UEA Pirates American football team saw their record cut to 3-3 on Sunday 19 February after a 29-26 defeat to rivals Essex Blades in a superb game at Colney Lane. A stunning catch for a touchdown in the fourth quarter handed the away side the victory, after the Pirates had been up 26-14 at one stage.

The game did not start in the best fashion for the Pirates, as from the opening kick-off the Blades returner took the ball into the UEA end zone to give the away side the lead. After the kicker slotted home the extra point, the Blades were up 7-0 early in the first quarter, and the home side were clearly shaken by this early setback.

However, once their offence was on the field, the Pirates were able to get into a good rhythm thanks to their running-back Chris Carson. He punished a lax Essex defence on numerous occasions, and eventually made his way into the Blades end zone to get the Pirates on the scoreboard. Unfortunately, the extra point was blocked by an Essex defender, but UEA were back in the game, and behind 7-6.

Carson was continuing to run well, and with the Pirates defence finding their feet against the Blades offence, the game became one of attrition as both sides were forced to punt the ball away having not earned a first down. The first quarter ended as Carson earned the home side a first down, with the score still at 7-6 in favour of Essex.

After an Essex penalty for a personal foul, the Pirates gained another first down right at the start of the second quarter, and they suddenly found more offensive momentum thanks to the running of Carson and some superb work between quarterback Mark Rivett and his receivers. Eventually, with UEA deep in the Essex red zone, Carson found some space and ran the ball home for his second touchdown of the afternoon, and with the two point conversion also earned, the Pirates were now up 14-7.

Immediately, the Blades’ offence was back on the field, but they were stopped instantly thanks to a great interception by line backer Joe Boon. Unfortunately, the Pirates could not take advantage of this turnover, and were forced to punt. However, their defence was really taking control now, and they gained yet another interception through defensive back Dan Stern. However, defence was clearly dominating as the game moved towards the two minute warning at the end of the half.

As the half began to draw to a close, Carson was able to find some space and rushed in for his third touchdown of the half, giving UEA a 20-7 lead after the extra point was blocked. The Blades could not find a response to this latest score and the Pirates went into the half-time break with a healthy lead of 20-7, and were confident of holding on for another victory over their closest rivals.

The second half began with the Pirates on the offensive side of the ball, but it was fumbled almost immediately and returned to the Blades. Their offence was very effective in moving forward, and it was of little surprise when they scored a rushing touchdown of their own, cutting the deficit to 20-14 in favour of UEA.

This gave the home side renewed urgency and intensity, and their offence was able to earn some consecutive first downs, and could have had a touchdown through running back Joe van der Merwe, but he was stopped just short. However, on the next play, quarterback Matt Rivett rolled out to his left, and rushed in for a score of his own, making the score 26-14. The third quarter ended soon afterwards, with the Pirates well on top, and confident of finishing the game well. However, the fourth quarter started badly for the Pirates, as after the Blades moved into their red-zone, they scored another rushing touchdown. With the try for an extra two points being converted, the score was now 26-22 in favour of UEA, with plenty of time still left in the game.

The next few minutes saw both defences hold firm in the face of mounting offensive pressure from both sides, and at the two-minute warning, UEA had the ball, and were still in the lead. However, on a third down for UEA, the ball was fumbled and recovered by the Blades, to the delight of the away side’s players. They managed to move the ball forward, but time was ticking down and with just over a minute left in the game their quarterback tried an ambitious pass from about 30 yards out.

The ball went up, towards the end zone and it was caught brilliantly by an Essex receiver. Amid scenes of wild jubilation, the away side had the lead for the first time since the first quarter. The Blades’ kicker slotted home the extra point, making the score 29-26 to the away side, with the pressure back on the Pirates’ offence to make their possession count.

Unfortunately, the Pirates’ offence could not make much headway, and with just two seconds left on the clock, they were on their own 35 yard line and forced to throw an ambitious Hail Mary play. The pass was incomplete, and to the delight of their players, the Blades had managed to hang on for a 29-26 win that had looked improbable at half-time.

It was a stunning game and UEA would have considered themselves unlucky to come away with a loss. However, despite their best efforts, they came up just short, and will now be hoping to avenge this defeat at Derby Day in March.