GAME 1: LEICESTER FALCONS
The first game of the day welcomed the Leicester Falcons to the fantastic facilities at the House of Sport. The last time the two teams faced each other in the series, defence had been dominant on both sides resulting is a nail biting finish. With both teams having more time to prepare for the matchup the question was whether the offences could match the defensive aggression.
For the Valkyries, despite losing the skills of last round’s overall MVP Sara Pratt due to injury, this round we saw the return of last season’s defensive MVP and line-backer Lauren Oldacre who immediately picked up where she had left off before. With both teams hungry for the win, it was again the defences that started strongest. The Valkyries shutting down the Falcons on the first possession while the Falcons’ heavy pressure forced a safety on the Valkyries’ first possession.
Undeterred, the Valkyries defence led by the line-backer unit of Lauren, Zoë Wilder, and Zoe John continued to put the pressure on the Falcons, forcing sacks, fumbles, and limiting their strong run game. When the Falcons were forced to pass, corners Lois and Ruth were in position to nullify the threat along with Lauren who dropped back into coverage to make an interception. The pressure from all defensive personnel was evident all game, never allowing the Falcon offence time to get established and it was great to see rookies Maria Cook and Hayley Dobbs getting plenty of valuable game time.
For the Valkyrie offense, they began to feed off the energy that the defence was bringing. Patience was the key here. With the defence ensuring that the Falcons were kept out of the endzone, the offence were able to adapt the game plan to target the weaknesses of the opposition. With the Falcons needing to account for the ever-present threat of receiver Ruth Lewis, the Offensive Line began to create lanes for the strong running back trio of QB Katherine and Running backs Laura and Zoë Wilder.
The breakthrough came on a piece of individual brilliance from RB Laura. Taking the run to the left she was swarmed by Falcon defenders and it looked like it was going to be another safety for the Falcons. However, breaking free of the would-be tackler she reversed direction and came all the way back across the field before turning it up the sideline for a full length of the field score to put the Valkyries up.
With the offence full of confidence and the defence continuing to put the pressure on, the interception by Lauren gave the ball back to the Valkyries in touching distance of the endzone. After a few strong runs, QB Katherine powered over the line to take the score at half time to 12-2
The second half was a carbon copy of the first. The Valkyrie’s defence continuing to exert pressure and deny the Falcon running game any time or space, while the offence continued to run the ball effectively. A Falcon fumble again gave the Valkyries the ball close to the endzone with the same result as before, with Katherine pushing through Falcon defenders to cross the line. A new formation saw LB Zoe John come on at wingback to lead the blocking for the extra point that saw Laura take the snap as QB and run in untouched.
With the Falcons needing to move the ball quickly and turning to the pass, Ruth Lewis came up with a big interception to again give the Valkyries great field position. With Ruth now showing the Falcons the versatility of the Valkyrie’s backfield by moving to QB herself, she called her own number and, with great blocking on the edge, forced her way into the endzone for another score.
The celebrations began when the final whistle sounded – A first win for the Valkyries and on home ground!
Cardiff: 25 – Leicester: 2
GAME 2: CHESHIRE BEARS
Unfortunately for Leicester, who lost several of their team during our game, they withdrew from their game against the Cheshire Bears, which gave the Valkyries a quick turn-around to get ready to face the Bears.
Injuries within the Valkyries meant that we started the game without standout QB Katherine, with Ruth taking her place at QB. Three plays into the game and Laura Johnson was unfortunately injured requiring medical treatment. A little while later and Ruth was also forced from the game after suffering an ankle injury after a hit from the Bear’s defensive line.
However, despite losing three key players on offence, the heart of the Valkyries’ efforts shone through. With Zoe Wilder now stepping as the fourth string QB, players from defence were asked to come across and fill in the spots required. With corners and line backers playing at receiver as well as line backers and defensive line filling in at wingbacks it meant that most played the full game going both ways. With the classroom work really being tested on the field the newly formed offence began to gain some success against the strong Cheshire defence. Some good runs got chunks of yards and it was great to see corner Lois hauling in the pass from Zoe to help move the ball. However, despite the efforts, the Cheshire defence overall proved too strong and ultimately snuffed out the attacks
On the defensive side of the ball, there were hard hits and lots of energy from the Valkyries, as well as an interception by Zoe John. Though the tackles came in thick and fast, the Bears’ offense kept driving and driving. With fresh legs and an incredibly strong offensive line, the Bears gradually began to pull away as the gaps in the defence began to open.
Play after play the Valkyries fought, and although the end score giving a loss of 37-0 to the Bears, the coaches couldn’t be any prouder of the team. Head coach Simon Browning comments:
“As the dust settles on yesterday and the end of the Sapphire season for us it is still hard to put into words how proud I am of the team and my fellow coaches.
I have been around the sport for many years. I have been on teams that been facing large deficits and watched them quit, or point fingers. I have never seen that with this group. As I looked onto the field with a few minutes to go I saw my corner at receiver, my Will backer at slot receiver, my Mike backer at Wingback and my RB/FS operating as the 4th string QB. But what made the moment special was that I watched my 4th string QB lead a huddle with more defensive players in it than offensive, call her own plays and have success. Everyone was working together. There was no quit. There was no finger pointing. And as I turned back to the side line I saw a rookie playing in her first ever games. She had a huge smile on her face and said “this is awesome”.”
Evident through the round reviews, there are several names mentioned which indicate how essential they were to the game. These player MVPs are well deserved, congratulations!
Defensive: Lauren Oldacre
Offensive: Katherine Fretwell
Overall: Zoë Wilder
We hope all injured players make a speedy recovery. With thanks to Leicester and Cheshire for an incredible season, we wish the teams luck in their fight in the finals on March 14th!
It is with our continued thanks that we mention LexisNexis® Risk Solutions who sponsored this event. This tournament would not have been possible with their sponsorship, let alone in the high standard of facilities at House of Sport.