Online Sports Editor Dan Reuben reports from Friday Night Lights - the newest and most exciting event on Varsity's calendar.
Bristol and UWE shared the spoils in the inaugural Friday Night Lights event on 24th March which saw the two universities face off in both American Football and Lacrosse in a feast of sporting action. UWE Bullets ran out comfortable victors over Bristol Barracuda in the American Football on the 3G whilst over on the Astroturf, both Bristol’s men’s and ladies’ lacrosse teams eased to victory, with a combined goal difference of +26 in Bristol’s favour.
In both sports, the pre-match build up had been based around an underdog victory or a slip up from the favourite rather than a tight contest and the night ran true to form. UWE’s American Football team, the Bullets, were coming off a relatively successful year in the BUCS 1A South West division, one division higher than Bristol’s team, and went into the game at Fortress Dingle as clear favourites. They had also never lost a Varsity match and so they would have been keen to retain their unbeaten record against Bristol Barracuda. Bristol Cuda started the game on top, however, almost scoring with their first venture inside UWE’s 30 yard line after star running back Yemi Falana took the ball within five yards of the opposition’s line before fumbling the ball. From then on until half time, it was all one way traffic with Cuda on the back foot. Sure enough, the Bullets opened the scoring, bundling the ball over the line and added a two-point conversion. UWE added a second touchdown shortly before half time through wide receiver Ryan Batt and went into the break 14-0 up.
After an impressive burger for the reporters from the pop up food stand at Dingle, a rejuvenated Cuda side took the game to their opponents but a resilient UWE defence stood firm. Shortly before the end of the third quarter, UWE stretched their lead with a sixty yard pass for a third touchdown. Things then went from bad to worse as Bristol’s running back Falana sustained a heavy injury, an alleged fractured tibia, and was stretchered off the field. Heading into the final quarter 20-0 down, the wait for a Cuda win in Varsity seemed certain to roll on to 2018 however Bristol rallied, with Jim Powell running in a consolation touchdown and with UWE nervous in defence, Cuda could see the dimmest of lights at the end of the tunnel. Time was against them, however, and despite their huge effort, it was to no avail as UWE added some gloss onto the score line in the dying embers of the game with a final touchdown and the game ended 26-6 to the UWE Bullets. Cuda quarterback Paddy Sidwell remained upbeat after the match, saying, “We always knew it was going to be a tough game against UWE and it proved to be a very physical encounter. There wasn't much more we could do on the night, we left everything out there. We'll be back again next year stronger than ever. It was a great occasion to be a part of and the atmosphere was class, so thanks to everyone who came down to support."
Meanwhile, the short walk across to Dingle’s Astroturf showed two Bristol teams in much higher spirits than the team back on the 3G, with both the Ladies’ and Men’s teams in a class above their UWE counterparts, both in the lead up to Friday Night Lights and throughout the evening. The Ladies had finished mid-table in a division three higher than their opposition and so they could have been forgiven for their complacency. Right from the face off, however, all worries were swept away as Bristol’s ladies swarmed over their opponents; they meant business. By half-time they were 8-2 up and cruising. After a short break to gather their breath, Bristol got straight back into their rhythm and were peppering UWE’s ‘keeper with shots from all angles. Another eleven goals later and the ladies were home and dry, smashing UWE 19-4. Their opponents had put up a valiant effort but Bristol’s work rate and tenacity in front of goal shone through as UWE tired. Job half done for the Lacrosse club and next came the Men’s team.
They were looking to continue their tremendous winning streak which had stretched the length of the season and seen the team crowned Premier South champions along the way. Like their female colleagues, complacency could have crept into their game with their UWE opponents on the night having finished their season lower than the Bristol men’s second team in Western 2A, two divisions below. The men took the baton from the ladies in style, however and raced into an early 4-0 lead. From then on, the team were able to take their foot off the gas slightly and coast through the game. By the start of the final quarter, Bristol had stretched their lead to 9-1, demonstrating the quality and determination of a team unbeaten all season to the bumper crowd. As the final whistle blew, Bristol had eased to victory 12-1 and the champagne for both the men and the ladies could start flowing. Club captain, Harry Rintoul was extremely pleased with the night overall, “This was our first year having a standalone event for lacrosse and it was a massive success. It was great to see such a strong crowd come down to enjoy the action and even better that we were able to put on a good show for them, putting UWE away in a dominant performance”. In the end, the first ever edition of Friday Night Lights ended all square, with both sets of fans returning home happy and the organisers even happier at how the event turned out. Bring on next year!
Featured image: Twitter / EpigramSport