‘It could not have been tougher’.
Those are the words of one offensive lineman who goes into the Christmas break on the back of three successive losses, two of whom can lay claim to being the country’s powerhouse programmes, while the third team are making waves in the Midland Athletic Conference.
The Staffordshire Stallions schedule before the festive break was not one to envy by any means. Away to the Derby Braves, Loughborough Aces and Birmingham Lions are daunting trips at any time of the year but all in the first half of the season and one after the other is some going.
Michael Gill, offensive lineman for the Stallions says, “The MAC is a very tough place to be at the moment with plenty of quality teams, it is probably the most competitive in the league”.
“With previous national champions, large universities and many players who play senior league for some of the best teams around, the rest of the conference face an uphill task to make the post season”.
Week one saw the Stallions faceoff against the Derby Braves in a night game that many predicted would be a close but high scoring encounter. Unfortunately it wasn’t close.
Derby’s offense is nothing spectacular but it is effective. They have a young American quarterback who can throw well but their main weapon is the run. They won’t blow you out of the water but they will make three to four yards at a time by running through the middle which will be enough to get the first down.
The game plan results in the opposing defence staying on the field for long periods of time an exhausting themselves while their own defence can rest.
Gill is a third year veteran and rates the Braves highly, “I’ve been playing for a while now and Derby is one of the most physical teams that I have come up against. They play hard and hit hard. I think they will give the top two a run for their money”.
On paper the second away game in a matter of weeks was a step up for Staffordshire but Loughborough Aces triple option offence posed less problems than expected and although the Aces took a 17-0 lead into the half, it was a positive performance for the Stallions who were unlucky to be that much behind.
The game plan was to stop the run to the outside and in the first half that worked resulting in two sacks and a fumble return for myself while the rest of the team also made plays, yet it wouldn’t be enough as Loughborough regrouped and came out firing ending any hope of a comeback with a touchdown on the first drive.
As with the Braves, Loughborough’s main strength is the run and they do it well. At quarterback they will need to improve a lot to make a serious challenge in the post season . . . should they get there.
With only a few days to recover from a demoralising defeat, the Stallions headed south to the home of the 2010/11 finalists, Birmingham Lions. When you’re involved in the MAC the first team on the fixture list you look out for are the Lions due to the legacy and history they are creating.
The game as a whole was no a contest as the Lions brought their ‘A-game’ to the table and blew the Stallions out of the water with a mixture of running and passing plays.
Staffordshire Stallions tight end, Lewis Bayley complimented the Lions on their preparation, “Birmingham has a massive roster but every player seems well drilled and they execute the plays technically very well”.
After facing all three teams, the general consensus around the camp is that the Birmingham Lions have the best chance of going all the way in the play-offs. They are a big outfit with the quality to dismantle teams.
Derby is a physical unit but probably do not have the players to reach the latter stages of the play-offs. Unfortunately for them, they lost under unusual circumstances at the weekend with their game against the Nottingham Outlaws being abandoned at the half because of a serious injury to a player. That loss opens up a potential spot in the plate for teams such as the Stallions who have favourable schedule after Christmas.
Loughborough have the pedigree, but do they have enough about them this time around? My guess would be no they don’t. The clash against Derby will decide who joins Birmingham in the post season.
You can guarantee that as soon as you finish debating with your friends who will top the midlands conference, the Northampton Nemesis will go and win another game.