Sometimes in a playoff game you have to fight for your life. You start badly and find yourself behind, you need to work twice as hard just to catch up and then most times that extra effort will not be enough. On Sunday, Clyde Valley Blackhawks were down and watching their playoff hopes slip away at half time, with the Tigers up 13-3.
The Blackhawks, who have been the closest match to title winners Edinburgh came out in the second half fighting. The defense got it together, stopping the Tigers from getting another score in the game and the offense worked its magic getting two touchdowns. With the game in its closing moments it was the Glasgow side suddenly on the backfoot and they could do nothing to counter the Blackhawks. These two have been incredibly close in terms of performances all season and it is not surprising that this game came down to just a four point margin at 17-13. Being a knockout game, the Tigers now have a long offseason while the Blackhawks have the Sheffield Predators to look forward to next weekend.
The road trip to South Wales has been long for each and every team that has made it this season, the trip back, however, has been even longer. That continued this weekend as Sussex Thunder became the final 2012 victim of a trip to the home of the Warriors. South Wales were in playoff contention for a large portion of the season, Sussex meanwhile appeared to have the division sown up. Both had their chances ruined by the East Kent Mavericks just south of Canterbury. While Sussex needed this game more, with a narrow chance of taking the title, the Warriors were looking to finish the year with a winning record while protecting their house.
The game took a while to get going, the first quarter ending 0-0. The home side broke the deadlock first but less than 10 minutes later Thunder had it tied up again. It was a case of punch and counter punch as each side picked up a further touchdown to end the half 14-14. It was in the third quarter that South Wales made the crucial break. Two touchdowns within ten minutes broke them 28-14 ahead by the end of the third. Sussex tried to come back and picked up a touchdown to go 28-20 but the Welsh side countered again. While Sussex did pick up a final score, they were unable to match the Warriors and went home disappointed 35-26 down and sitting in third place waiting to see what would happen between the Mavericks and Renegades.
On Sunday afternoon the rain was falling in Berkshire. Both sides knowing a win would give them the title after Sussex's loss the previous day. The Renegades had home field advantage but arguably had the easier run in. The match was poised to be a true battle between two playoff sides in the most exciting division of 2012.
The Renegades scored first in the game with a 30 yard run getting them in a great position. The extra point was missed, that allowed the Mavericks to take the lead when they countered quickly with their quarterback taking the ball the 12 yards to the endzone. By the end of the quarter the Renegades were back in front but again the extra point was left on the field. The followup score by the Mavericks extended their lead to two. The third quarter allowed the Mavericks to pull outside of a single scores reach with another touchdown moving them nine points clear. That was the decisive score as although the Renegades scored again they were unable to catch the Mavericks who themselves added to their advantage.
The final score was 28-18 with the Mavericks defeating Berkshire, Sussex and South Wales twice each to win their title. The loss puts Berkshire in the hot seat with a potential trip to face the Trojans on the 14th August. Because of Berkshire's superior points conceded record Sussex remained third and will travel to Lancashire next weekend.
For the Pirates on Saturday they knew a victory would give them the North title. In the end they made that result look fairly easy. East Kilbride scored first and despite the Yorkshire Rams scoring after a safety it was always to be the home side's day. At the half the score was 14-7 this advantage only extended in the second half and the Pirates walked out 26-7 winners with their first premier title. They have earned their bye week.
Having lost their shot at the title a week ago with a defeat against the Pirates, the Mustangs were keen to get back on track by doing the double against Tamworth. The winner of this match would receive a home game in the playoffs. Unfortunately the Mustangs, currently playing with a depleted squad were unable to match the home side on their travels. By the end of the first half Tamworth were already 34-12 up and it would have taken a miracle for Doncaster to come back having had their quarterback ejected during an off field scuffle. Lightfoot has now been ejected twice this season, both coming against Tamworth. In the early second half the struggle continued as Phoenix, rolling now, pushed two more touchdowns past. Injuries were taking their toll on Doncaster but the visitors managed to pull two scores back before the end. The game finished 48-24. Doncaster are scheduled to face London Blitz but have had to withdraw due to injuries to their squad while Tamworth will welcome the London Olympians in what should be a hard fought match.
As the Olympians took the field in Ipswich they knew a win would make their playoff dream a reality. A Bristol loss would have the same effect but only a fool seeks to control what they cannot. It turned out that London had the game under control. These two know eachother well from 2011 and it was an enjoyable game. The Olympians jumped out to a 21-6 lead at half time and the Cardinals, although they got closer, were unable to match that by the games end. The final score was 21-14 and showed that Ipswich have a chance at a better season next time out with a year's extra preparation. The Olympians sealed their playoff place in the best way, with a win to take them 6-4.
The Olympians win then removed a lot of the meaning from the match between Bristol Aztecs and the all-conquering London Warriors. Even so, the visiting Aztecs wanted to play a strong match to show that they can potentially fight with the best of them. In the end though the Warriors were in command throughout and waltzed off with a 47-0 shutout that drops the Aztecs to a 4-6 record in 2011 and keeps the Warriors unbeaten through the regular season 10-0.
The Division 1 North title was taken on Sunday in a matchup between the increasingly unbeatable West Coast Trojans and the Lancashire Wolverines. The last three games have been tough on the Wolverines cutting it fine with some of the region's smaller teams. They knew they would have to up their game on Sunday but they were unable to fight the dominant Trojans. West Coast racked up the points, while more often than not the Wolverines were forced to punt. In the end, this game was only going one way. The visiting Trojans walked out 34-3 winners, taking the Division 1 North title with the best record in Division 1. They get a well-deserved week off to prepare for either Berkshire or Nottingham.
It has been a difficult season for the Nighthawks, slipping to nine losses in a tough region. This weekend they travelled to Coventry to play the Jets for the first time all season and the hard work finally paid off. In the second quarter the scoring started as one might expect, the Jets were up 7-0 and looking ready to make up for last weekend's loss that dropped them from playoff contention. But Merseyside were ready for this one, their player Joe Black picking up two scores before the half to give the visitors a 12-7 lead. Then in the third quarter the Nighthawks picked up a break, as a wayward Jets pass was intercepted and returned for a touchdown. This put Merseyside two scores ahead. The Jets got back into the match with a 20 yard touchdown run and then looked like they may be able to push for the win. Instead the Jets threw a second interception, and once again the Nighthawks were able to return it for a touchdown. With that second pick the Jets fell to their fifth loss of the season and the Nighthawks picked up a long overdue first win of 2012. What a great way to go into the offseason after a tough year.
The Bobcats met the Saints before the verdict from the league about the Sharks came through. It was still a tough and well fought game though between two of the West's better sides. The Saints already had their title sealed but were looking for another win while the Bobcats wanted to get a little closer to the Sharks in second. In the end they couldn't quite do enough and the Saints walked away 17-6 victors on the road. The appeal verdict meant that the Bobcats lost their playoff spot to the Sharks but they can keep their heads held high after a strong 2012 campaign that saw a large improvement over 2011.
Chester just needed a win to guarantee their playoff dream. Their opponents Staffordshire meanwhile were looking for their first win of the season. The result in the end was clear cut, the Romans, by far the better side walked away 53-0 winners. The Romans now go on to face Edinburgh next weekend. For Staffordshire a difficult season comes to an end. An offseason of building and a strong recruitment policy give them a shot at improving for next year.
Manchester went into their game knowing their chance at the postseason had pretty much gone. They would have expected Chester to go and win against Surge. The best they could do would be to give themselves a chance. Against the DC Presidents they did that beautifully shutting out the rookies 45-0. With the Romans winning their game the Titans inevitably miss out but their chance at returning to Division 1 will come again. The Presidents can look forward to bright things next year as they enter a second year with experience under their belt.
The Sheffield Predators finished off the Division 2 Central shutouts with a commanding 51-0 win over Crewe. The Railroaders, like the Presidents, have had a very encouraging first season and can be commended for the work they have put in. The Predators meanwhile have been the class of this region in 2012 and are sure to present themselves well in the playoffs. They start next weekend as they host Clyde Valley.
It may have carried little meaning, but the Watford Cheetahs and Bedfordshire Blue Raiders played a stormer on Sunday. It was truly a game of two halves. In the first half Watford started strongly at home, the Cheetahs who have had a difficult year put up 14 points. They then held on until late in the fourth quarter when it suddenly all clicked for the Blue Raiders. Two touchdowns of their own came as a result and a two point conversion saw them home and dry. The game finished 15-14 and showed that both teams can play great games of football. Both miss the playoffs and have losing records but both can be proud that they can make this game exciting.
The Cambridgshire Cats picked up their second road win of the season and finished 5-5 as they faced the Essex Spartans on Sunday. The Spartans have not adjusted well to Division 1 life but have played with a lot of spirit. Even on Sunday as the Cats raised the score they did not give up picking up scores of their own. They can be happy that they gave their all this year against bigger and more experienced sides. The Cats meanwhile were out of the playoffs a month ago, their 2012 has also seen problems, in a year where they could have been playoff contenders. In the end 5-5 is a fair record for their work and they can be pleased with their achievements, which include beating the title winning Mavericks.
Edinburgh had the Division 2 North title sown up before this closing match with the Border Reivers, they still showed the young side how the game is to be played at a high level though. The Wolves put 61 points past Carlisle, allowing 6 in return. Carlisle will be hoping to be more competitive with those around them as they enter their third season in 2013. Edinburgh go forward to face Chester next weekend.
In our final game the Gloucester Centurions doubled their win count for the season with a strong 33-6 win over Bristol Apache. A 2-6-2 record is a good return for Gloucester over the season and gives them something to build off.