American Football: Varsity Victory for Pythons

The Cambridge Pythons American Football team won their hotly contested Varsity match against the Oxford Lancers. JAASON GEERTS reports.

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The simple beauty of Varsity matches is that on any given day, either team can win. This uncertainty makes it always a mistake to underestimate an Oxbridge opponent.

Many Cambridge Pythons American football players reminded their teammates of this as they prepared for their Varsity showdown against the Oxford Lancers on May 11 on enemy soil.

Cambridge had enjoyed a successful season, advancing to the Challenge Plate quarter-final (losing to the eventual champion) and climbing as high as 12th in the UK national rankings of 60 university teams. Oxford’s regular season record was dismal; and yet, memories of last year’s Varsity draw kept any expectations of an easy Cambridge victory well in check.

Cambridge and Oxford line up before the match

Cambridge and Oxford line up before the match

Cambridge won the coin toss and elected to kick. The Oxford returner fumbled a deep kick by Dr. Matthew Hawkins and recovered for no gain. The first quarter ended devoid of scoring as both offences battled rough winds without any sustained success.

The second quarter opened with an errant snap on an Oxford punt, allowing Cambridge to take over on the Oxford 11 yard line. On the third play of the drive, quarterback Joe Yarwood followed excellent blocks to glide into the endzone for a 5-yard touchdown.  The two-point conversion was unsuccessful, leaving Cambridge ahead 6–0.

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Cambridge opened up a second quarter 6-0 lead.

Cambridge pressed on, with a 14-play drive led by Northern runnin’ back Jonty Richardson that brought the Pythons into the red zone. A huge third down sack forced Cambridge back to the 21 yard line and the 31-yard field goal attempt by Jack Tavener was blown wide.

Cambridge's explosive running back Jack Tavener

Cambridge’s explosive running back Jack Tavener

Desperate to equalise, Oxford showed they still had plenty of weapons in their arsenal. A trio of running backs marched up the field with runs of 23, 14, and 16-yards before their eventual 3-yard touchdown. Cambridge safety Richard Lismore-John and Maloney made several impressive tackles on the drive. The Oxford PAT was successful, putting them up 7–6 at halftime.

The momentum was on Oxford’s side as the third quarter began and after an opening three and out drive by Cambridge, Oxford penetrated the Pythons’ defence for a second time with a massive 45-yard touchdown by their former national champion running back.  Oxford missed the PAT, resulting in a 13–6 Lancer lead.

History was in sudden danger of repeating itself and every Python player sensed it.

The Python's fancy kit

The Pythons’ fancy helmets

But the men in light blue had saved their fiercest fight for last, and the Cambridge offence took control of the game led primarily by their running attack of Conor ‘Moose’ Rooney, Jack Tavener, and Sebastian Funk.

Reacting to a miscue by the Oxford cornerback, Yarwood sailed a pass to Steve Kinnersley who made a beautiful over the shoulder catch for an 11-yard touchdown.  Yarwood again found the endzone on the two point conversion to put Cambridge ahead 14–13.

Back-to-back failed drives exhausted the third quarter.

After a tandem of lacklustre drives in the fourth quarter, Cambridge took over on their own 17-yard line with time winding down in the game. Solid blocking by Eric Chapman and the rest of the offensive line and good runs by Rooney, Funk, and Tavener wore the Lancers defence down and, more importantly, ate time off the clock.

Pushing for an insurance score, quarterback Joe Yarwood found Jaason Geerts in triple coverage for a 29-yard gain, which brought the Pythons to the Oxford 2-yard line.

Yarwood called his own number and plowed forward on a QB sneak to advance the Cambridge lead to 20–13.

Quarter Back Joe Yardwood's winning touchdown

Quarter Back Joe Yardwood’s winning touchdown

Victory at hand, Yarwood took a knee to finish off the unforgiving clock. Final score, Cambridge Pythons 20-13 Oxford Lancers.

Excellent performances were had by offensive MVP Jack Tavener with 135 yards rushing, Joe Yarwood with 2 rushing touchdowns and one passing TD, Thomas Piachaud, Eric Chapman and the offensive line, and linebacker Kevin Maloney with dozens of tackles on the day.

Pythons captain Thomas Piachaud said after the game, “We started off complacent and you could tell Oxford really wanted the win.  We really turned it on in the second half though and earned the victory.”

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“We really turned it on in the second half though and earned the victory”

The Pythons would like to thank their coaches Julian, Lennie, Steve, Martin, Robert Guy, Paul Steers, Roope, Jat, and all the fans who made this season such a success. Credit is also due to Oxford for being excellent hosts and gentlemen following the match.

In Varsity matches anything can happen, but this year it was Cambridge who stormed their way back to capture the title and return home champions.