The UWE Bullets won their first ever Premier division postseason game on Sunday, after a narrow victory over the visiting Stirling Clansmen. The visitors made the long trip down from Scotland, looking to cause an upset and advance to the semi-finals.
In the first drive, a series of rushes from running-back Brandon Jones gave the Bullets a first down, before quarterback Simon George scrambled for another. After failing to convert a third-down pass, UWE Bristol’s QB delivered a perfect punt, with the ball being grounded at the one-yard-line.
Stirling’s offense struggled to get anything going throughout the game, and the first drive was no exception. After a poor snap from their centre, the visiting QB recovered a fumble narrowly short of his own endzone. A matter of inches was all it took to deny UWE two points and possession back. Three plays later, Stirling punted the ball back to UWE.
The hosts started with possession on midfield, looking to put points on the board. George’s pass on first down narrowly missed the hands of Thomas Campbell. On the next play, Jones ran for nine yards, before back-to-back stops on defence saw the game’s first turnover, following the failed fourth-down conversion.
However, it wasn’t long until the Bullets were back in possession. After a sack, a missed pass and a fumbled snap, Stirling punted for the second time in the game, still without a first down. On came their punter, whose kick reached the UWE 40-yard-line.
Back in possession, UWE Bristol got off to an ideal start, when Campbell ran for a first down. On the next play, QB George kept the ball, scrambling for a huge gain of 28 yards. Versatile American tight-end Tyler Zilen then caught a pass at the 23-yard-line. Then after a series of rushes, Jones took the ball, bursting through the Stirling d-line, drilling the ball into the end-zone for the FIRST SCORE of the game. After a failed 2-pt conversion, UWE LED 6-0.
From kick-off, the Stirling returner dropped the catch, but was able to recover it before a turnover was possible. After a rush for no gain, the first quarter was at an end. Still without a first down in the game, Stirling were forced to punt yet again.
A familiar face in the game, Jones rushed up the middle for 12 yards and a first down. He then made another huge run, this time bringing up a first-and-goal. Unfortunately for UWE Bristol, after two straight rushes for no gain, Stirling’s defence forced a turnover.
After back-to-back punts from both sides. Stirling were able to convert a huge pass on third-and-long. Now on defence, Zilen came agonisingly close to an interception; he picked off the visiting QBs pass, but the referee ruled that the ball was released out-of-bounds. An unsuccessful rush was made worse from an offensive penalty flag. The pitch-referee blew for half time. At the mid-point in the game, the score was 6-0 to UWE Bristol.
The third quarter got off to a similarly quiet start, with three successive punts. With the Bullets back in possession, Jones rushed twice for two first downs. Then, for the second time in the game, UWE failed to complete a fourth-down pass. George threw a deep pass for Zilen, but it sailed just over his head and out of bounds.
Forcing another punt on defence, Bullets QB George was back out on the field. He scrambled for another first-down, before completing a pinpoint throw to Zilen. Four plays later, UWE Bristol failed their third fourth-down of the game. While Stirling’s offense struggled all day, they were very strong defensively.
UWE Bristol’s defence forced three incompletions, but with the game currently in the fourth quarter, Stirling were forced to take their chances. After a fake-punt, they achieved a first-down to keep their offense on the field. However, it didn’t take long for the hosts to win possession back. With the game almost over, UWE Bristol took their time in possession, keeping the ball in-bounds to keep the clock rolling.
In the end, the Bullets were able to take a knee, securing the shutout win AND a place in the semi-finals. Elsewhere, Swansea beat the reigning champions Durham 20-19, Premier North side Leeds Beckett trounced Birmingham 19-0, and in the biggest shock of the weekend, the number-one ranked Nottingham lost 28-27 to Hertfordshire, who finished fourth in UWE Bullets’ division.
Up next is a home game against Leeds Beckett on Sunday 17th March at Hillside Gardens, with the winner facing either Swansea or Hertfordshire in the final.
Written by Matt Williams