The UEA Pirates lost to Brighton on Sunday having won two games, and lost the same prior to the winter break. With the Pirates now sitting at third place in the South East 1A division, behind the Brighton Tsunami and the Sussex Saxons, one may feel that it is time to discount UEA. However, this would be foolish, as there is still reason for great optimism.
The Pirates underwent big alterations in the offseason, with various coaching changes taking place, including Nathan Evans replacing previous head coach Andy Starling. This marked a move from the defensive- minded Starling to the offensive-minded Evans. In addition, attacking weapon Henry Schön succeeded dominant defensive tackle James “Badman” Sabadaman as team captain. Despite the transition, the Pirates surged win their first two games of the season.
Their first victory, 27-12 away to Cambridge, was mightily impressive. This was only the fourth time the Pirates have beaten the Pythons, with the two teams clashing a total of 17 times since 1991. Rookie running-back Lewis Reekie enjoyed took advantage of gaps in the oppositions defence to hit on his debut thanks to the offensive line, powering through tacklers at the second level to rush for 141 yards off of 20 touches, scoring two touchdowns in the process. Brad Walsh came in at tailback to drain the clock, and he rushed for 77 yards off of nine attempts; 8.5 average yards per carry. On the other side of the football, the defence forced two turnovers, and their success at containing the Pythons’ tricky offence led to Cambridge shifting to a more conventional attack in their next game.
Throughout the season, rookies have started in vital areas. The defensive line has competed well with more experienced offensive lines, showing great discipline and strength, despite it featuring a large number of rookies. There is excellent depth on the line equating to the ability to rotate bodies in and out. This is vital for maintaining an effective run-stuffing ability and a fresh pass-rush.
The Pirates second win, a scrappier affair at home to the Kent Falcons, demonstrated yet more of the team’s qualities. The Pirates overcame struggles on offence and defence, and the resilience displayed in the victory demonstrated the mental toughness that the team possesses.
Even in their first loss, 10-6 to the Brighton Tsunami, the Pirates’ performance showcased positives. The defence shutout the Tsunami’s offence, playing tough, disciplined football to stop Brighton’s physical running game. The Pirates’ offence also came very close to a comeback, with quarterback Francis Hughes recovering brilliantly from an earlier pick six to throw an on-the-run touchdown to wingback Henry Schön. The pass was a fantastic play-call, with the Pirates having previously run a misdirection sweep from their two wingback, one tailback formation. For the touchdown, Schön, lined up at left wingback, ran across the middle of the field as Hughes faked a handoff first to tailback Bradley Walsh and then a sweep to right wingback Ross Aveyard. With the defence stepping up anticipating a run, Hughes ran the bootleg to perfection rolling out towards his right and skilfully throwing for the wide- open Schön to run into the end zone.
The Pirates’ second defeat of the season, where they fell 36-6 to the Sussex Saxons, was a tough beating for the team to take. Yet it was not through lack of effort. The Saxons were simply bigger than the Pirates, but UEA will hope that through more practice and work they can turn this result around. In fairness to the Pirates, the game was closer than the score line appears. However, uncharacteristically big plays were given up by the often-stingy defence and the offence struggled to move the ball. One bright spot from the game was rookie wide-receiver Laurie Fain, who whilst receiving his first snaps adjusted brilliantly to a tipped pass, registering his first ever catch and potentially preventing an interception.
In spite of finishing with a loss, after fine- tuning scheme on offence and on defence, and putting in hard work in the gym and on the practice field, the Pirates look set to revert to their earlier winning ways. Furthermore, rookies will feel more settled in their role within the team, and more will hope to shine on gameday.