After securing the #1 seed in the playoffs following an undefeated regular season, Sandwell would host their first challengers, the 9-1 East Kilbride Pirates on 11 August. With a stout defence and consistent offence, it would be the biggest challenge of the season so far, which proved to be the case in the first half.
The Steelers defence didn’t skip a beat as EKP went three and out on their first drive and punted away, bringing QB Tristan Varney out to lead the offence on their first drive.
Unfortunately, this drive would end in a turnover with a tipped past being athletically intercepted by a Pirate defensive back. The error proved to be costly as EKP scored their first touchdown on the ensuing drive, bringing the score to 7-0 to the visitors.
The next offensive drive started brightly with a few consecutive first downs including an effort play from WR Rowan Huggins on a screen as he pushed through several tacklers to gain yards, with a little help from LT Sam Banner. But yet again the drive would end in an interception by EKP as a linebacker leaped from behind his defensive line to pick the ball before being tackled by WR Deivydas Merkelis.
EKP went on to score twice more as their defence shut down the Steelers offence and the regular running game that had served them so well during the regular season pounded its way through the defence.
However, the first half did finish with a flash of life from the Steelers offence as they drove the ball 78 yards in the final 42 seconds of the half, finishing agonisingly close to the end zone, but without the score. The half would finish 20-0 to East Kilbride.
The momentum from the end of the half carried into the second half with gang tackles being led by defensive linemen Sam Rafferty and Alex Roofe.
RB Raph Chisholm would set up the first Steelers score of the game with a direct snap to him in a fake punt brought the ball into the Pirates half. The first score for Sandwell would then come through the air as QB Tristan Varney found his faithful target WR Steve Kinnersley in the end zone, bringing the score to 20-6.
With the momentum firmly with Sandwell, the defence would take control of the field limiting the Pirates offence behind strong tackling from DB Rob Jones. RB Raph Chisholm would again put the team on his shoulders running behind the offensive line to grab the second touchdown of the day for Sandwell and WR Rowan Huggins would add the 2 point conversion and the score stood at 20-14 in the fourth quarter.
The defence would do their jobs with outstanding effort, with pressure coming from the ‘Pitbulls’ of the defensive line making the Pirates QB run around the backfield trying to avoid the pressure and the Legion of Swag would provide bat downs galore to get the ball back to the offence ready for a final drive in the last two minutes of the game.
QB Tristan Varney has all the time in the world to pick apart East Kilbride’s defence with a fantastic catch from WR Steve Kinnersley combined with a roughing the passer penalty taking the Steelers into the redzone with less than a minute left on the clock – and who else other than RB Raph Chisholm would punch in the game tying touchdown. With only the PAT to go the score was 20-20 with less than 50 seconds left on the clock.
WR/K Gav Lawrence would have the chance to put the Steelers ahead for the first time during the game. Holder Austyn Young called for the snap, he placed it down and Gav kicked the extra point through and the near sell out crowd at Tipton Sport Academy went wild.
EKP still had an opportunity to win the game, but pinned back on their own half after the kick off combined with only a few seconds left on the clock the task was too great. Sandwell would go on to complete the biggest comeback in club history and finish the game 21-20 winners.
The Steelers return to #FortressTSA this Sunday 18 August to face foes from last years one-point defeat in the playoffs, the Northumberland Vikings, who dispatched the Shropshire Revolution handily in their own quarterfinal match. The winner not only goes on to represent the NFC1 in the Division One Final, but also secures promotion to the Premier Division for the 2020 season!