This weekend saw the BAFANL begin its first round of Playoff Football. And Yankin’ Off stalwarts, Max and Dave paid a trip to Blackburn (courtesy of Nighthawks’ Gary Lee) to catch the Lancashire Wolverines take on Sussex Thunder.
We previewed a tough, competitive game between these two teams on last week’s podcast. A close first half ended 7-7. An interception in the 3rd quarter gave Sussex the ball and resulted in a 14-7 lead. Late in the 3rd, Lancashire faked a field goal attempt, which failed, giving Sussex possession and resulted in a third touchdown for Sussex. A tense 4th quarter saw Lancashire add seven more points to their tally, but Sussex successfully held the lead, winning the game 20-14.
Speaking to Yankin’ Off after the game, Sussex Thunder Coach Ian Ellis talked of the victory; “I’m a bit of a perfectionist so we never do enough, but we did enough to win today. We have had an on-off season and one of our problems has been injuries and as the season has gone on we had several games on the trot, which meant we picked up lots of injuries, but the guys are starting to get fit now.”
Ellis gave credit to the Lancashire Wolverines for their efforts on the field; “It’s very easy for a team, when they get behind, to just roll over and go through the motions and they absolutely didn’t do that. They fought to the end. They are a great team, great set of coaches and the players have real heart and it’s always hard when you get to the playoffs to see a team that good, somebody has to lose and I feel for them, I’ve been there.”
Dan Bowles, Coach for Lancashire Wolverines was disappointed, but saw the positives in a strong showing for the Wolverines this season. “My team put in a good performance. I’m happy with what the guys did. We are a young team and we made a lot of mistakes and we’ll learn from that and come back next year stronger. Sussex, fair enough they deserved that game, they played well they have some great athletes and I wish them all the best in the semi’s.”
There can be no doubt as to the commitment and passion shown by both teams this game. Sussex Quarterback Eber Kington praised their opponents; “It was unbelievably tough. We needed our defense to step up today and they did and played an absolute blinding game and kept a decent team out. [Wolverines] are a very, very good team especially on defense very, very good.”
When it comes to commitment to Football, look no further than Sussex Wide Receiver, Matthew Jackson. “I live in Guernsey in the Channel Islands and I fly over every other week for training and for every game. The girlfriend’s not too happy… but I love the sport and love playing.” It’s commitment like this that epitomises the BAFA National League. Sacrifice and passion for the game are characteristics we’ve seen so often in our first season following the league, and Jackson is the poster boy for self-sacrifice. “This is my second season here and it’s a lot of money, but I work hard and pay for it myself and carry on doing it. The guys make it worth it and games like this do too.”
With their victory, Sussex Thunder advance to play East Kent Mavericks in the Semi Finals – a team that has beaten Sussex twice in the regular season. We asked Coach Ellis if he would be changing things up for their next encounter. “We never like to look past the team we play next, but we had already started working on a game plan if we were lucky enough to get past this team. So yes, we are comfortable with the team and the number of players we have got back and we can match up much better with East Kent now.”
Before our interview started, Coach Ellis spoke to the players. We asked what words he had for them regarding their next game. “I said to them at the beginning of the month that August is ‘commitment to football’ month. So I have asked them to commit fully to what we are doing, which is working towards winning a Championship. They have all bought in, this week, to the fact that whatever it takes in August – and if that means I want them to practice every day of the week – they are all fully committed to do whatever it takes to win the Championship.”