JP Casey reviews UCL Emperors debut game against Southampton
Months after stumbling onto the university American football scene, the UCL Emperors secured a third-place finish at the national flag football championship by being one of only three universities to send a squad. Yet they held their own against an established Southampton Stags team on Sunday. With the offense scoring three rushing touchdowns, and the defense forcing turnovers, the Emperors are building a solid base for upcoming games against the London Hornets, and rivalry matches against King’s and Imperial.
The scrimmage was a mixture of plays run from the 50-yard line and a full four-down drive starting from midfield. Each offense was given six free plays before the proper drive started, and the UCL offense was explosive on these plays. Quarterback Hugo Wigginton ran for a touchdown, displaying a worrying lack of interest in both securely holding the ball, and his own personal safety.
The team also made a number of impressive catches. Using a pistol formation, the Emperors ran a fast-paced offense that drew in linebackers and opened up space over the middle of the field for deep passes. Wide receivers Zachary Gain, Thilo Deller, and the mysterious Tat all found pockets of space between the numbers. Deller hauled in a pass for the team’s only aerial touchdown, although this was one of the six “dead” plays.
The Emperors’ rushing attack was equally potent, with the team piling up over a hundred yards and three touchdowns on the ground. The deceptive ground assault used a variety of sweeps from both wide and slot receivers to keep the Stags defense off-balance. Captain Charles Katz-Summercorn and Wilfrid Pledger both scored on sweeps from the wide receiver positions and leading tailback Fred Wigmore ended the day with six carries for 43 yards and a touchdown.
On defense, the Emperors initially struggled. Their zone defense left gaps in coverage that the Stags’ largely vertical offensive playbook exploited. With safety Barnaby Brien injured, and forced to co-ordinate from the sidelines wearing a small woolly hat, the defensive backfield’s inexperience showed as passes sailed into pockets of space along the sidelines.
The Emperors’ run defense was very stout, however, with Osiegbu, James Claxton, Jack Shields and Alex Kane stifling the Stags’ ground game. Head coach Nik Maxey stressed the importance of getting eleven helmets to the ball on every play, and both the defensive line and linebackers brought down the Stags runners in bunches. The defensive line forced and recovered a fumble, and Mesbah Al Masri secured a takeaway.
In the competitive plays, the Emperors held their own, tying Southampton 3-3 in terms of touchdowns; there is great hope that the team can continue to develop in next weekend’s game against the Hornets. While the line-backing corps is depleted, and my own status remains up in the air as I really can’t delay yet another essay for the sake of American football, the team are focused and hungry for more, with their ears finally wet in a full-contact game.
All photos: Tim Cobb for UCLU American Football Society