In a game that celebrated the 10th anniversary of the Belfast Trojans, reigning Shamrock Bowl champions, welcomed the Sewanee Tigers of Tennessee to a sunny Deramore Park in Belfast, Ireland last weekend.
It was a match that had been highly anticipated for weeks and it did not disappoint. Although the Tigers (NCAA Div. III) came away victors in an intensely close 27-20 scoreline, they didn’t have it all their own way.
The students hailing from the University of the South got off to a fast start, as their crisp technique and pace blindsided the Irish champions. The Tigers broke the deadlock early with an excellent drive coupled with strong running and an attacking aerial assault as the Sewanee signal caller was able to find his rangy receiver in the corner of the end zone to take a quick 7-0 lead.
That score was then doubled in the second quarter as the Tigers struck again off a similar play. This time the targeted receiver hauled in a tough catch under close protection from the Trojans defensive back. The Tigers were a well drilled and talented unit and that showed in a strong first half display.
It was a slow start from the Trojans offensively but after some excellent work on defence, holding the Tigers to numerous 3 and out drives, the Green Machine finally began to find their feet. Just before the break, Belfast’s run game started rolling with fullback Neil ‘Pocket’ Montgomery charging through would-be tacklers to spring life into the offence. After making their way into the red zone, quarterback James McKelvey found rookie receiver Jack Millar with a pinpoint pass that left the Tigers stunned. Despite the failed PAT attempt, the touchdown gave the Trojans valuable momentum heading into the half.
As the second period commenced, the Tigers would strengthen their lead with an impressive ground attack that wore down the Trojans resolve. They were able to punch it in from close range and followed by a field goal shortly after, they extended their lead to 24-6.
However the Trojans didn’t back down and their special teams responded with some historic trickery. In a play reminiscent of the NFL’s Music City Miracle, Trojans kick returner Matt Armstrong looked set to field the resulting kick off before taking a few steps forward and lateraling the ball across the field to teammate Jonah Siri.
Behind some excellent blocking, Siri weaved his way through the remaining Tigers defenders all the way to the end zone for one of the most memorable touchdowns ever scored on Irish soil.
Video of kickoff return courtesy of NFL-Ireland.
With the sideline erupting into hysteria, the momentum had greatly swung in favour of the Irish champions as players, coaches and spectators felt that a remarkable ending was about to unfold. Although the Tigers were stunned, they kept their composure as they chewed up the clock with some smart play calling.
However there was still time for Belfast to strike back. Inside the final two minutes, McKelvey connected with David Colvin on a perfectly placed slant pass across the middle with Colvin muscling his way through defenders into the end zone to drag the Trojans within whiskers of a historic result. With an onside kick looming, it would be an intense finish to the game.
Unfortunately for the Trojans the onside kick was recovered by Sewanee and that ended the fightback, as the Tigers showed great sportsmanship by kneeling out the game to take back to America with them a narrow 27-20 win.
Many spectators at the game may well have been expecting a blowout from a team that compete at NCAA Div III level, but the Trojans showed why they are a force in Ireland and in Europe. It was an outstanding display of football by the Atlantic Cup winners that more than matched up to the quality of the Sewanee Tigers, outscoring them in the second half.
It was a fantastic occasion for both the Belfast Trojans and the IAFL to have a team of Sewanee’s stature take part in an exhibition game in Ireland. Games such as this create an exciting spectacle for football fans in Ireland that will hopefully be replicated in the future. If Saturday was anything to go by, it must prove that Irish American Football is heading in the right direction.