Eighteen seconds… the total amount of time the Steelers held the lead over the Falcons. Last weekend the NFC1 South saw the Sandwell Steelers take on the Leicester Falcons at Tipton Sports Academy, with the Steelers looking for their third win of the season.
It was evident from the kick off that the Falcons had come to set their stall out and play for the divisional crown. They returned the opening kick-off for 20 yards and then their ground and pound offense took only 4 plays to march halfway down the field for the opening score (0-7)
The Steelers offense then took to the field looking for an immediate answer. They put together a balanced ground and air attack to drive 65 yards downfield only to see unable to punch the ball in inside the 5, giving the Falcons the ball back.
With the Falcons seemingly backed up, they rolled the dice and took a shot downfield. This completely took the Steelers defense by surprise and a busted coverage allowed a WR to get wide open for an 85 yard completion for a touchdown. (0-14)
Following a few drives with little to shout about, resulting in either punts or 4 and Outs, it was Leicester’s offense who put up the next notable drive. Starting midway inside their own half, they returned to their smash mouth run game to chew up the yardage with the odd pass play thrown in for good measure. It was their run game however that capped off the drive with a short touchdown run, which was over zealously celebrated by a number of players in Green. (0-21)
Sandwell found themselves in an unusual position, not since their 1st year had they found themselves 3 scores down in the 1st quarter with a lot of work to do. They needed an instant response and Coach Butler turned to his ground game for answers. Driving 45 yards in 4 plays, Rookie RB James Jones-Cross followed the blocking of his offensive lineman to set up a simple jump ball for WR Josh Lawrence to bring. (7-21)
The Steelers offense, buoyed by the previous drive got another chance to drive before the half came to end. Starting midway inside their own half, the ground game was again a staple as the Falcons interior DL seemed to have no answers to stop yards being given up. QB Callum Davidson was also able to extend a number of plays with his legs, picking up some key yardage during the drive. Unfortunately the drive stalled when the Steelers got inside the 10 yard line but it did mean Leicester’s offense could add any more points either so the half time scored was SS 7-21 LF.
During half time, Head Coach Ross Barrow allowed the Steelers to sit and wallow at the score as he ordered his players to the corner of the field. He and his coaching staff had a brief discussion and the both sides of the ball made alterations that would prove pivotal in the ensuing half of football.
Both teams came out cagey in the 2nd half however, both offenses couldn’t find their feet leading to punts however it was from the Leicester punt that the Steelers capitalised. An errant snap saw the ball go over the Punters head who attempted to kick the ball under pressure, a move that didn’t go to well. The loose ball bounced up nicely into the hands of defensive end Kris Wedderburn who was able to return it for a touchdown. (14-21)
From here on in the game opened up into a bit of a score-fest. Leicester scoring first courtesy of a busted defensive play (14-28), Sandwell replied with a half field drive capped off by RB James Jones-Cross but the extra point attempt was blocked. (20-28) Another busted defensive play allowed the Falcons to score again on the ground (21-35) but again Sandwell replied this time through their passing game which culminated in QB Davidson finding rookie WR Luke Thompson for the touchdown. Having missed the earlier kick, HC Barrow elected to go for 2 and Coach Butler stuck with the passing game to convert for the added extras. (28-35)
A now much more resilient Steelers defense took to the field looking to ensure the Falcons couldn’t grab the momentum back and courtesy of some much better coverage by CB’s Roden & Thomas the Falcons were forced to punt the ball back to the Steelers.
The next drive saw a return to the devastating run game of the Steelers. Looking to chew up 55 yards, “JJC” went to work behind a thunderous offensive line who got the ball down to the 10 yard line when QB Davidson flighted another ball up for Lawrence to gather in over the DB. The extra point attempt was blocked again, leaving the Steelers 1 point adrift of the Falcons. (34-35)
The nerves on both sidelines were beginning to tell with players and coaches alike still coming to terms with the 3rd quarters action. Not resting on their laurels however, Leicester went straight back to their aerial passing game which saw them gain 35 yards in one play only to come up empty handed as the QB tripped and fell short of the 1st down.
This left the Steelers offense backed up inside their own 10 yard line and unable to get out and found themselves having to punt from inside their own endzone. Instead of kicking the ball away and giving Leicester good field position, the coaches decided to give up a Safety, worth 2 points and give Leicester the ball back in the more conventional kick off method. This left the score at 34-37 and a little over 2 minutes left in the game.
The plan to pin Leicester into their own half worked as they were unable to muster up the yardage for a 1st down and they punted the ball back to a Steelers team with momentum and believe following their 2nd half performance. However the Falcons defense tightened up and it took the experience and poise of QB Davidson to make some clutch plays with his legs on a 2nd & long and 3rd and short to extend the drive.
Once inside the redzone however, it took just 2 plays. 1 from QB Davidson again extending the play to avoid a sack, the 2nd and most decisive being a 1 yard run from veteran RB Leigh French. Someone who wasn’t sure about his future with the Steelers during the off season but once he saw the progress of the team in pre-season, said he couldn’t resist coming back to play with the young and talented side assembled. RB Jones-Cross added the extra 2 points to make the score 42-37 and the Steelers led for the first time in the game with only 18 seconds remaining.
Leicester still had time however and hearts were in the mouths of those in Grey & Gold as they attempted 3 deep passes. The 1st fell short of the intended WR, the 2nd a nice bit of trickery which involved a double pass which was broken up by Safety Oheeul Choudhury and the 3rd involving 3 passes was broken up by CB Gareth Thomas…cue delirium on the Steeler sideline! Full credit has to go to a talented Leicester side who continued to apply pressure and give us one hell of a ball game. With 2 games still to play against this common foe, we could see some fireworks in the following fixtures if this game is anything to go by.
Head Coach Ross Barrow and Quarterback Callum Davidson gave us their thoughts for the upcoming encounter.
Ross Barrow: ‘Last weekend’s game was something of an eye opener for many of our players. Everyone knew how skilled and well drilled the Falcons were going to be, but to actually witness and face the opposition is completely different. I cannot begin to say how proud I am of the team, and the way in which they fought for every inch to score those all-important touchdowns. I am also incredibly impressed with everyone in the run game, and how they were able to claw their way up and down the field. This weekend’s game will be a different beast again, as the Falcons will be looking to avenge their last-minute defeat’.
Callum Davidson: ‘The game against the Falcons was one of the most difficult games in Britball I’ve ever been a part of. The Falcons secondary had an incredible ability to stay close to our receivers, which killed our passing game. The offence definitely feels like we left a few scores out on the field, and this weekend we are looking to execute and finish on every drive. This is something that we always aspire to, but after the win last weekend we’re expecting them to give us everything they’ve got. Something that we’re looking forward to!’
After an incredible last-minute win, the Steelers are now looking to take control of the division with a second game against the Leicester Falcons. The next game is also the next meeting between these two teams however at a different venue. Due to the reseeding of the pitch at Tipton Sports Academy, we relocate to Wolverhampton Rugby Club, WV3 8NA on May 21st still with a 2.30pm kick off.