Commanding Pythons show their venom in season opener

The Pythons thoroughly outclassed their Royal Holloway opponents, both offensively and defensively, to open their season with an impressive 35–8 win

Cambridge University Pythons American Football Club (the Pythons) marked their first match under new Head Coach Gary Villiers and new Offensive Coordinator Dan Harriss by storming to a 35–8 away victory over the Royal Holloway Bears in their BUCS Division 1 South East Conference season opener.

While the Pythons have been buoyed this season by the playing returns of experienced former Light Blues Tom Carr and Rob Brewster and the strong recruitment of new players, they have not been without their losses too: namely, the graduation of a number of key figures of the team, including one of the founding members of the reformed Pythons, Jack Tavener, and former captain Tim Allen.

But there were no noticeable holes in the Pythons’ squad, as their dominant performance justified the long trip down to Surrey on an unseasonably warm Remembrance Sunday afternoon and saw the Light Blues claim a well-earned victory in the first ever meeting between the two teams.

The match began with the Bears taking the first offensive drive, beginning on their own 46-yard line. But a fine strip-sack by Ethan Brown on the third play of the drive, which was matched by Richard Alloway’s lightning-fast recovery of the ball, gave the Pythons their turn on offence.

Indeed, this excellent defensive work would set the tone for the Pythons for the whole afternoon. Led by returning linebackers Ned Bransden and Harry Richer, current Pythons President and Vice-President, the Light Blues continuously got into the Bears’ backfield, disrupted plays and shut down players thanks in part to superb work at defensive tackles from new Python and the US Navy’s own Ethan Dalton, alongside Ethan Cox, who was playing his first American football match in over eight years, at Safety.

Offensively, the Light Blues’ experience, coming from long-time Pythons like Joe Moore, was well complemented by the introduction of new and raw talent from players such as Offensive Lineman Carlos Val Mas. Led superbly by Quarterback and overall captain Tom Carr, the Pythons proved themselves clinical from the very first offensive drive: an 11-play scoring drive saw Carr force the ball into the end zone with a four-yard rush to give the Pythons an early touchdown. A two-point conversion from Moore gave the Pythons an 8–0 lead.

The rest of the first quarter was marked by non-scoring drives for both sides, but with the Pythons very much on top. And they continued to dominate in the second quarter: more commanding defence forced the Bears back to their own 13-yard line. Moments later, Cox pulled off a sublime 41-yard interception return before the Pythons added to their lead thanks to a safety on an attempted punt by the Bears.

Though 10–0 in the lead, the Light Blues were far from comfortable and, as the players and coaches regrouped on the sidelines to prepare for the second half, there was a sense among the Pythons that the Bears would come out fighting – they needed to create the moment that would break the Bears’ hearts.

And break their hearts they did, eventually.

The Pythons began the second half on their own 25-yard line and, on the very first play, they fumbled the ball to give the Bears a potential route to a score that would bring the Londoners back into the game and within touching distance of the lead.

However, it was not to be as the bullish Pythons’ defence forced a fumble that was well recovered by Dalton. And two plays later, to rub salt in the home side’s wound, Moore ran 66 yards for a touchdown to put the Pythons up 17–0 and destroy any remnants of hope of an unlikely Bears victory.

The Light Blues then began to pile on their lead in clinical fashion: a Phil Knott 38-yard interception touchdown saw the score increase to 24–0 while yet more terrific defensive work saw the away side force another safety to increase the score to 26-0. Rookie Quarterback and Tight-End Ollie Hayes took the reins from Carr in the fourth quarter with style, as he rushed the ball in to give the Pythons a 33–0 lead.

Moments after another forced safety saw the score increase to 35–0, the Bears added a touchdown of their own late in the fourth quarter to end the game 35–8. But this was to be a mere consolation score, with the Londoners having been outdone by a dominant offensive and defensive performance from the away side, which they will hope will set the tone for the rest of their season.

Cambridge Pythons: Carr (c), Bransden, Richer, Moore, Choksey, Calocane, Rae, Brewster, Alloway, Brown, Adeosun, Stockdale, Benham, Knott, Val Mas, Amin Said, Haidar, Bennett, Dalton, Hayes, Balletine, Chan, Cox, Venner, Gamble, Liu, Comb, Muzani