Federer vs Nadal, Ali vs Frazier, Woods vs Mickleson, Senna vs Prost
Two of the country’s powerhouse programs clash on Saturday 18th February, Birmingham, in what – not could, but will decide the eventual winner of the Midland Athletic Conference in the inaugural Football America UK Bowl.
Last year’s runners-up Birmingham Lions have strolled through the first half of the campaign going 5-0 and picking off the likes of NTU Renegades, Coventry Jets, Nottingham Outlaws and the Staffordshire Stallions while games against Lincoln Colonials and Derby Braves have fallen foul to the adverse weather.
Scoring a total of 208 points, offense has obviously been a breeze for the Lions even with the slightly odd situation they have at quarterback.
Since star quarterback Tristan Varney’s serious injury in the corresponding fixture last season, Birmingham has been rotating pocket passer Jonny Glover and the big arm scrambler Sope Dirisu. It may be normal policy for lesser teams to rotate quarterbacks as they try to find a winning combination but it is widely acknowledged that a stable team breeds confidence and positive results but Birmingham seem to have bucked the trend and credit to Head Coach Wayne Hill for recognising that.
While the offense has been racking up huge numbers, the defence has been labelled as one of the stingiest in the league conceding mere 14 points, coincidently coming against both Nottingham teams.
Running a 3-4 defensive scheme the Lions are geared up to stop the run but that will not stop the inevitable pass rush from their GB calibre linemen and linebackers.
The inevitable run that I speak of is one of the strongest in the entire league and with the ball under the arm of 2011 League MVP Adam Hope, Birmingham will have to dig deep in the trenches and be capable of keeping the outside contain as that is where Hope and co like to run.
Birmingham themselves have a GB running back and if they are to be successful on Saturday they cannot solely rely on the impressive passing game that has so far served them well because if they do, their defence will have a hell of a job keeping them in the game.
Trying to halt the Lions express is an equally dominant Loughborough defence who have conceded only six points more than their opposition. Loughborough have recorded emphatic wins over Nottingham Outlaws, Warwick Wolves, Staffordshire Stallions, Coventry Jets and the Derby Braves scoring 224 points in the process, more than Birmingham.
Blessed with two Tamworth Phoenix linebackers in Varney and Saari, the Aces have one of the hardest hitting defences in the country and with both sent on blitzes regularly, they have a history of creating turnovers, something that could be a game changer at the weekend.
On the other side of the ball Loughborough use a triple option offence which enables them to keep the defence occupied while quarterback Nick Jacquet who lines up in a pistol offence has the time to pick his pass and make the completion.
Having sacked him twice myself this season, I am looking forward to seeing how Jacquet copes with the pass rush that Birmingham will throw at him but if things do become a bit hectic he can always hand off to four year veteran Hope.
With this year’s game being sponsored and subsequently called the Football America UK Bowl it is ironic that we could have been talking about another bowl game, yes, the Varney Bowl.
With Tristan injured we have been robbed of a game that would have pitted a special quarterback versus his younger brother Jon Varney, a rising star on the Great Britain scene.
The match is scheduled to take place on a 3G pitch which Birmingham will be used to playing on but Loughborough I believe are yet to take to the surface this season. In a game as tight as this is anticipated to be , any advantage could be magnified and prove crucial come the final whistle.
Loughborough Head Coach Paul Sherratt has been kind enough to speak with FightForTheYard ahead of the big game.
With the weather being so bad, Loughborough were forced to postpone there varsity game with Leicester Longhorns further disrupting there preparation.
“Weather has certainly been a factor as it has for everyone, we lost a week of practice time plus a game. We always have some challenges after Christmas due to the University’s extended exam period. It has been a long time since our last game in December but our players have responded well. We’ve been focussed on getting ourselves ready to play rather than focussing too much on our opponent. Hopefully it won’t take us too long to get back into game mode”.
For Paul there is no better feeling than the build up to a big conference game, ” I talk to Wayne Hill (Birmingham Lions Head Coach), a lot about the pros and cons of a two-tier system but one of the consequences of the MAC in its current form is that you really can’t judge how good you are based on results against some of the teams in the lower half of the conference”.
“I think if you talked to anyone in the Lions or Aces programmes we would want to play games of this magnitude every week. There is a real buzz about the game and it makes it more exciting for everyone involved. I believe it will be a great game and hopefully both teams can go on to represent the MAC in the playoffs”.
When asked how he expected the game to pan out, Sherratt said; “I honestly don’t know. There are some great players on both sides and whoever makes the most big plays will win the game”.
He continued; “There are a lot of key match-ups all over the field so it should be a great one to watch. Recent encounters have been close, usually decided by a score or two with both sides trading touchdowns. I would expect it to be quite conservative to begin with and then gradually open up, special teams will be a factor for sure as it has been in previous games”.
Paul would also like to extend his gratitude to Football America, “I would like to thank Football America UK for sponsoring the game. Wayne, Dave Hagger and I have spoken about it at the AFCA convention on Texas over a beer; it’s great that it is now a reality. Football America has been really good to our programme and they help us out a lot”.
I am anticipating a very close yet high scoring encounter on Saturday with both sides impressing. Looking through the stats and history of this game their isn’t a great deal to choose from so I am going to go on my gut feeling.
Having played both these teams this season, I was slightly more impressed with the Lions and with the home advantage they just edge it for me.
Loughborough Aces 21 – 30 Birmingham Lions
FightForTheYard will be in attendance and have a full match report soon after. Follow for regular updates on the Official FightForTheYard Twitter page.