The simple beauty of Varsity Matches is that on any given day, either team can win. This uncertainty makes it always a mistake to underestimate an Oxbridge opponent.
Many Cambridge Pythons American football players reminded their teammates of this as they prepared for their Varsity showdown against the Oxford Lancers on enemy soil.Cambridge had enjoyed a successful season, advancing to the Challenge Plate quarter-final (losing to the eventual champion) and climbing as high as 12th in the UK national rankings of 60 university teams.Oxford’s regular season record was dismal; and yet, memories of last year’s Varsity draw kept any expectations of an easy Cambridge victory well in check.
Cambridge won the coin toss and elected to kick.The Oxford returner fumbled a deep kick by Dr. Matthew Hawkins and recovered for no gain.The first quarter ended devoid of scoring as both offences battled rough winds without any sustained success.
The second quarter opened with an errant snap on an Oxford punt, allowing Cambridge to take over on the Oxford 11 yard line.On the third play of the drive, quarterback Joe Yarwood followed excellent blocks to glide into the end-zone for a five-yard touchdown.The two-point conversion was unsuccessful leaving Cambridge ahead 6 – 0.
Oxford were not about to concede so early and responded on the next play with a 43-yard kick return. Linebacker Kevin Maloney made the tackle. Despite good field position for the Lancers, the Cambridge defence held strong and Oxford was unable to capitalise.
Cambridge retaliated with a 14-play drive led by Jonty Richardson that brought the Pythons into the red zone.A huge third down sack forced Cambridge back to the 21 yard line and the 31-yard field goal attempt by Jack Tavener was blown wide.
Desperate to equalise, Oxford showed they still had plenty of weapons in their arsenal.A trio of running backs marched up the field with runs of 23, 14, and 16-yards before their eventual 3-yard touchdown.Cambridge safety Richard Lismore-John and Maloney made several impressive tackles on the drive.The Oxford PAT was successful, putting them up 7 – 6 at halftime.
The momentum was on Oxford’s side as the third quarter began and after an opening three and out drive by Cambridge, Oxford penetrated the Pythons’ defence for a second time with a massive 45-yard touchdown by their former national champion running back.Oxford missed the PAT, resulting in a 13 – 6 Lancer lead.
History was in sudden danger of repeating itself and every Python player sensed it.Yet the Light Blues had saved their fiercest fight for last and the Cambridge offence took control of the game led primarily by their running attack of Conor “Moose” Rooney, Jack Tavener, and Sebastian Funk. Reacting to a miscue by the Oxford cornerback, Yarwood sailed a pass to Steve Kinnersley who made a beautiful over the shoulder catch for an 11-yard touchdown.Yarwood again found the end-zone on the two point conversion to put Cambridge ahead 14 – 13.
After a tandem of lacklustre drives in the fourth quarter, Cambridge took over on their own 17 yard line with time winding down in the game.Runs by Funk and Rooney were followed by a fake run HB option play where Funk connected with wide receiver Jaason Geerts for a 22-yard pass.More solid blocking by Eric Chapman and the rest of the offensive line and good runs by Rooney, Funk, and Tavener wore the Lancers defence down and, as importantly, ate time off the clock.
Pushing for an insurance score, quarterback Joe Yarwood found Jaason Geerts in triple coverage for a 29-yard gain, which brought the Pythons to the Oxford two yard line.
Yarwood called his own number and ploughed forward on a QB sneak to advance the Cambridge lead to 20 – 13.
Hawkins tried an unsuccessful onside kick which allowed Oxford to take over at midfield.First Team All-Star and team captain Thomas Piachaud and Hawkins made sure there would be no recovery for Oxford and the Lancers’ final play was intercepted by Guy Peters at the Cambridge 35 yard line.Victory at hand, Yarwood took a knee to finish off the unforgiving clock to confirm the seven point victory.
Excellent performances were had by offensive MVP Jack Tavener with 135 yards rushing, Joe Yarwood with 2 rushing touchdowns and one passing touchdown, Thomas Piachaud, Eric Chapman and the offensive line, and linebacker Kevin Maloney with dozens of tackles on the day.
Pythons captain Thomas Piachaud said after the game, “We started off complacent and you could tell Oxford really wanted the win.We really turned it on in the second half though and earned the victory.”
The Pythons would like to thank their coaches Julian, Lennie, Steve, Martin, Robert Guy, Paul Steers, Roope, Jat, and all the fans who made this season such a success. Credit is also due to Oxford for being excellent hosts and gentlemen following the match.
In Varsity Matches anything can happen, but this year it was Cambridge who stormed their way back to capture the title and return home champions.