2013-2014 - Season in review

On March the 23rd the Durham Saints finally fell in the quarter-finals of the BUCS nation championship to the eventual finalists and reigning national champions, The Birmingham Lions.
It was always going to be a tough ask for a squad of just 24, missing 4 of the starters on defence from the Loughborough victory the week before (including defensive captain and co-ordinator John Perron - out with appendicitis).
Although the biggest prize in the sport is still a few steps away, the strides taken by the 2013-14 team will always be in Saints' History.

Throughout the regular season The Saints were truly dominant, with a huge points difference of 276 points across 7 games; tied for 3rd best in the country.
The high-powered, fast paced offence regularly put up 50 points on opposition teams - including 49 points in just three quarters against last year’s undefeated team Hull Sharks and the demolition of local rival Newcastle, 64-13 with Sean Hakes throwing 8 touchdown passes. The offence also put up huge numbers on the ground via Jeremiah Schwartz with the line dominating almost all opposition. It was truely thrilling to watch and be part of a team that was just scoring at will.

However stunning the offensive statistics are, the beating heart of the team was always the defence. Conceding less the 6 points per game in the regular season is a huge achievement for a team the conceded almost 20 ppg the year before. Indeed it was the points conceded statistic that gave us the 5th seed in the country for the playoffs. The defence didn’t even concede a point to Hull, Teedside, Leeds Celtics or Bradford - a huge sign of how the team didn’t loose pace in the second half of the season.
A unit outweighed and outnumbered by almost all teams, the heart shown by the Durham defence was evident in every player that stepped out on the field to become part of the Purple Wall.

The defining moment of the season has to almost certainly be the Loughborough victory in the first round of the playoffs, perhaps the most significant win in Saints history. Throughout the game the defence played lights-out football creating 4 turnovers, while the offence moved the ball for over 450 yards of total offence. In seeing off one of the top teams in the country The Saints made it clear that they are the team to beat in the NEC.

It has been a tremendous season for The Saints; improving from 70th to 5th in the country. The coaching and ethos change that the club has gone through this season has unleashed great talent in the squad, showing the level of potential that was hidden just below the surface. It has been a true honour to play with everyone this season and the class of 2014 will surely be remembered for a long time.

However thoughts now turn to next year: A fresh set of player coaches, along with a returning squad of almost 30 players should see an even stronger performance come the new season. Sights are firmly set on the national final and indeed, the title itself. The work to bring home that championship starts now.

21/02/2014 - Bradford Bears: Guest Match Report - Giles Poole's recollection

To celebrate the continuing unbeaten streak, on Sunday 16th February 2014 the Durham Saints went on a sightseeing tour of Bradford, and while out discovered some rugby posts and white paint that had emerged out of a swamp nearby. To make the most of this rare natural phenomenon we thus decided to play some Football, to the dismay of Sam Joseph’s right knee.

A misplaced key provided the Saints with a quick detour via the changing rooms of Bradford’s Student Union and some interesting stories and perspectives on life from Lee Sample. Nevertheless, come kickoff the Saints were ready to go, and despite a sluggish start our receivers finally remembered how to catch, with Sean Hawkes providing Simon Carey with 2 endzone receptions and Diego Melendez taking an outstanding diving catch to see the Saints go ahead 19-0.

While it has been pointed out by the experts at DoubleCoverage that we do have at our disposal a running back with an ability that makes any defence in our league shake in their cleats; in truth making games somewhat unfair, the fact Freddie Fisher was limited to just a single touchdown in the second quarter does prove that he is in fact still human after all. A Hamstring niggle early on meant Jeremiah Schwartz was limited to discussing numerics with Bradford’s number 63 from the sideline for the remainder of the game.

Nevertheless the Saints powered on regardless, with Darrelle Revis (Sometimes known as Alex Radford for some reason) adapting to the wet conditions to score his first touchdown on English Soil. A humongous hit by Alex ‘Poundland Perron-Pimpton-Lapdance his Girlfriend’ Hampton just before halftime created a free ball in the air, allowing Jamie Gallagher (playing defensive tackle) to demonstrate his flawless catching ability, as well as his need to work on his running game; being stopped half a yard short of the line, preventing undoubtedly what would have been one of the greatest touchdowns in Saints’ History. (See the various works of Dan ‘Pineapple’ Thompson for a full summary).

And so the Saints went into half time with the score at 33-0, very content with our work so far. A half time debrief and pep-talk later, the Saints were back on the field again, and quickly were back in the swing of it, with Chris ‘Bruce’ Holmes matching Revis’ feat by taking his first ever TD to a chorus of “BRUUUUUUUCE” and the standing ovation of Brett Banfield. An interesting facemask call the following 2 point conversion left John Perron with the difficult task of attempting a PAT from what could have been anything from 30 to 300 yards, depending on who exactly you ask. Despite the uneven ground he managed to kick the Mud-soaked Pigskin through the uprights to the biggest cheer of the day, providing Saints’ fans relief that we have managed to find a suitable replacement kicker [edit(20/3/14): suck it lugbug] after the news of Matt Perrella’s imminent big-money move to Newcastle United.

The absence of our error prone and elusive Number 29 meant that discipline was much improved this week, however one moment of hot-headedness gave a Bradford player the near-death experience of having an angry Jon Kimmons over them, resulting in a penalty flag and a first Dick of the Day award for ‘Big Jon’.

The defence yet again showed their prowess under the leadership of John Perron, allowing only a single first down all game, as well as three fumble recoveries, one of which from a punt charged down by the ever-present Brummie Linebacker that is Dan Shaw, recovered by the recent winner of the prestigious award for the best Egyptian Defensive back/Social Secretary from Geneva, Bahaa Abdel-Ghaffar. And so the final whistle went with the score at 40-0 in favour of the Durham Saints, giving us the unprecedented record of 7-0. Only Huddersfield lie in the way of an unbeaten divisional campaign, after which we will face the best of what this country will have to offer in the playoffs; to which I say BRING IT ON!

Giles Poole, CB & unfairly adjudged Man-Whore of the Durham Saints

Any views expressed by Giles do not necessarily represent those of the club.

10/11/2013 - Saints hold on to beat Northumbria

Coming off the biggest win in team history, it was reasonable for the Saints to expect another solid performance and to continue on the path to this year’s goal: the North-Eastern Conference title. Standing in their way was a strong Northumbria team who lost to last season’s conference winners Hull by a mere 7-0 scoreline, suggesting that things wouldn’t be easy for Durham this week.

Indeed, it turned out that way, as the game quickly developed into a war of attrition with very few big plays. The Mustangs, using a run-heavy offence, had sporadic success running the ball up the middle and managed to slow the game a lot to counter Durham’s fast-paced offence. Surprisingly, Northumbria took the lead on a pass play, with the receiver leaking out into the flat and grabbing the opening touchdown of the match. The Saints quickly rebounded though, with last week’s game MVP Jeremiah Schwartz rushing through the Mustangs’ field goal unit to block the extra point. Schwartz was again involved in Durham’s opening score of the game, which was a rather unconventional play: he fumbled the hand-off forward, but picked the ball up off the ground unopposed and ran down the sideline for a long touchdown. With a converted extra point, Durham took a 7-6 lead.

The game remained tight throughout, but the Saints extended their lead with a well-worked touchdown drive. Several good runs and nice completions punctuated Durham’s march up the field, with QB Sean Hakes capping the drive off with a touchdown pass to John Perron. Perron, who played at wide receiver and on special teams as well as in his primary position at middle linebacker, made a number of spectacular juggled catches during the game, one of which being the touchdown catch. Northumbria was not out of it though, as they took the ensuing kick-off return to the house for a touchdown. With the score at 14-12, the Mustangs opted to go for a 2-point conversion, but the Saints defence held strong and prevented them tying the game. That was the end of the scoring, and the Saints came out as narrow winners.

The defence deserves special praise for a number of key stops, including forcing a turnover on downs by stopping Northumbria from converting a crucial fourth down inside the red zone. Ultimately, the Saints did enough to come out of this game with a win. Despite it being a below-par performance, all wins count, and it is the mark of a good team to win when you don’t play well, so the Saints can take heart from that. With a pair of bye weeks coming up, the Saints have time to prepare for a huge showdown with Hull in what will likely be a toughly-contested affair on December 8th.

03/11/2013 - Sunderland Smackdown

The hard work of everyone associated with the Saints was rewarded with a season-opening 59-7 domination of the Sunderland Spartans. Recent games between the two teams have always been closely contested, so the Saints were determined to come out and put on a show for the large crowd that had showed up. From the first snap, they did just that.

In all three phases of the game the Saints were dominant, with each unit contributing at least one touchdown. Former Hampton University running-back Jeremiah Schwartz was the star of the day, totalling 3 touchdowns (2 rushing, one punt return) and almost 300 all-purpose yards. On the first offensive play of the season, Schwartz almost managed a 70 yard touchdown run, coming up just short, but on the next play quarterback Sean Hakes threw a short touchdown pass to Matt Perrella. The defense shut down the Spartans’ offense for the vast majority of the game, only allowing a touchdown in the dying minutes on a broken play. Although this spoiled a shutout, the defense can still take great pride in how well it performed. There were great performances from all of the defensive players, especially middle linebacker John Perron, who returned a fumble 50 yards for a touchdown and grabbed a pick late in the game.

The Saints’ offense was equally impressive throughout the day. Perrella grabbed another touchdown catch, Hakes ran one in, Schwartz found the end-zone twice on the ground, and 3rd year receiver Simon Carey brought in two touchdown catches. Carey’s first touchdown was one of the plays of the game, with the Sunderland defense completely buying a play-action, leaving Carey completely free deep downfield, resulting in a 65 yard touchdown. Finally, Durham’s special teams chipped in with a 55 yard punt return touchdown by Schwartz and a few extra points in Durham’s first ever home game with posts. Even with the late Sunderland touchdown, the score was still an incredibly comfortable win for the Saints.

It was a record day for the Saints, as they broke both their single-game points scored and margin of victory records. This was a huge win and a great platform for the rest of the season, but with little improvements here and there, the Saints will be hoping to produce an even better performance next week against Northumbria.

08/06/2013 - Charity tournament "flag"s money for charity

On an incredibly sunny Sunday (by'am's standards anyway) the Saints invited students from throughout the university, and indeed, anyone else, to join them in a friendly flag football tournament.

In the end six teams were made, including an alumni team, a team of university lacrosse players, and many friends of club members, all enjoying the weather and what, to some, was a new sport.

In the spirit of fairness, there was no entirely Saints team and in the end, it was the lacrosse players who came out on top. Their athleticism and, as a team of Americans, previous experience, ultimately led to a very strong performance and on the day they only conceeded 4 scores (two of which were scored by our own president Charlie Heard).

Many thanks go to all who participated and helped to organise the event (inc. Team Durham, who allowed free use of their 3G pitch for a good cause). A total of more than £60 was raised towards the Durham Universities Charities Comission (DUCK).

25/02/2013 - "Hull" of an end to the season

Unfortunately, despite best efforts, the final game of the season against Hull was unable to be arranged at a time that suited both teams before Hull headed to their play-off game and was therefore called off.

This left The Saints with a final record of 2-4, an improvement on the previous two seasons, but leaving plenty of room for improvement in the coming season.

Special thanks must go to both the coaching staff and outgoing exec for their efforts tothroughout this season, and the club looks forward to a productive offseason, including a charity flag football tournament in the coming weeks, and then the most extensive pre-season training camp to date. Bring on the 2013/14 season!

24/02/2013 - Season Finale "Leeds" to disappointment and a hospital visit for O-Lineman Gav Jenkins

The final game of the season saw the saints travelling to the Leeds Celtics. The team’s Line injury worries increased pre-game when yet another lineman came down with an injury; Gav Jenks had to be taken in the ambulance to hospital after an awkward collision. However, this vacancy gave the opportunity for less experienced fresher, Tom Howard, to step in to face snaps at both defensive tackle and guard showing great potential.

On a day that was always going to be hard trip for The Saints, they fell behind early on, with Leeds overcoming the very soft playing surface early on to get yardage on short go routes down the touchlines, while Durham’s offence struggled to get rhythm going against a well drilled unit despite a few near misses on big pass plays. The first half continued much in this vain with Leeds scoring through the air and along their ground with their running back’s physical play gaining yards. Even punt-returner, Jamie Halliday’s return to the squad failed to give Durham momentum with the ball, despite a couple of long returns.

During the second half Durham adjusted, switching to a different base formation; splitting the tight end’s out wide to create mismatches with the opposition’s defensive backs. This led to a big gain straight away along the side-line for quarterback Chris Baicco. Durham moved the ball very effectively throughout the third quarter but continued to struggle to punch the ball in at short yardages. After numerous trips to the red zone and big catches from Jack French and Adam Sanderson, Durham finally scored on a dump off pass to Simon Carey before the end of the quarter.

Leeds retaliated with a quick touchdown strike early in the 4th quarter from a big pass over the middle. However, the newly found offensive potency fuelled the defence to make stop after stop. With fresher linebacker Josh Tucker scoring a big safety on a botched punt from Celtics. Durham continued to move the ball but did not recover from the first half deficit as many Saints’ linemen became tired, having to play both ways unlike their counterparts. The final score favoured Leeds but Durham showed the heart and fighting attitude they displayed all season as an undersized undermanned squad refusing to be blown away by big teams. The Saints have a very positive future in front of them as they continue to build their reputation in the new BUCS American Football era.

17/02/2013 - Cougars "Tees" Durham as they wreak their revenge

Last Sunday the Saints headed to the Teeside Cougars in an attempt to repeat their previous success, however, a resilient Teeside were not willing to roll over.
Teeside struck early from their empty five wide formation only to be called back for a holding penalty. The Saints struggled to find success in the power running game they had dominated with on the first encounter only weeks before. Moreover the combination of speed option plays and draws put stress on the Saints defence. Eventually Teeside scored with a big play off a quarterback keeper and this time there was no penalty to help out Durham.

'de's offence continued to make plays as they went into half time break with a 2 score lead. Durham then entered the second half with a different attitude. The Saints, opened up all corners of the playbook to crack into the Teeside endzone, even looking to trick plays. Durham looked to the air throughout the second half and eventually Adam Sanderson beat his man for a great grab in the corner of the endzone, followed by a caught two-point conversion courtesy of Simon Carey. However, the game had passed and Teeside finished by solidifying their lead to 22-8. Durham headed home disappointed but hopeful to end the season on a high when they travel to Leeds to face the Celtics.

03/02/2013 - Un"Bear"able tension as Saints overcome Bradford in overtime

On a muddy Super Bowl Sunday Durham played host to the Bradford Bears, a team ranked in the top 25 in the nation, for the third game of the year. After online blogs foresaw a 30-0 shut out to Bradford, The Saints saw a great opportunity to place their mark on the newly created North Eastern Conference.

After efficient scouting reports and great game film on Bradford, The Saints came at Bradford from the first whistle. The Bradford offence gained initial breaks from their single wing formation. But Durham quickly saw that to stop Bradford they would need to stop number 24. Bradford relied on their running back for the majority of the game, allowing the Durham line backing core to shut down anything that came his way.

However the game quickly became a battle of attrition for both defences, with the physically undersized Saints line struggling to create running lanes for either Ryan Yap or Adam Sanderson. Despite drives from both teams, neither could break the deadlock and put the ball in the end zone leaving the game scoreless at half time.

The second half was a more free-flowing affair with both teams trying trick plays to break the deadlock. Bradford were narrowly denied a touchdown when The Saints defensive backfield fell for a half-back pass but the ball fell just short of the end zone. Durham tried passes to tight ends Simon Carey and Jack French but the offence failed to sustain drives to put the ball in the end zone.

Bradford came close to capitalising on good field position but failed to score with number 24 despite running hard all game, being tracked mercilessly. The score after the fourth quarter remained 0-0 with the Saints entering their first overtime of the season in the league. Playing college overtime rules Bradford opted to take the ball first from the 25. However, the Saints defence remained standing strong, forcing Bradford to turn the ball over. The Saints then took possession of the ball with their first play of overtime being an explosive counter from Ryan Yap, breaking through before being tackled inside the ten yard line. With first and goal the Saints looked to score the walk off touchdown. First down, Quarterback Chris Baicco called his own number to no avail, being stuffed at the line of scrimmage. Second down, The Saints went to the air, Chris Baicco faked the sweep and sent the ball toward the corner of the endzone. The Saints sideline feared it would fall short but bouncing out of Bradford hands the ball fell to the awaiting hands of Adam Sanderson for the winning score.

The 2-1 Saints host the postponed game against Sunderland next Wednesday but first will have fond memories of a great game and a great win to set up a memorable super bowl Party!

 

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