by Harry McArthur
Derby Braves 40-37 Stirling Clansmen
Stirling Clansmen travelled south to face the Derby Braves in their opening match of the 2016/17 campaign, in what proved to be an early contender for game of the season.
An action-filled first quarter of the match ended level at 14-14. Stirling took the lead through a short 5-yard scramble from Garcia, before Derby quickly flipped the match on its head and took a 14-7 lead. However, a great kick return from Hopkinson set Stirling up with great field position, and shortly after Campbell punched in his first touchdown of the season with a short reception caught just inside the endzone.
Captain Kovacs then made a tremendous play, stripping the Braves QB of the ball and managing to intercept the ball before it hit the ground, which was the final play of the first quarter.
Keeping to the theme of the match, the second quarter was again closely contested, and the teams went into the half even at 20-20. The quarter again saw a touchdown for each team, Derby scoring on a fade after starting the drive from their own 15; however, their attempt at a two-point conversion was well defended by the Clansmen defence. Stirling responded before the half-time whistle with Campbell getting his second touchdown of the match, another reception for the running back. This time the PAT was blocked, which meant a tied game going into the half.
The game took a turn after the half, somehow becoming yet more crazy. Both teams came out on the field amped up from their coaches’ halftime talks and played some excellent football. The third quarter saw four lead changes in a match that ensured nobody was feeling at rest.
To start, Stirling converted a field goal, which was closely followed by a quick Derby touchdown to take the score to 26-23 in favour of the home-side. Then the play of the day saw debutant Nathaniel Prince score a wonderful kick return touchdown; some excellent blocking upfield and magnificent reading of the game from Prince saw the Clansmen retake the lead without the offence coming onto the field. After a converted PAT the score rested at 30-26 in favour of the Stirling outfit.
To close out the quarter, a very fortunate play went in favour of Derby. Following a Kovacs sack, Derby had the ball in their own half. The following play saw the QB throw the ball away to avoid getting sacked for the second consecutive play, and he somehow managed to connect with a receiver down the field, who done excellently to come down with the ball and punch it in for the touchdown. Derby then converted on a two point conversion, leaving the Clansmen down 34-30 heading into the final quarter.
The rollercoaster match continued to excite until the end, with both teams defending well to keep the game close. However, with less than two minutes left on the clock Stirling fumbled in their own territory and the Braves capitalised, scoring a touchdown on a run play as soon as their offence got on the field. It was now a two possession match with only one minute and forty seconds left. However, the word ‘quit’ is not in the Clansmen’s vocabulary and they fought on till the end.
They marched the ball fluidly down the field and managed to quickly punch in for a touchdown to make it a three point match with only 30 seconds left in the match. The touchdown was yet another receiving touchdown; this one caught by new recruit Mykel Nixon who caught the ball in the endzone for his first touchdown for the Clan.
The only option for the team now, being down with only seconds to go, was to onside kick. They recovered the onside and one of the tensest matches in recent years had taken another twist, as Stirling had the ball with a chance to win the ball game. However after a massive completion to wide receiver Klei, Stirling used their final timeout, with only 20 seconds left they potentially only had as much as three plays left.
A fantastic interception from the Braves free safety on the very next play disrupted any hope of a comeback though and the Clansmen were defeated. Derby took a knee on the final play of the game and recorded a vital win for the Braves.
Despite losing the Clansmen played great football on offense and defence. The man of the match went to Nathaniel Prince. He showed off his great pace, dominating on offence and special teams, he even scored on a kick return to top off his magnificent debut.
A tremendous spectacle to start the season saw magnificent plays from both teams that no spectator will forget anytime soon. The Clansmen face off against Loughborough next week at home in Stirling, where they will look to rally round and record their first victory of the season.