Saturday 10th February saw the Steelers’ women travel to Chester for the opening tournament of the 2018 Sapphire Series campaign. This was also a tournament that saw two closely-contested games.
Game One: Sandwell Steelers vs Chester Romans
We have a long-standing rivalry with the Chester Romans since joining the ranks of women’s football. With both teams starting near enough the same time back in 2014 (back in the days of the chevrons).
Last years’ Sapphire Series saw us face Chester twice, with both teams taking a win from the other, so the first game of the 2018 season was set to be an exciting one.
Having started the game on offence, we immediately set the tone by scoring on the opening drive with RB Natalie Talbot running it up the sideline all the way for a TD. Unable to convert on the PAT the defence took to the field. Having pushed back the Romans on their opening drive, Sydney Green then forced a fumble in the Chester end zone, with Libby Davoren picking up an early safety, giving us a lead of 8-0.
Following this aggressive start, the offence then struggled to convert for the rest of the game. However the defence held strong, blocking every run attempt from Chester’s plethora of running backs. A cheeky cornerback blitz even resulted in a Stephanie Palmer sack!
All was going well until the Roman’s QB Laura Hughes launched an aerial attack, connecting with number one WR Natalie Kelly for an insane one-handed grab. This brought Chester to a first and goal on the one yard line. Chester came up with the TD after a pass to the back corner of the end zone, again to Natalie Kelly bringing the score to 8-6. Unable to convert on the PAT, the game was incredibly close.
Our offence tried to get the ball moving but were forced back by Romans LB Holly Hughes and conceded a safety bringing the game to a tie at 8-8. Both teams battled on, with the other trying to gain the upper hand but both defences held strong forcing the other to go 4 and out.
The game “ended” in a tie. The BAFRA officials then called each HC over to explain the teams would enter into overtime to determine the winner of the game. We won the toss and deferred so Chester’s offence had first attempt but the physical Steeler defensive unit forced the Romans to another 4 and out.
It was all up to the offence to put points on the board to win us the game. However, an exact repeat of the opening drive happened, with Natalie Talbot running it all the way up the sideline after a fantastic block by FB Emma Wilkinson. We took the win ending the game 14-8… Or did we?
Following this result, BAFA have revoked the win declaring the OT period against competition rules. This is despite BAFRA officials enforcing this extra period on the day.
FT: Sandwell 8 – 8 Chester
Game 2: Sandwell Steelers vs Teesside Steelers
Next up, we had to go straight into the next game with fellow Steelers, Teesside. We played Teesside twice last season, unfortunately losing both games but with the win against Chester under our belts the team were feeling confident.
Our offence tried to get the ball moving but with Teesside’s GB talent Siobhan Henry out at CB, passing was always going to be a risky game. She snatched the ball out of the air and ran it the entire length of the field for a pick-six. Teesside’s relentless defence scored yet another pick-six with rookie Natalie Sleeman taking it all the way for the TD. Their athletic QB Emma Taylor ran in the extra point on a keep play bringing the game to 13-0.
Our offence, undeterred, started to pick up the pace. Each drive making forward progress. RB Jo Bennett took a battering marching us down the field. She finally managed to run it all the way for a beautiful toe-touch-TD before being sent on a flying lesson out the side of the end zone by the Teesside defence.
Unable to convert on the PAT but back in the game, LB Shannon Perry crashed through the line on a blitz for a safety bringing the game to 13-8. With time running out, we made our last attempt to make it to the end zone. However all our efforts fell just short with Teesside forcing Jo Bennett out of bounds at the one yard line on 4th down.
FT: Sandwell 8 – 13 Teesside
Next up for Sandwell…
Our conference this year is a competitive one, with all teams ending every game within one score for round one. We believed to have ended the day with all teams on level pegging but since BAFA have overturned our win against Chester due to the officiating crew’s error (result of the appeal pending…), this unfortunately now places us bottom of our conference. Whilst this is disappointing to the team, we are just concentrating on training and preparing for round two.
There were many positives to take away from the games and we’re excited to be hosting the next round of the Series at home which is a cross-conference round hosting all teams in our division. This tournament is sponsored by Atlas Copco Bolting Solutions and will be held at George Salter Academy, B70 9UW.
Round Two Fixtures:
Chester Romans vs Cardiff Valkyries
Sandwell Steelers vs Wembley Stallions
Teesside Steelers vs Portsmouth Dreadnoughts
Portsmouth Dreadnoughts vs Chester Romans
Cardiff Valkyries vs Sandwell Steelers
Wembley Stallions vs Teesside Steelers
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