The Manchester Titans booked their place into the BAFACL National Finals with a 28-20 win over the Shropshire Revolution.
The undefeated Titans faced their stiffest test of the season against a fired-up Revolution side, determined to avenge their 36-20 loss earlier in the season, when Manchester’s defense had returned two interceptions for TDs. On this day though it would be Manchester’s Special Teams that made the difference with a series of excellent returns that consistently produced superb field position for the Titans Offense.
Manchester won the toss and WR Will Kinghorn returned the opening kickoff 51 yards to the Shropshire 29 yard line. From there, the Titans relied on their running game of Nick Copley, Niall Sweeney and Tim Barton to drive the ball to 9 yard line where they faced a 3rd and Goal. A pass from QB Alan Mead to WR James Dean looked to have broken Dean’s scoring duck but he was tackled 1 yard short of the goal-line. And on 4th down Barton powered the ball over to give the Titans the lead. Dave Barnett’s extra point was blocked leaving the score 6-0.
On the Revolution’s first possession the Titans defense looked to have stopped them on 3rd & 5 but a 52 yard screen pass got them out of trouble and 2 plays later they scored on a 2 yard run. The successful kick gave Shropshire a 7-6 lead.
On the ensuing kick off, WR Adam Simms returned the ball 67 yards to the Rev’s 18. Three runs by Copley moved the ball to the 3 yard line where Mead threw to Kinghorn in the endzone, but defensive pass interference prevented him making the catch and gave the Titans a 1st Down at the 2. Amazingly, the next 3 plays all resulted in penalties against Manchester and over-turned Touchdowns by Barton, Chris Heap and a 20 yard catch by Kinghorn. On 1st & Goal from Shropshire’s 32 yard line, Mead’s pass under pressure was intercepted by the Revolution.
On their next drive, Shropshire were forced into a punting situation on 4th and 4 but an offside penalty and a 10 yard run by the punter kept the drive alive under CB Jeremy Walker batted down a pass on 3rd & 7, this time forcing a punt which went into the endzone for a touchback. However the Rev’s defense were starting to commit men to stopping the run and Copley was held short of the first down on 3rd and 3 forcing the Titans to punt. A booming kick by Kinghorn meant that Shropshire were to start their next possession from their own 9 yard line.
However the Revolution marched 81 yards in 15 yards, finished off by a 1 yard QB Sneak. A bad snap on the PAT gave Shropshire a 13-6 lead with just over 2 minutes to play in the 1st half. But just like last week against West Coast, the Titans drove downfield to score right before half-time, this time aided by a massive 63 yard kick-off return by Kinghorn. However Shropshire’s pass rush had forced Mead to check down to Sweeney for a gain of 3 on 3rd and 12 but the Titans were going for it on 4th Down. Mead again eluded the Rev rush and found Simms for a 15 yard gain, then three plays later hit Heap for the TD from 7 yards out. Barton’s 2PAT attempt was stopped short and the Titans went into half-time down 12-13.
Shropshire opened the 2nd half with a promising looking drive that stalled at the Titans 28 yard line thanks to great individual efforts from CB Martin Fitzpatrick on 3rd Down and GB International Graham Roberts on 4th down. Both players deflected Revolution throws which ultimately forced a turnover on downs. A 17 yard catch by Kinghorn moved the Titans into Shropshire territory but Mead’s 4th Down pass to Heap was just out of his reach.
The Titans defense again stepped up with Walker again knocking down a pass and DE Andy Burridge applying pressure to the Shropshire QB forcing a punt which Kinghorn returned 17 yards to the Titans 43. An 8 yard catch by Simms on 3rd and 3 kept the drive alive before Mead found Heap from 26 yards for a TD. Mead’s pass to Simms added the 2 point conversion and the Titans were back in front 20-13.
Shropshire Offense was again driving the ball as the 3rd quarter came to an end. But on 4th & 6, LB Michael Smith knocked down a Revs pass to turn over the ball on downs. Manchester, starting from their own 27 yard line opened up with an 8 yard Sweeney run, followed up with a 5 yard run by Barton and a 4 yard run by Copley. But with the Revolution expecting another run on 2nd and 6, Mead unleashed a 46 yard bomb to Simms for the score. RB Ryan Farrell caught Mead’s 2PAT for a 28-13 lead.
But there was plenty of time for Shropshire to get back into this game and they immediately responded by driving 61 yards in 9 plays to score their third TD which they successfully kicked the extra point bringing them to 28-20. The attempted onside kick failed and with Simms returning it 26 yards the Titans had great field position once again on the Revolution 39. The Manchester Offense drove to the Shropshire 11 yard line but on 4th & 4, Dean couldn’t hang onto a Mead pass and the chance to put the game out of reach was missed.
With 4 minutes to play, the game was back in the hands of the Titans Defense and LB Rob Bainbridge made a crucial interception of a Shropshire pass to give Manchester the ball back on their 43 yard line. With the Titans wanting the end the game, Mead threw long for Kinghorn but ball bounced off his fingertips to force a punt.
With under a minute to play, Shropshire needed to travel 65 yards to score and get a successful 2PAT conversion to send the game into Over-time. Three straight completions moved the ball to the Titan 25 yard line but a false start penalty followed by great coverage by Fitzpatrick and Roberts left the Revs with a 3rd and 15. Their QB managed to scramble for 12 yards before Roberts, Walker and DE Matt McCormack combined to stop him and bring up a 4th & 3. With the game on the line, Roberts knocked down the Shropshire pass to give the ball back to the Titans who prompted took a knee to end the game.
So the 12-0 Titans travel to Worcester’s Sixways Stadium on Sunday 19th September to take on the 12-0 London Olympians in the BAFACL Division 2 National Final, with the winners to be named National Champions.