After the longest off-season, Tamworth Phoenix U16 team finally arrived at the 2021 season with a squad very much changed from the one who played at Britbowl in 2019. Only two players remained from that 2019 team & despite the best efforts of the management team the squad was at its lowest number for several years.
The approach to the season was full of disruption, schedules and opponents were constantly being adjusted but they finally stepped onto the field at the first tournament in Walsall, hosted by the Sandwell Steelers. Their first opposition were local rivals, the Birmingham Lions. In a tight battle, both defenses were on top. DB Nelson Hamilton leading the way with two interceptions and a pass break up on fourth down inside the final minute to seal a 22-18 win.
After that draining battle they then faced hosts Sandwell Steelers, behind a swarming defense the Nix opened up an early lead and never really looked in trouble. QB Ollie Sweeney marshalling the Offense confidently in a 22-0 win. The day would come to an early end though. Nuneaton Jaguars pulled out of the remaining fixture after their QB had been injured in their match-up with the Lions. The resulting win award to the Nix meant they finished their first tournament of the season with a 3-0 record.
Next up for the team was the highlight of the Phutures programme season, the home tournament. On a wet summer day, both Sandwell & Birmingham had made the journey over to Tamworth, Nuneaton having pulled out of the season due to player availability issues. First up for the Nix were the Sandwell Steelers who would show marked improvement on their first tournament. The game remained close up to half time with both teams showing some excellent ability on the offensive side of the ball. However, in the second half, the Phoenix would find their grove, Wide Receivers Duncan Clarke & Malachy McMahon making key grabs to secure a 37-19 win.
After the Lions had themselves beaten Sandwell, the two undefeated teams on the day would again face up in what would be an absolute barnstormer of a match-up. The first half saw exchanges of touchdowns and both defenses were making their opposition work hard for every inch. After several lead changes QB Ollie Sweeney was facing constant pressure from the Lions defense and points were suddenly very hard to come by. The Lions took the lead late and despite a brilliant catch and run by Malachy McMahon the Nix would turn the ball over on downs inside the final minute. It seemed the Lions had finally silenced the home crowd and would end the Nix unbeaten start to the season.
However, there would be one more twist, QB Sweeney who had switched over to the defensive side of the ball for the latter part of the game due to injuries would win the game in a way even he wouldn’t have expected. A bad snap sent the ball flying over the Lions QB head and in the ensuing scramble for the ball. Sweeney recovered the ball for the touchdown, securing an unlikely 32-31 win. The Phoenix would escape with a 6-0 season record.
The final tournament of the season would see the team head to Birmingham and hosts The Lions. Could the Phoenix close out their season with two more wins. First up were the Steelers, who once again showed improvement, the Nix would secure a 31-6 win that was not quite as straight forward as the score line suggests. However after a long absence due to shoulder surgery, it was a particular highlight to see Aaron Ruby return and score a touchdown on his second carry.
Once again the Lions would be the daunting figure on the opposite sideline, this time with the home crowd roaring them on, the atmosphere was electric from the first snap. The Lions came out fired up, using their running game to push the Nix back on their heels. It took everything they had just to keep it down to a one-score game at the half. The Phoenix boys regrouped at halftime and seemed to begin to turn the tide. Rookie defensive player Jack Redhead forced the Lions QB to fumble on his own goal-line and finished the play by recovering the fumble for a touchdown and tying the game at 18-18. On the following drive, Redhead again got to the Lions QB, turning the ball over to the Nix Offense and seemingly turning momentum the Phoenix way.
Unfortunately shortly after, due to a medical emergency on the sideline, the game had to be halted and then ended early. Both teams agreeing to the 18-18 tie.
So after an 18-month wait and much uncertainty, the Phoenix U16 team had completed their 2021 season with an undefeated 8-0-1 record. The small squad displayed unbelievable determination and dedication and will once again build on this solid season. Hopefully in more normal circumstances for 2022.