The Sapphire Series comes to a climax this coming weekend with its fourth and final round. Through the first three rounds, in which each team has played six games, it is noticeable that the teams with fewer players fare less well than teams that can put two different sets of offense and defense players onto the field. It says a lot about the character of the teams with smaller squads that they continue to compete energetically despite the odds stacked against them.
Two teams remain unbeaten. In Division One South, the power house that is the Birmingham Lions has overwhelmed their opponents accumulating 228 points while conceding just 22 in their six victories. The Lions ooze quality as they head to Leeds for Division One Finals Day seeking their fourth straight British title.
In Division One North, the Leeds Carnegie Chargers head the standings with four wins. Their two defeats coming in round two’s the inter-conference games against Birmingham and Hertfordshire. The other unbeaten team in the Series is the Division Two North Teesside Steelers who have only allowed two teams to score against them with a 162-18 points total and will be determined to seal their elevation to the higher division.
The most intriguing game of the round is the Division Two South and East battle between the Wembley Stallions and the Portsmouth Dreadnoughts. When these two teams played each other in rounds one and two, they shared the spoils with each having a close fought victory, so who will triumph and gain promotion?
The teams met in the first game of the season in their division. On the Dreadnoughts second snap they conceded a safety. Despite this nervous start, which would have knocked most teams back, they held it together and dominated with their passing game scoring a touchdown in each half for the 13-2 win. Round two saw both these teams play their part in making the game the outstanding contest of the South and East Series – so far.
An early Dreadnoughts interception saw them take the lead through a touchdown catch from Lucy Moss, but then another two high snaps from Portsmouth saw two safeties and four points conceded. The Stallions began to burst into life enabling them to take a brief lead with Lina Malden’s touchdown reception before a touchdown completion by Amber Perry for the persistent Dreadnoughts put them back in front. The Stallions refuse to lie down and when quarterback Emma Arnold recovered a fumble, her handoff to Chloe Flowers set the runner on her way for a score that gave Wembley a 16-12 halftime lead.
Taking advantage of a fumble on Portsmouth’s first series of the second half, the Stallions increased their advantage with rookie Tamara Croucher’s touchdown catch and added a point-after that proved crucial at the end. Following a Stallions safety that saw their lead reduced by two points, the initiative swung to Portsmouth. In a frantic finish, the Dreadnoughts returned to their effective ground game for as Marie Leather ran in a score and with a successful two-point after the Dreadnought were within a point of taking the victory. Despite a fumble, the Stallions defense kept the Dreadnoughts at bay and Wembley took a 23-22 victory.
The final game between these two teams, who have controlled the South and East division, should be a cracker. Promotion to division one beckons and if the Dreadnoughts defense can continue the commanding performance they executed against Oxford in round 3, it should give them the edge. The Stallions need to play error free football and they could sink the Dreadnoughts delight.
Guest blogger Gordon Dedman is a Pittsburgh sports fanatic and Steelers history researcher. You can follow Gordon at @SteelUK.