Sub-editor Tom Parry-Jones reports on a victorious start to the season for the Cardiff Cobras as they resist a second-half fight-back from the Exeter Demons.
The Cardiff Cobras made a winning, albeit belated, start to the 2012/13 season last Sunday, November 11th, beating the Exeter Demons 20–15. Running back Ayo Akintunde and rookie quarterback John Canario ran for a touchdown each, while safety Robin Ford returned an intercepted pass 80 yards for a touchdown to maintain the Cobras’ five-year unbeaten run at ‘Fortress Llanrumney’.
The fixture marked the entry of American football into the BUCS programme, following several years of attempting to integrate the British Universities American Football League (BUAFL) into the national university sport calendar.
Following the postponement of the team’s scheduled opening fixture against the Worcester Royals, and the Bath Killer Bees, the UWE Bullets and the Plymouth Blitz already having recorded wins, the team started the game already behind in the race to the South Western Atlantic Conference title.
With the game being played on Remembrance Sunday, it was particularly poignant that memories of last year’s agonising, last-minute 27–26 defeat to Exeter were strong in the minds of the team’s veterans, who were keen to avoid a repeat of that disappointment.
Kick-off was immediately preceded by an immaculately observed minute’s silence to commemorate the anniversary of the end of the First World War, but the first half that followed resembled a massacre more than actual warfare.
Cardiff immediately established their run game, with only minor handling errors preventing them from ending either of their first two drives with points on the board. Nevertheless, a sack by rookie defensive end Vladislav Reznik set the Cobras up with good field position for the opening drive of the second quarter.
It took the Cobras just five plays to get the ball into the end zone after the change of ends, with passes of 26 yards and 9 yards respectively from Canario to wide receiver Stefan Pollitt setting up a 1-yard touchdown run for Akintunde. However, Pollitt was unable to get sufficient elevation on his extra point attempt and it was blocked to leave the score at 6–0.
Exeter’s next drive saw them come as close to entering Cardiff territory as they would come for the entire half, but a forced fumble – recovered by linebacker Ryan Davies – gave Cardiff the ball. It took the Cobras just eight plays, aided by a 15-yard pass interference penalty, to get the ball into the end zone, the touchdown scored by Canario on a one-yard run. Pollitt’s extra point attempt was again blocked, but Cardiff nevertheless took a 12–0 lead into the half-time break.
Exeter did not pick up a first down for the entirety of the first half, and their play was characterised by a series of inaccurate snaps from their center, some of which went high over the quarterback’s head. However, they turned things around for the start of the second half, running for three first downs on a nine-play touchdown drive that was capped by a 27-yard run. In an attempt to reduce the deficit further, the Demons went for a two-point conversion, which they ran in to make the score 12–8 to Cardiff.
It almost went from bad to worse for the Cobras as they went three-and-out on their next possession, Exeter returning the ensuing punt to the Cardiff 21-yard line. On 2nd-and-12 from the Cardiff 12, however, safety Robin Ford made a great play to anticipate the Exeter quarterback’s pass, intercept the ball and return it for an 80-yard touchdown. Exeter’s first score was completely cancelled out when Akintunde broke three tackles to add two points to the touchdown and make the score 20–8 to the home side.
As the game entered the fourth quarter, Exeter knew that they needed a touchdown to put themselves within a score of Cardiff and a chance of coming away with a win. Faced with 4th-and-8 at the Cardiff 11, they attempted to run the ball the necessary yards for a new set of downs, but the Cobras’ defence kept them out and the ball was turned over on downs.
The ball changed hands a couple of times before Exeter scored the necessary touchdown, but by that point, the game was into its final two minutes. They attempted an onside kick in order to take possession going into the last 90 seconds, but the ball illegally went out of bounds, and Cardiff took possession in Exeter territory before running down the clock to take their first victory of the season.
The Cobras’ next fixture is on Sunday, November 18th away to the traditionally tough Bristol Barracuda. Week 4 sees the team’s first bye week, although this will likely provide the date for the rearranged fixture at home to the Worcester Royals, and on December 2nd, Cardiff will host the UWE Bullets, another team that could conceivably be the first to win at Llanrumney since the 2007/08 season.