Cuda snag dramatic overtime win against Southampton Solent
A gutsy performance from the Bristol Barracuda last Sunday provided Head Coach Simon Preston his first win in charge, as Bristol came out on top against the Southampton Solent Redhawks 13-12.
Beyond a superficial examination of Bristol Barracuda’s 2017/18 campaign, there was evidently cause for optimism; despite frustration, this period of rebuilding had precipitated a more cohesive and balanced roster, with talent to be found in abundance. With Simon Preston now at the helm as Head Coach, having recently returned from his stint at the Exeter Demons, a renewed sense of optimism was palpable as the opening game loomed large. Up first, was a trip down to the South coast to face the Southampton Solent Redhawks; given their pedigree as a Division 1 side, the Redhawks had been touted as early challengers to the 2A South West title this year, and constituted a stern test for this Bristol side.
If the events of the first half were anything to go by, the game was set to be a cagey affair. Indeed, during the early exchanges, any assumption of superiority throughout the Redhawks side-line was soon muted; Bristol’s defence quickly asserted its authority on the fixture, restricting the opposition’s offensive thrust and ensuring the punt team were kept busy. With Matt Pullen snatching an interception on debut, and Jonny Read forcing a fumble early on, defensive turnovers crippled the Redhawks as Bristol dominated. However, despite two trips to the red zone for the Cuda offence during the first half, in part driven by a gritty performance from running-back Hugh Parker, resilient stands from the Redhawks themselves frustrated Bristol.
Indeed, on two occasions Bristol failed to convert on 4th and goal; the scoreboard thus failed to reflect the run of play. As the first half closed at 0-0, it became increasingly clear that a moment of magic was required to unlock a dogged Redhawks team.
With both teams exchanging possession regularly throughout the second half, it all boiled down to the 4th quarter for the game to explode into life. With 30 seconds remaining, a fumbled snap was pounced upon in the end zone by veteran Oli McDowell, in doing so notching up 6 points for the Cuda on a previously desolate scoreboard. The game was seemingly in the bag, as Bristol went up 6-0.
However, this jubilance was soon quashed; remarkably, with the game all but dead and buried, the resulting kick off was returned for a touchdown by the Redhawks’ special teams unit. With the chance to win the game, the point after attempt was missed, and at 6-6, the teams were headed into overtime.
With both teams failing to capitalise during their opening possession of overtime, the game was grasped by the scruff of the neck by quarterback Jim ‘Bumble’ Powell-Cullingford; delivering a tantalising pass to James Cook, the latter burst past the Redhawks’ secondary in for the touchdown. With Ed Lunnon nailing the extra point, Cuda now led 13-6 as the Redhawks were left with one last opportunity to match the Bristol offence. Given the to-and-fro nature of the game, it is perhaps unsurprising that in another moment of magic, the Redhawks’ quarterback delivered a strike that found its way into the end zone. At 13-12, the game was on a knife edge. In a bold move to seal the victory, the Redhawks’ side-line opted for a two-point conversion attempt; amidst the drama, a miscommunication between the quarterback and running-back led to a fumble which fell into the grateful arms of the Cuda defenders. The game was over, finishing 13-12, as the Bristol Barracuda advanced to 1-0 on the season.
With aspirations to reach the play-offs, and challenge for the division title, this opening day win will inevitably provide new impetus for the season looking forward. Up next for Bristol is a home fixture against Oxford University Lancers on November 28th.
Photos courtesy of Flickr / Luke Simcock