of the drive, Daley found his man alone in the end zone, and rifled the ball to the hands of Hussey for their second – and the Phoenix’s third – touchdown of the day. Lenkowski split the uprights, and Tamworth had the lead, 21-7.

More determined running from Adam Hope, and a key 3rd down scamper from Daley on the following drive put Tamworth in a great scoring position, and offensive coordinator Dan Smith was rewarded for his faith in the team, as Ben Burslem caught the touchdown on 4th down to expand the lead further.

The London Warriors are seasoned campaigners, and winners of the past four national championships, and they exploded back into life on the following drive, with Dwain Watson breaking five tackles on the way to a 45 yard gain. Allen then found Jacquet before he hit James Cherry on a 22 yard scoring pass. The kick from Jacquet was good, reducing the deficit to 28-14.

London scored again on their next possession, and looked dangerous going into the half. Allen and Watson found their rhythm behind an oppressive offensive line, and a tiring, undersized Tamworth team were tiring fast. The score at half-time was 28-21.

Tamworth Phoenix RB Adam Hope finding running room Photo: Nick Mortimer

The third quarter ebbed and flowed as both teams battled to get ascendancy, as neither offenses could quite find the knockout punch. The deadlock was finally broken by the London Warriors, as they scored late in the third quarter, but crucially missed the extra point, meaning that Tamworth were still in the lead 28-27.

The Phoenix offense went back to work, and whilst they could eat big chunks out of the Warriors defense, they couldn’t figure out a way to breach the visitors defenses. A promising drive was snuffed out, and head coach Martin Hilton elected to go for the field goal, which extended the lead 31-27.

The Phoenix defense found a second wind, and started to knock the Warriors back, and the pressure told as Andy Mortimer dislodged the ball from Dwain Watson, and safety Oli Campbell was glad to pounce on the fumble, giving the ball back to Daley and the offensive unit.

The Warriors defense had also found a way to move through the gears, and the spaces that were open before, were quickly being shut down. Daley narrowly missed an outstretched Marcus Boswell, before hitting Ben Burlsem just short of the yard marker, and the Nix had to punt the ball away as the quarter came to a close.

The Warriors managed to make work of a short field, with Watson peeling off back-to-back 12 yards runs, before Allen found Cherry to bring the Warriors into scoring territory. Despite three physical downs of football, the visitors punched the ball home from one yard out. Watson giving London the lead for the first time, 31-34.

London Warriors RB Dwayne Watson had trouble finding space to run Photo: Nick Mortimer

The lead was short lived, as the offense went back to work, Daley finding Hossack and Hope, before he fired a short pass to Burslem, which was turned up-field for a 34 yard gain. The following play Daley found Morris for a 15 yard gain, before going back up top to Hussey again, which – despite tight coverage – was hauled in by the receiver. Lenkowski added the extra point to make the score 38-34.

A 23 yard gain by the Warriors on the first play from scrimmage led to some nervous faces, but a huge play by defensive line Stephen Gregory on first down, forced the Warriors onto the back foot, and two incomplete passes later, the Nix had the ball back.

The penultimate possession for the Phoenix proved to be a controversial one, as the officials appeared to miss an offside call, which gave the Warriors the ball back on the Phoenix 40 yard line. However, a huge play by linebacker Chris Thacker, and subsequent pass break-ups by Andy Mortimer, James Ramsay and Ant Naughton gave the win to the Phoenix, and their visit to a national final.

Head coach Martin Hilton had this to say; “

Today was a great day; we beat the four time national champions to book a place in the final. Offense, Defense, Special Teams, the coaches and the supporters all helped us secure the win. The Warriors have a lot of phenomenal athletes, and they’ll be back stronger next year. To be the best, you have the beat the best, and they are one of the best teams of all time. We’ll enjoy this game, and the hard work begins again tomorrow morning, as we prepare for the final.”

Britbowl XXXI will be  played on Saturday 27th August, 4pm kick off.

Photos: Nick Mortimer Photos