AMERICAN FOOTBALL: UWE Bullets crash out in Premier semi-finals despite valiant effort

The UWE Bullets fell at the final hurdle in Sunday’s semi-final clash, losing at home to Leeds Beckett Carnegie, in what was a highly hot-tempered game throughout.

The Bullets started in possession, with Brandon Jones bursting through the line for a series of first downs. After an unsuccessful third-down conversion, UWE Bristol’s QB Simon George punted the ball away, resulting in a touchback.

In what was a common occurrence throughout the game, the visiting offense continued to find ways to move the chains, grinding for hard yards. On a third-and-three at midfield, Leeds Beckett’s quarterback threw a pitch to the running back, who drove his way for a first-down and more. He then bounced back with two more first-down runs, and another run for nine yards. After exposing a gap in the UWE Bullets’ defensive line, the visiting running back made a huge run, drilling the ball into the end-zone for the first score of the game. On the next play, their two-point attempt was successful. After one drive each, the Carnegie led 8-0.

On the next drive, UWE Bristol looked to bounce back, to keep up with their opponent’s formidable offense. The first snap was too high for George, who had to leap in the air to recover it before it could be turned over. On the next play, Jones drove back to the original line of scrimmage. On third-and-long, Thomas Campbell ran for a solid gain of five, setting up a fourth down. Already trailing, and near midfield, the Bullets took a risk, quarterback Simon George handed the ball off to Brandon Jones, who burst down the side-line for a first down and much more. In one play, UWE Bristol had gone from a fourth-and-five from their own forty-yard-line, to a first-and-goal from the Carnegie ten. Straight after his heroic run, Brandon Jones went one step further, scoring the first touchdown of the day for the Bullets. George then went to his other big weapon in Thomas Campbell, who drove home for the extra two-points. At the end of the first quarter, the score was 8-8.

Back in possession, the Carnegie continued to run the ball, managing a third down completion, before a series of runs for first-downs saw them facing a first-and-goal. After two strong stops, UWE Bristol’s safety had a golden opportunity to intercept a pass in the end-zone but was only able to bat down the throw. This brought up a fourth down, and with the visitors struggling to gain the last few yards, they opted instead to kick a field goal. Despite how rare field-goals are in BUCS American Football, this kick sailed through the posts, giving the visitors three more points. UWE Bristol trailed 8-11.

Thanks to a penalty flag for unsportsmanlike conduct (the first of many in the game), Leeds Beckett were forced to take their kick-off from 15-yards further back. Brandon Jones was underneath it, returning it for a huge gain. On the very next play, Simon George threw a bullet pass to Campbell on the side-line. Campbell proved too quick for the visiting cornerback, drilling it in for a second Bullets TD. Despite an unsuccessful 2-point attempt, the Bullets cut their deficit to just three points.

With just forty seconds left on the first-half clock, the visiting Carnegie had plenty to do. On the first play, their QB threw a deep pass, which went incomplete. However, the referees deemed it to be pass interference against UWE Bristol, forcing a huge penalty. Then, with just nine seconds left on the clock, there was significant controversy. Leeds Beckett’s wide receiver caught the ball, but fumbled just as he was crossing the goal-line. The officials gave a touchdown, but several Bullets’ players were adamant that they made a mistake. This drew several unsportsmanlike conduct flags against UWE Bristol. With the final play of the half, the Carnegie’s running back drove into the end-zone for two points. At the midway point in the tie, UWE Bullets trailed 25-14.

Leeds Beckett started the third quarter with more of the same, driving for several first-downs before adding to their score. After the first drive of the second half, the Bullets now trailed 14-31. UWE Bristol simply couldn’t afford to make any more mistakes, and things started to look up when they recovered a fumble from the Carnegie’s offense two drives later. However, with the ball on their own twenty-yard-line, George threw a pass which was tipped straight into the hands of a Carnegie linebacker, who took the ball into the end-zone for another touchdown. Now possessing a significant lead, the visitors opted to kick the extra point, taking the score to 14-38.

UWE’s offense were back out onto the field, trailing by 24 with only a few minutes left in the third-quarter. It would have taken a miracle to come back from this point, but matters were made worse when versatile tight-end Tyler Zilen threw an interception. His audacious attempt was picked off and returned for the second pick-six in as many drives. An extra-point later, Leeds Beckett’s lead was stretched even further.

After a horror third-quarter, UWE Bristol’s fightback was on. In just a handful of plays, they managed to add their first touchdown of the second half, taking the score to 20-45. Moments later, the Bullets had miraculously managed to recover an onside kick, having yet another possession, so soon after the last. Already in great field-position after the recovery, George and Jones produced a series of great rushes. George then found Campbell once again, who caught his pass on the one-yard-line. UWE Bristol’s second touchdown in quick succession meant the score-line was now 26-45, but with time running out, it would still take something spectacular.

Unfortunately, the next onside kick was less successful. However, just a few plays later, the Bullets offense were back out on the field. With only four minutes to go, they were forced to ditch their usual ground-game in favour of a more direct approach. The ball was snapped to George, who through a pin-point pass to Zilen. The latter then drove the ball agonisingly close to his first TD of the game, being tackled just two yards short. Campbell made sure to get the job done however, powering through the visiting defensive-line to put up another score. Campbell then ran it in again for two more points, in what was the final score of the game.

After a series of kneels from the visiting quarterback, the game was over. Despite UWE Bristol’s incredible fourth-quarter efforts, they fell short of a place in the final. In the end, the game finished 45-34 to Leeds Beckett. However, the UWE Bullets can take a lot of pride in their late fight-back, cutting what was once a 31-point margin into just eleven.

Although they were devastated to lose so close to the final, this season has still been a huge success for the Bullets. After all, this was UWE Bristol’s first season in the Premier South, where they managed to finish in first-place. Congratulations to head-coach Dan Maher and the rest of the team for their great success this season!


Written by:

Matt Williams




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