The Valkyries returned to action for round 3 of Sapphire. Having suffered several injuries, this was to be the first action since the 7th December, having been forced to miss out round 2.
Despite several key injuries remaining, the squad was fortunate to welcome back a couple of key players to the squad who were hungry to get back out onto the field
Cardiff v Cheshire
The first game saw the Valkyries pitted against the ever strong Cheshire Bears. Right from the start the Bears proved why they are the force to beat in the division establishing their run game behind a great performance from their O-line. With strong blustery conditions present all day, the game turned into one that saw the run being the primary play call on both sides.
Despite the early onslaught in the first half the Valkyries defence began to rally in the second and create some stops against the formidable Bear’s run game – really epitomising the never say die attitude that the team has.
On Offence, Ruth Lewis, taking her first snaps at QB began to settle into the game and formed a great 1-2 threat with running back Laura Johnson. With holes beginning to open on both sides as tiredness set in, Laura managed to break a couple of tackles, reverse direction across the field and take it almost the full length of the field for the score in an amazing solo effort. As the game went on, and with the wind now behind them, the Valkyries tried to open up the game with more of passing threat. After a few near misses Ruth hit Katherine Fretwell, one of the players coming back form injury on a deep ball over the top of the defence with Katherine doing the rest for the long TD play.
Overall the game finished 54-12 to the Bears, who were deserved winners. However, the manner of the performance in the second half provided some confidence going into the second game of the day.
Cardiff v Leicester
After a short turnaround the Valkyries were back out on the field, this time facing the hosts Leicester. With confidence on the rise, dancing on the sideline and a new defence ready to be unveiled the team were in high spirits.
With the wind still posing a factor, but dropping for periods, there was scope for the Valkyries to try to continue to open up the playbook and look to be more balanced in attack. With Ruth continuing to gain confidence in calling plays from the QB position and some excellent play from the back-up O-line of Katie Rappell and Jennifer Davies, who were forced into action for the day following injuries, the options began to open to attack a very spirited Leicester defence.
Overall the game was one of near stalemate. While the Valkyries offence found ways to move the ball, the Leicester defence continued to make critical stops at key times to stem the drives. On the other side, the Valkyries defence played possibly its best game to date and managed to shut down what was a very strong running attack of Leicester, giving no room to operate.
Despite rotating players into the defence in order to keep bringing in fresh legs, they never let up. Led by outstanding play from veteran linebacker Zoe John and ably supported by Free Safety Zoe Wilder and Corner Sara Pratt, they kept turning back the Leicester Offence.
Finally the deadlock was broken by a piece of individual brilliance from Ruth Lewis. Despite a pass play being called, Ruth read the situation, tucked it and took off for a full length of the field score. Despite not converting the extra point, this put the Valkyires in front 6-0.
The game continued to go back and forth for the rest of the game. Unfortunately, a fumble on the Valkyries 5 yard line, recovered by Leicester in the final minutes meant a high drama finish to what had been an enthralling game. With 3 consecutive stops it all came down to the final play from just a few inches out. Unfortunately the power of the Leicester run game saw them push over the line for the tying score. Another fantastic tackle at the goal line denied them the winning extra point and ensuring that the game finished a draw 6-6
Despite the end, it was great to see the performances from both sides of the ball. The games really showed the hard work that the players had put in and with many playing out of their usual position there was great experience to be had for all. They quite rightly finished extremely pleased of themselves and their performances and left the coaches proud.
It was hard for coaches to select MVPs as there were lots of great performances. However, following much debate the following were selected.
Defensive – Zoe Wilder
Had one of her best performances in her Free Safety role. Always up looking to get involved and make tackles, she was a constant disruption on the day and certainly relished her amended role against Leicester
Offensive – The O-Line
With veteran Mandy anchoring a line consisting of not only 2 rookies, but rookies that were recently playing other positions they not only held up well against a powerful Cheshire D-Line but started to really create time and space for both Ruth and Laura in the backfield. It was a great performance and really set the tone for what the offence was able to do on the day
Overall – Sara Pratt & Ruth Lewis
This was the hardest one to give. When looking at overall MVP coaches look for a player that had a profound impact upon the outcome of the game. In both Sara and Ruth there were two players that influenced the game both on Offence and Defence.
Despite playing Corner, Sara was asked to play a heavy role in the defence of the run game and never backed down form any tackle. She not only set the edge brilliantly on the day and let the help get there but also made the tackles when they were needed. Not only that but she made several long chase downs that saved scores – showing immense effort and hustle to be involved in every play. Alongside this Sara played WR and made some critical blocks out on the edge to allow runners to get extra yardage.
On the offence, Ruth showed a high level of poise and composure to run the offence in her first games at QB. Despite the nerves to start, she quickly settled into the game and began to read the defence in front of her, making critical decisions on plays to take advantage of what the defence gave her. A sign of her growing confidence was her ability to take on more of the play calling through the games or to recognise what needed to be done. The level of play, and the confidence she gave to the rest of the team, was one of the fundamental reasons for the success of the offence on the day.
The next round will be held in Cardiff House of Sport on February 29th! See you there!
With thanks to ‘Photos by Furfie’ (www.photosbyfurfie.com) and Peth (@pethsphotography) for the incredible shots!