Great Britain: Tamworth Phoenix reach Britbowl again, defeat London Blitz

The defending champion Tamworth Phoenix advanced to the British American Football national final in emphatic style on Sunday as they defeated the London Blitz 30-17 in a heavyweight battle at Pack Meadow in Coleshill. The game was a repeat of last season’s Britbowl XXXI championship game, in which the Nix won 34-27 to win their first national crown.

The three-headed monster of quarterback Pat Daley, and running backs Adam Hope and Elliot Walters paced the Phoenix attack, as the Blitz were overwhelmed by the defending champions.

Daley threw for 120 yards while rushing for 91 and a touchdown. Tamworth rolled up 427 yards rushing with Hope carrying the ball 22 times for 187 yards and two touchdowns while Walters had 14 carries for 85 yards. The defense was paced by Dan Shodipo who recorded three and a half sacks while Wayne Drew had three.

The Phoenix were the form side going into the contest, riding a 22-game win streak in domestic competition – in fact the last time they were beaten by a British team was the London Blitz in the 2016 Semi Final. The visitors also had their own weight of expectation; as they have appeared in each of the last 13 Britbowl Championships. On a wet, blustery day in Coleshill, something had to give.

The Phoenix won the toss and elected to receive the ball, putting the ball in Daley’s hands first. The conditions were not ideal, which were typified by the first play from scrimmage.

Daley faked the hand-off to Hope, before finding receiver James Hossack for a short gain across the middle. As Hossack turned upfield, the conditions caused the ball to slip from his grasp, before being recovered by the Phoenix.

Perhaps aware of the driving rain, coordinator Dan Smith put the ball in Hope’s hands, as he galloped for consecutive first downs. Only a swarming Blitz defense on third and short forced the Nix to punt possession away to Joe Thompson and the London Blitz offense.

Thompson connected with Jack Daley to move the sticks early, but a tenacious Nix front seven forced them back, and the ball was back in the hands of the home side.

Photo: Nick Mortimer

The second Tamworth possession continued in the same vein as the first, but yielded much better results. A fleet footed Daley moved the chains on first down, before handing the ball to his running back who ate up the yards with several barreling runs. Daley then found Hossack on short yardage, moving the Nix into the Red Zone.

Hope did the rest on the next play; taking the inside hand-off and racing – untouched – into the end zone to open up the scoring. Offensive linemen Lewis Thomas and Dave Pemberton dug out the linebackers to send Hope darting through the Blitz defense. Marc Bonezabi added the extra point and the Nix were up 7-0.

The Blitz found success on early downs, but any rush attempt was met by a slew of Phoenix defenders; running back Dwight Caulker was met by NT Ash Miller and LB Will Jepson to bring up a third and long opportunity. Thompson tried to find Charlie Joseph deep, but great work from the Nix secondary forced the punt.

Daley was forced out of the game on first down, bringing in wildcat QB Sam Huxtable who picked up where the third-year signal caller had left off, as he led the Nix down the field, with Hope – now joined by  Walters in the backfield – combining to terrorise the London defense.

As the Nix crossed the half-way line, the Blitz defense stiffened and started forcing the Phoenix back. Stout work by linebackers Eddie Cheadle, Oliver Bishop and Palmer Foster forced Huxtable down blind alleys and a smart bit of work from safety Tonye Dokubo tipped the ball away from Hossack.

On third and six, the Blitz defense got a little too eager, and – in trying to jump the snap – gave away an offsides penalty. Huxtable kept the play alive with some nice footwork, and found a wide-open Walters in the end zone to extend the lead to 14-0.

The Blitz started to find some momentum with their next drive; the introduction of GB standout Dan Conroy buoyed the offense, as he tore off a couple of first down as the visitors started to move the ball more effectively. However, a low-snap on first down, followed by back-to-back sacks on Thompson, forced the Blitz to punt once again.

Daley, now back into the game moved the offense into Blitz territory, but the visitors were not willing to let the Phoenix have it all their own way. Sam Marshall wrapped up Daley, and ripped the ball from his grasp, with Connor Durham gratefully leaping on the loose football.

Tamworth LB Dan Shodipo was a defensive force Photo: Nick Mortimer

London, now with momentum started to threaten. Thompson found Jack Daley with a slant for fourteen yards, before hitting outside receiver Sam Rogers for a huge gain down the Blitz sideline. A short pass to Alex Laird found the Blitz knocking on the door for the first time in the contest, and it was Thompson who punched it in – a one-yard QB sneak to reduce the arrears and bring the visitors back into the game.

As half-time was fast approaching, the Nix did what they could to get into scoring position; working themselves down to within the five, before the Blitz defense stiffened again, and the home side had to settle for a field goal to bring the half to a close 17-7.

The Blitz brought in britball veteran Stuart Franklin at QB at half time, and he was given a rough greeting by the Tamworth defense, as he was dropped by Wayne Drew and Dan Shodipo on consecutive plays, forcing the Blitz to punt.

The Nix couldn’t do anything with the drive, so five plays later the ball was back in Franklin’s hands. Good running by the Conroy brought up second and short, which was converted by a Franklin-to-Laird pitch and catch. Much of the hard work was negated on the subsequent plays, as the quarterback couldn’t evade Shodipo on first down, and then threw the ball to cornerback Dan Hampton on second down.

The ensuing Tamworth drive was the Walters and Hope show, as the pair combined for seven carries, and 62 yards, with Adam Hope capping It off with a dive up the middle for an 18-yard touchdown. The veteran running back had a career day, carrying the ball 22 times for 187 yards and two touchdowns; in fact the whole rush attack benefitted from some ruthless run blocking by the Nix Offensive Line, as Tamworth accrued over 400 yards on the ground.

The Blitz came out with renewed urgency, and – with Thompson back in at quarterback – tried to force their way back into the game, but a resolute Tamworth defense kept them at bay, forcing possession to go back to the Nix.

The visiting defense also stiffened – despite some early gains by Hope and Walters – forced the Nix to try and kick a long field goal which was blocked.

The Blitz threw caution to the wind, and with the first play of the second half, Thompson found a streaking Jack Daley up the seam for a 50 yard score to reduce the deficit to ten.

London had a chance to further reduce that, as Palmer Foster picked off Pat Daley on the following drive, giving the ball back to a Blitz offense that had rediscovered its rhythm with Thompson back at the helm.

Quick pick-ups by Laird and Daley, followed by great work by Rogers, brought the visitors within striking range of the Tamworth goal line. Conroy was bottled up on first down, with saftey Oli Campbell jarring the ball out of Daley’s hand on second down. The Blitz elected to run the ball once more on third down, with Conroy aiming for the pylon, but Chris Thacker and Campbell combined to drag him down short of the goal line, forcing the Blitz to settle for three and making the contest a one-score game.

The difference remained seven points for as long as the following Tamworth drive, which eked off six valuable minutes of game time. Hope, Walters and Daley all rushed the ball effectively, until the QB kept a read play and took the ball 42 yards to the house.

With the PAT missed, the Blitz had to score quick, but the Phoenix defense were in in prevent mode, and Thompson couldn’t find his men downfield. A sack on third down ended the game, and sent a jubilant Tamworth into their second consecutive Britbowl.

The Phoenix play the London Warriors for Britbowl XXXII at John Charles Stadium in Leeds on September 8. The Warriors won their semifinal over the Manchester Titans 43-0.