The Warriors came out of the gates fast, and while the Phoenix were able to fight back and keep themselves in contention, the second half saw London lean on their bruising ground game and take away an impressive 48-34 victory.
The cream of the British game headed to Leeds on Saturday and in front of a fair-sized crowd of rowdy Britball fans, gave us the National Championship game many have been expecting since the preseason: 2017 Champions, the Tamworth Phoenix, versus the London Warriors, the team that had hoisted the previous four-straight National titles.
Tamworth took the football to start the fixture, and there were some expectations that we might see something similar to back in Britbowl XXXI when the Phoenix made a statement start to their first Britbowl appearance by coming out and opening scoring against the Blitz last year… However, the Warriors D had lead the top tier in 2018, and while the Phoenix made a little bit of initial progress, right from the get-go penalties would prove to be an issue for the Tamworth offence. Forced into a 3rd & 11 by a false start, Tamworth QB Patrick Daley was swallowed up by the swarming Warriors defence.
Punting away, there was immediately some drama as returner Josh Amis attempted to field the football but bobbled it forwards – luckily being pounced on by Warriors players as flags reigned for both teams piling in. In what would begin a controversial day for the Video Referee system, used for the first time this season at the Championship weekend, the booth called down an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against the Warriors that offset that of Tamworth’s.
Even so, it only took the Warriors two play to get themselves on the scoreboard, as Nick Jacquet connected with Luc Benjamin down the right sideline on a play-action pass – the play almost going the distance, before Benjamin’s toe snagged the sideline at the 17yd line.
Still, the Warriors didn’t give the Phoenix a chance to breathe as running back Raymond Sobowale burst to the left and opened the scoring with a 17 yd rush!
Taking over from their 13, the Warriors made good progress both on the ground and in the air, before on the third play of the drive we saw a controversial situation as a call came down from the replay booth that halted play. Some moments of discussion over their mics by Keith Wickham’s referee crew was followed by the sudden announcement that Tamworth defensive back Anthony Naughton was ejected from the game for a late hit, despite flags being thrown on the field of play.
The Warriors capitalised on the confusion, as three plays later Jacquet connected with Phil Newport down the seam to extend the Warriors lead to two scores.
It wouldn’t take long however for the momentum to swing back to the Phoenix, as Bonazebi followed up his threat of a big return on the previous kick off by returning the football the length of the field for a strike back score, splitting the uprights for the XP to boot!
Momentum seeming to shift, the Tamworth defence had their first stop of the day and when a high snap went over the punters head it looked like they’d take over with amazing field position, as despite some confusion on a short, muffed punt recovery, because the ball had not crossed the line of scrimmage the Phoenix took over deep inside Warriors territory with an opportunity draw even.
Daley moved the stakes with his legs, setting up a first and goal. Even so, the Phoenix needed four downs for Daley to find James Hossack in the back of the end zone, tying up the game at 14-14.
A whirlwind first quarter eventually wrapped up with the Warriors pushed back by a Dan Shodipo sack of Jacquet, and momentum certainly seemed to be with the Northerners.
It wasn’t to last however, as the Warriors’ high, hanging punt was muffed by Jack Verling, and suddenly the Warriors had a fresh set of downs in Phoenix territory!
The devastating duo of Dwayne Watson and Raymond Sobowale got to work, Sobowale in particular patiently finding holes to set the London side up on the three-yard line, Watson capping off the drive with a score.
Tamworth continued to hurt their chances with penalties on offence, and the Warriors’ better discipline was telling, Sobowale finding holes and busting tackles for a 35-yard rushing touchdown with around three minutes left in the half that re-extended the lead to two scores.
Still, Daley and the set to work, the mobile quarterback eating up chunks of yardage with his legs, eventually weaving through to the left to bring the Phoenix back within a score!
And yet, the first half still wasn’t done! Britbowl XXX MVP Dwayne Watson bust straight through the middle of the Tamworth D and was only eventually dragged down by Will Hobbs at the 6yd line, setting up Sobowale for his third score of the afternoon from the 1.
Coming out of the break with a two-score lead, the Warriors sought to move out of reach of the Phoenix with a strong, sustained drive to open the third quarter, grinding their way into Phoenix territory before Jacquet connected with Newport once again in a repeat of their first-half play-action success, breaking free down the seam for a 32-yard score.
Three scores down, the Phoenix still seemed unphased, as Daley lead the offence out once more, a 69-yard drive capped off when Daley zinged a pass over the middle to connect with Marcus Urbanski, closing the gap once more.
The tireless pace continued, Watson and Sobowale punishing any sloppy tackling from the Tamworth defence, with the fourth quarter opening with the Warriors once again knocking on the door.
An attempted Warriors fake field goal didn’t connect, and the Phoenix had an opportunity to gain ground but were unable to capitalise on the reprieve.
On the ensuing Warriors’ drive, Sobowale secured his MVP status as he bust out a 58-yard rush that sent Phoenix defenders reeling – the Warriors running backs continuing their trend of setting one another up, as Watson finished off the drive punching it in from the 1yd line.
The Phoenix fought back for a further score, Deji Alli managing to squeeze through defenders from the half-yard line, but with less than two minutes remaining in the game there simply wasn’t enough time for the Phoenix to claw their way back into the game against a Warriors side that had proven superior in each phase of the game, and oh-so-capable of taking advantage of any and all opportunities presented to them!
The Warriors ground game ended the fixture with 331yds and five touchdowns, a statement of the strength and athleticism of a roster that’s actually rebuilding from a number of offseason departures, and a statement that the London side are once again the bulging bicep at the very pinnacle of the British game!
- Passing | 8/21, 166yds, 2 TDs
#12 Nick Jacquet | 8/20 for 166yds 2 TDs
- Rushing | 46 for 331 yards 5 TDs
#35 Raymond Sobowale | 19 for 192yds, 3 TDs
#34 Dwayne Watson | 22 for 130yds, 2 TDs, 1 Fumble
- Passing | 21/32 190yds 2TDs 1 INT
#7 Patrick Daley | 21/32 190yds 2TDs 1 INT
- Rushing |23 for 104yds 2 TDs
#7 Patrick Daley | 10 for 69yds, 1TD