The University of Manchester Tyrants return this weekend to ‘Uniball’ action with a 1-1 record. The widely anticipated season-opener against city rivals MMU Eagles, previewed in the Mancunion, fell to a postponement due to administrative issues. The extra week of preparation paid dividends against the LJMU Fury, leading to a 26-6 win. The following week saw a visit to the Sheffield Hallam Warriors, to play the favourites for both the North Division and to win promotion to the Premier Division, falling to a 51-34 defeat in a high-powered offensive showing.
The Fury proved tough early season opponents, with their defence limiting the Tyrants to only 6 points in the first half, courtesy of a Rene Stevens touchdown run. A similarly strong defensive effort from Manchester saw the score at half-time 6-6.
The second half saw a transformed team, piling on 20 points on offence. A switch from Offensive Co-ordinator Max Muchenje into a spread formation opened the running game, reinforced by a dominating offensive line, a unit pointed out by Head Coach Mike Ripley as a key to the Tyrants’ success this season. Second-half touchdowns were scored by Running Back Stevens and Quarterback Len van Dalsen, both rushing.
The defence also stepped up producing a shutout second half, bolstered by spectacular interceptions from Linebacker George Bowen and Cornerback Kev Carson and hard-hitting from rookie Corner Haruun Shobaloju. The defence contributed to the growing second-half score line with captain Dominic Williams blocking a LJMU punt and then returning the ball for a touchdown, his first in seven years, earning him the Tyrants’ Play of the Game Award.
Special teams played a key role in keeping the Fury to 6 points, with Kicker/Wide Receiver Josh Garside, making a key tackle to prevent Fury’s returner from scoring late in the fourth quarter. This was then backed up by a sterling defensive stand inside the Tyrants’ 20-yard line, book-ending the dominant Tyrants’ second-half performance.
The following week against the Warriors saw two talented offences battle it out. The first half was filled with short drives, often resulting in touchdowns or turnovers forced by the opposing defence. The opening salvos were no exception. Hallam received the ball from the kick-off and immediately threw an interception to Conor O’Hagan, his first career pick. Manchester followed up with a one play scoring drive courtesy of a 60-yard rushing touchdown from Stevens. The Warriors hit back almost immediately, only for Dalsen’s first passing touchdowns of the season to Wide Receivers Garside and Oliver Paver, the latter being a terrific 60-yard reception from Paver, on consecutive drives.
The offensive line continued to dominate, opening up the rushing game for Stevens, Benjamin Arnold and Jadeon Ng Hong Yu to dominate, alongside Garside on receiver-designed runs, resulting in multiple first downs for the Tyrants. The sheer domination of the rushing game in the first two games marking the Tyrants as one of the premier rushing teams in the North for a second season in a row. The defensive line deserves mention too, with dominating performances from NFL Academy graduate Destiny Olusegun and Williams, pressuring the Warriors’ Quarterback and stifling the opposition’s running game.
Despite faltering in the second half, with the offence only scoring on the opening drive, the defence kept the Tyrants competitive against a strong Hallam offence, which eventually pulled away and took the game out of the hands of the Manchester team. Despite the defeat, positives can be taken from the game, particularly from the strong showing by the lines and the performance of the defence in creating turnovers, with three total interceptions on the day.
The next test for the Tyrants comes against the 1-1-1 Sheffield Sabres at home on 27 November, kicking off at 10am, who come into the game fresh off the back of a six-point victory over the MMU Eagles. Following this comes the reverse fixture against Hallam, also at home, on 11th December, to take Manchester into the Christmas break. Both games will be played at the Armitage Centre in Fallowfield on Pitch E.