The Cardiff Cobras opened their 2015/2016 campaign against the UWE Bullets last weekend in a matchup that, on paper, had the makings of a great contest. Cardiff, who were playing their 250th competitive fixture, have established themselves as contenders in the Western 1A division after a solid seven wins and one loss in the league last year plus a 19-17 victory over the divisional champions Swansea Titans at their Varsity meeting.
The Bullets are the traditional powerhouse of the division and overhauled their coaching department almost in its entirety this off-season, leading to the emergence of arguably one of the best coaching staffs in the country. The early stages of the match saw both teams grappling for a foothold in the game. Cardiff dominated the field position battle spending much of their time in Bullets’ territory, but high winds and rain hampered their efforts to pass the ball effectively.
It was left to workhorse running back Ronan Patterson to shoulder the load for the Cardiff offense. Patterson often found holes to squeeze through for solid yardage to keep Cardiff moving down the field. However, the Bullets’ defense held firm when it counted to keep Cardiff out of the endzone. On the other side of the ball, the Cardiff defense had UWE’s number. Playing physically and aggressively throughout the early sparring saw the Bullets having to punt on numerous occasions. Great defensive line play allowed the linebackers to roam and stuff the UWE attack repeatedly.
With the weather conditions also hampering UWE’s attempts to pass the ball, the Cobras could focus almost solely on stopping the run game. At the halftime interval, the score was 0-0, with both teams not quite clicking on offense. Moving into the 3rd quarter, Cardiff began to gather some momentum. A punt from James Lloyd pinned UWE inside their own ten yard line, and a fantastic series from the defense meant UWE were punting the ball back to Cardiff from their own end zone, with the wind going against them. The poor punt gave Cardiff the ball at the UWE 20 yard line and after two good run plays, the Cobras were knocking on the door.
With the ball five yards out, Ben Mason and Dan Stewart sealed off the UWE defenders on the left edge of the line allowing Patterson to cross the line for the game’s first score after breaking a tackle in the backfield. Cardiff 6-0 UWE. After more stellar work from the defense, UWE were forced to give the ball back to the Cobras who added a field goal on their next possession from 30 yards out to make the contest a two possession game.
The Cobras then shifted their mindset to one of clock management to control the game and allow UWE as little time as possible to try and mount a comeback. Midway through the 4th quarter, Patterson and fellow running back Rhys Romo continued to move the chains and quarterback Chris Brinkworth broke the tackles of four UWE players on a 35 yard run, only being denied a score by the last defender. It was no matter though, as later in the same drive he found wide receiver Scott Higgins for the touchdown, marking Higgins’ first points in the red and black.
With the lead extended to 16-0, the game was all but out of reach for the Bullets as the clock ticked down. Cardiff’s win was sealed with an interception from Canadian linebacker Logan Evans on his own one yard line followed by a 97 yard return to the UWE two yard line, falling just short of the goaline. The clock expired on the next play and the Cobras had seen off one of their toughest opponents for the year in convincing fashion, recording their first shutout victory in almost two years against a highly touted Bullets team.