Lions on the Verge of History

The University of Birmingham Lions stand on the verge of an historic treble.

John Charles Stadium, Leeds, LS11 5DJ. April 9th
Challenge Trophy: 12:00
UH Sharks vs Cardiff Cobras
Championship Game: 16:00
Birmingham Lions vs Portsmouth Destroyers

Despite suffering a defeat for the first time in three campaigns earlier this season, the Birmingham Lions remain a class act and find themselves four quarters away from a third successive BUAFL Championship crown.

Standing in the way of the all-powerful Lions are the tough, aggressive, bruising and confident Portsmouth Destroyers, who will compete in their first title game in Yorkshire at the weekend.

While the Destroyers have shown they fear no one in the BUAFL, the Lions will provide a very stiff challenge.

The Lions kicked off their 2010-2011 campaign in impressive fashion in November as running back Dan Conroy led the attack in a one-sided Xplosion victory over Leeds Carnegie.

With quarterback Tristan Varney pulling the strings of a free-scoring attack that also featured playmaking wide receivers in Ben Brown and John Zinkus, the Lions added wins over Nottingham Trent and Leicester and entered the Christmas break without conceding a single point.

After the festive period, the Lions gained national prominence as they took on Vernon Kay's re-formed Manchester All-Stars in an exhibition match filmed for the ITV2 Under Pressure series.

Behind some accurate Varney passing and the playmaking skills of Conroy, the Lions dashed Kay's hopes of a dream reunion with his former teammates and romped to a comfortable victory.

Returning to league business, the Lions dispatched with Worcester before taking on the Loughborough Aces. In a hard-fought encounter, Birmingham lost the outstanding Varney to a season-ending broken ankle and saw their three-year undefeated streak snapped in emphatic fashion.

Despite that setback, Birmingham rebounded with wins over Nottingham and Derby to reach the playoffs. In the post-season, the Lions edged past a spirited Newcastle side before exacting revenge on the Aces thanks to outstanding performances from quarterback Jonny Glover and imposing defensive end Kyle Burrows.

That set up a semi-final showdown with Jim Messenger's Hertfordshire Hurricanes that proved to be the game of the 2010-2011 season. The Lions led convincingly at the half, the Hurricanes fought back and took a late lead before Birmingham eventually emerged as thrilling 42-37 winners.

While this has been a more challenging campaign for the Lions - both on and off the field - they find themselves in familiar territory, competing for more honours in the championship game.

The Destroyers will have other plans.

Portsmouth, led by head coach Russ Hewitt and dominating many opponents with some very stern defense, stormed to the Thames Valley Conference title with a perfect 8-0 record, earning the number two ranking in the country.

They advanced to the title game with an 8-0 victory over Sheffield Hallam University, snuffing out the threat of the highest-scoring attack in the country.

In compiling a perfect 10-0 record this season including the playoffs, the upstart Destroyers - in just their fifth year - scored 346 points while conceding just 30 points and an incredible two defensive touchdowns.

Leading that defensive charge are defensive tackle James Perrineau, linebackers Laurance Pestell and Chris Percival, and defensive backs Dane Jones, DJ Odumren, Itai Ndanga and Matt Doherty.

The Destroyers pride themselves on giving opportunities to young players on their squad and their 2010-2011 vintage features 24 rookies on the roster. And that means there will be many contributors on the offensive side of the ball, including quarterback Nick Rizzuto, running backs Tomi Olusanyo, Brook Ince, David Torku and Jamie Fuller; fullback Anthony Olawole and wide receivers Farai Myezwa, Dylan Amenumey and Jaz Cable.

Paving the way for those skill position players is the impressive offensive line pairing of Ben Peddie and Adam McClure.

The Black and Purple may be playing in the biggest game in their history on Saturday, but they by no means appear daunted by that task. In fact, they are relishing the challenge at hand and head north full of belief and confidence.

The 2011 BUAFL Championship Game promises to be a real thriller. The Lions bring winning pedigree to the Leeds showdown, while the Destroyers head north with a swagger and confidence that reflects their impressive showings this season.

Both clubs will feel confident heading into the big game. But, of course, there can only be one winner. After a thrilling BUAFL season, whoever emerges victorious on Saturday night will be a worthy and fitting champion.

Old foes to clash in Challenge Trophy

When the BUAFL Finals Day action gets underway at John Charles Stadium in Leeds on Saturday April 9, the Challenge Trophy showdown will feature two old enemies intent on rebuilding their teams to former glory.

The Cardiff Cobras and Hull Sharks last met in College Bowl III in 1989 and have twice played each other in championship games. In those encounters, Hull have enjoyed a very slight edge, winning one contest by a single point and sharing the honours in the infamous Mud Bowl that was officially known as College Bowl II.
The Cobras boast a proud tradition. Formed in 1986 by current head coach Stephen Jones, they are one of the oldest teams on the British University circuit.

The Welsh outfit have reached the playoffs 14 times, have won their division on 11 occasions and have played in three championship games.

Making a fresh start in 2010-2011, Cardiff enjoyed a six-game winning streak to secure a credible third place in the SWAC. They increased their winning run to eight games with post-season victories over Exeter and NTU.
Offensively, the Cobras will be led by quarterback Gareth Humphrys and running back Alex Brew, who will look for running room behind the blocking of Great Britain Youth offensive tackle, kicker and punter Chris Caldwell.
Cardiff has long boasted a proud tradition of producing hard-hitting linebackers who have gone on to represent their country with the Great Britain Bulldogs. The latest on that production line are Peter Allot and Ollie Devon, who are supported on the defensive side of the ball by defensive end Larry Hunt and cornerback and playmaking kick returner Benny Sherwood.
Hull have returned their programme to a competitive level after winning just one game in each of the previous two seasons. They are now looking for a strong Challenge Trophy showing to catapult a playoff run during the 2011-2012 campaign.
The Sharks made a storming start to the Challenge Trophy playoffs, recording a 32-2 victory over York. Led by influential captain Thomas Kharchi, Hull added post-season wins over Northumbria and Southampton to book their place in the Finals Day at Leeds.

With linebacker Carl Malam proving to be a real force in the middle, Hull have been tough to score on in recent months. Over their past five games, the Sharks have not allowed a single touchdown in the red zone and have shown consistency and toughness on that side of the ball.

But this Sharks team is far from one-dimensional and has relied on some big touchdown passes from quarterback Chris Summerling to wide receiver Ben Walker to reach the Challenge Trophy Final.
When the action begins on Saturday lunchtime the field will be covered with big play performers and two teams with rich traditions will battle for glory. There can only be one winner. Who will it be?