SEASON REVIEW: REBUILDING YEAR FOR ROOKIE ROSTER

March 12, 2018

With key players graduating and a reshuffle of the 2A South West division, the Bristol Barracuda American Football Team were set for a difficult year. Having ended last season with a 4-2 record, losing a tight game against Brunel in the playoffs, the 2018 season was sure to be a test with a roster populated predominantly by rookies.


Bristol faced a difficult start to the season, going up against two big names in the division, the Oxford Brookes Panthers and the Gloucestershire Gladiators.   

With no veteran quarterback to lead the team, former Cuda wide receiver Jim Powell-Cullingford stepped into the role and impressed, scoring a rushing touchdown on his first drive of the year. Unfortunately from that point on the offense stagnated and while the Cuda defense showed it’s notorious resilience from the previous year, two big-yardage plays gave Oxford Brookes a 13-7 victory.


Bristol then travelled to Gloucestershire to face what would undoubtedly be its toughest test in the league calendar. While an interception and a fumble returned for a touchdown by Bristol’s Tom Grant gave the team hope, Gloucestershire marched down the field with relative ease, putting up multiple scores from their running back and highly touted place-kicker. With no experience in the backfield, Bristol’s rookie running back duo of Hugh Parker and George Barnes had a tough time against a stubborn Gloucestershire defensive line. Bristol fell to its second loss of the season, 7-33.


Determined not to fall to 0-3, Bristol visited the Bournemouth Bobcats and showed an impetus that had been lacking in the first two matches. Despite giving up a touchdown early in the game, quarterback Powell-Cullingford drove the Bristol offense down the field, throwing touchdowns to rookie receivers Jonah Edmonds and James Cook as well as one to second year full back Rory Macnair to close out the game. Powell-Cullingford put on an outstanding performance, throwing for 152 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. Bristol finally put a dash in the win column, going home victors 20-6.


Coming off such an encouraging result, Bristol now went up against the new faces of the division, the Southampton Stags. With snowy conditions and a big audience at Cuda Beach, Coombe Dingle, this matchup would really put this young Bristol team to the test. The Cuda defense shone in the early stages, with rookie safety Alex Hull picking off Southampton’s quarterback just as the away side began to gain momentum. The offense and defense both struggled in the cold conditions, however, with Southampton’s physical running back breaking away for a long touchdown run. The defense did an incredible job keeping Southampton to seven points with rookie linebacker Karim Allaouat laying 3 sacks on the Southampton quarterback over the course of the match. The Cuda offense just could not create anything late on, with a fumble bringing the game to a close, 7-0 Southampton.


Bristol would have to come back from this disappointing result after Christmas and travel to face the Oxford Lancers. The Barracuda travelled with a small squad and yet again the offence failed to produce. While second year cornerback Ed Lunnon got an interception early in the game, Oxford’s offense impressed throughout against Bristol’s tired, rookie defenders. Despite the referees seemingly throwing away the rulebook, Bristol simply weren’t good enough on the day and Oxford came away deserving winners, 28-0.


Putting the league aside, Bristol went into Varsity with a great deal of self-belief. With some changes to the playbook and a few weeks rest, the Barracuda were ready to show their true selves. Bristol’s defense impressed in the first half and kept UWE’s raved-about offence to zero points. Interceptions from rookie Zac Gibbons and veteran Phil Madubeko gave Bristol a lot to cheer about. Bristol conceded two touchdowns in the third quarter but the offense finally responded, with Jim Powell Cullingford throwing an incredible 70-yard touchdown to James Cook. Bristol had brought itself back into the mix and although they conceded another score to UWE, some magic from Coach McDowell’s playbook saw Cuda president, defensive back turned wide receiver Marcus Kenmir receive a 10-yard touchdown from Powell-Cullingford. The 2018 edition of Friday Night Lights turned out to be one of the closest on record and while Bristol kept it close, some late turnovers allowed UWE to wind down the clock, finishing victors 20-14.

The Barracuda’s final match of the season saw them return to league action to take on the Bath Spa Bulldogs. Both the rookie and the veterans impressed in the league finale, with Jim Powell-Cullingford throwing, receiving and running in touchdowns to secure a decisive victory. Cornerback Zac Gibbons recorded his second interception of the season while receivers Jonah Edmonds and Sam Leale-Green recorded notable touchdown receptions. Veteran running back Henry Watson ran all over Bath Spa’s defense putting up 60 yards as well as a two-point conversion. Bristol finished their season with a 37-0 victory.


While the league season ended with a frustrating 2-4 record, Bristol produced one of its best varsity performances in its history and the team’s rookies put on an excellent display throughout the year. Both rookies and veterans alike will be working hard over the summer and are sure to come back stronger for an exciting 18/19 season. Until then the Bristol Barracuda remain active in the local community with the Ignit10n charity event, Festival of Sport, and a community Flag Football League in the summer term.

Rory Macnair