The Sharks travelled north on Saturday to take on the cream of British flag football in their first appearance at the BAFL Flag Finals Day.
Having finished second in the English conference during the regular season, the Sharks were drawn to meet defending British champions and Scottish conference winners Kirkcaldy Bulls in the semi finals, held at Doncaster’s Keepmoat Stadium.
The Bulls proved formidable opponents, with a well-executed run option scheme and pin-point passing keeping the Sharks defence at bay, and the Scots notched up 3 TDs in the first half.
The Sharks were a fingertip away from a score themselves, when QB Martyn Emmens spotted Simon Merton wide open in the end zone, only for a Bulls defender to scramble back and tip his pass away with the faintest of touches.
Emmens and his receivers took the game to the Bulls in the second half, marching the ball down to the goal line on several occasions, but the stifling Bulls defence kept them out on each occasion.
The Sharks defence was tighter in the second period, but the Bulls converted several 4th downs with perfectly executed plays, and crossed into the end zone twice more. Final score: Sharks 0 – 32 Bulls.
In the second semi-final English conference winners Leicester Eagles defeated Scotland’s second team, the Carluke Cobras, to clinch a place in the grand final — and avenge their defeat by the Cobras at this stage last year.
With a shot at the title gone, the Sharks had to pick themselves up to contest the Third Place Playoff against the Cobras, and when the Scots scored twice early on, things didn’t look good.
But the Chichester squad showed the mental strength to put their earlier defeat behind them, and came out firing. The star of the show was Sharks safety Mike Thomson, who moved on to the other side of the ball, scoring three long-distance touchdowns on offence, shredding the Cobras defence. He also ran back an interception for six points to compound the damage.
The Sharks defence eventually got the measure of the Cobras, pressuring their quarterback and restricting them short yardage plays, and when Sharks receiver Scott Wilson capped a great rookie year with another touchdown catch, the Sharks led 31 – 26 with less than 2 minutes on the clock.
But with the game there for the taking, the Sharks faltered at the last. A vital missed tackle, followed by a penalty for roughing the quarterback gave the Cobras a first down in Sharks territory, and with time ticking away, the Scots’ QB picked out a receiver in the corner of the end zone with a great pass, clinching a 32-31 victory.
In the final, the Kirkcaldy Bulls defeated the Leicester Eagles by 32-14 to clinch their second successive British title, going undefeated all year once again.
For the Sharks, it was case of what might have been, but having tasted the Finals Day once, they will be determined to be back next year.
Match report written by Toby Chopra