In one of the biggest upsets in British American Football Premiership history, the Bristol Aztecs stormed to their first win over the London Blitz in nine years last weekend with a hard-fought 17-14 victory at Herts Uni.
The Blitz had beaten the Aztecs in Bristol earlier in the season 33-19.
In a pulsating affair which sent reverberations throughout the league, the Aztecs had to overcome a second quarter injury to star quarterback Gareth Thomas to grind out the historic win.
Touchdowns from running back Bobby Nightingale and receiver Sam Hemmingsley put the seal on the win with the versatile Joe Cotterill adding a 29 yard field goal in the third quarter.
Simon George stepped in at quarterback after Thomas’ departure and took the game into his own hands. The former Swansea Titan threw for 139 yards and one touchdown and rushed for 41 yards in an impressive display.
The Blitz, ranked number two in the country after 10 consecutive Brit Bowl appearances and five titles, made the slicker start and went ahead on their opening drive through a one yard run. But after a couple of three and outs, the Aztecs soon levelled the game. Jordan Metcalf was able to recover a Bristol punt just in front of the end zone as Thomas and the rest of offence took to the field. After a half-distance penalty, Nightingale was able to punch it in on the second attempt with Cotterill adding the extra point.
And things were getting better for the Aztecs. On the resulting kick-off Arsha Etebar recovered the ball to put the offence back onto the field. This time, though, the Blitz forced a Bristol punt as the quarter drew to a close.
The Blitz regained the lead with a 14 yard pass on their opening drive of the second quarter. Thomas left the field with a blow to the neck as George stepped up to fill the boots – with the backup quarterback struggling in the couple of drives before the end of the half.
After the interval George and the offence started to click. Two passes to Hemmingsley and a 22 yard grab from Aaron Linley put Bristol in good position but they had to settle for a field-goal from Cotterill.
The defence halted a Blitz drive as the Aztecs offence came knocking once more. George found Linley for another big gain, as the stand-in began to use his feet to find another first down. The Blitz gave away two pass interference penalties in quick succession as well as an unsportsmanlike penalty.
After two incomplete passes and a run for minus yards, George was able to find Hemmingsley on fourth down for the touchdown – which ultimately secured the win for Bristol.
Aztecs defence stepped up in fourth quarter
Going into the fourth, it was time for the defence to step up. Ryan Morton, Alex Grey and Metcalf made tackles as the Blitz were forced to punt. Another solid drive for the offence burnt down the clock as the Blitz began to panic. Metcalf found another recovery after the fumble with the offence going three and out once again. The Blitz followed suit as the offence took to the field knowing that the win was in reach. Linley made another big grab with Nightingale running the ball well for a first down, giving the Aztecs the opportunity to kneel it out for “the win that shocked the league”.
Head Coach Chris Powles was delighted with his sides’ grit after this memorable day:
“ I couldn’t be prouder of this group, they battled all day, they never gave up when Gareth went out the game and if anything played harder. They trusted each other and really believed they could win. The Blitz are one of the top two teams in the UK and have been for a long time, so a win against them is a huge boost for us, and validates all the hard work over the season.”