The Pythons saw a 25-0 victory over local rivals the Anglia Ruskin University RhinosCambridge University Pythons American Football Club

The Cambridge University Pythons American Football Club have qualified for the BUCS Division 2 playoffs after a 25-0 win against the Anglia Ruskin University Rhinos in their final game of the regular season. The victory was largely constructed off the back of a stifling defensive performance by the Pythons (3-3), who conceded just 161 yards of total offense.

Over the course of the four quarters, the Rhinos’ offensive set-up was comprehensively dismantled by the home team. First came the run defence, who consistently plugged gaps and prevented the visitors’ running backs Anousheh Fulford and Rory Magee from making any headway. Second came the pass rush, which pressured Rhinos’ quarterback Kayode Dennis with such regularity that he spent more time outside the pocket than in it. Finally came the defensive backs, led by Pythons captain Sam Comb, who were unlucky to get an interception in what was a thorough blanketing of the ARU receivers.

The game ultimately came down to a question of Dennis’ mobility. Constantly flushed out of the pocket, his speed represented his team’s only credible offensive threat. His 75 rushing yards from nine attempts, however, were not enough to drag his team over the line. Incredibly, Dennis was individually responsible for more yards than his team’s entire offense, with 178 in total (103 passing yards plus 75 rushing).

“They are now guaranteed second spot in the 2A South East Conference behind Essex, and await further results to determine who they will encounter in the playoffs”

Comb was ebullient about his team’s performance: “We didn’t allow them to score the entire game, [which] was outstanding. Their quarterback was particularly mobile and we put the game on his shoulders to win it” He added: “You can only rely [on a quarterback’s running game] for so long… we tired him out in the end.”

The game was never going to be a particularly stern test for Pythons, as the Rhinos (0-4) were winless leading into the fixture and needed to win their three remaining matches to have any hope of making the playoffs. However, the Pythons had come off a close loss the previous weekend against East London and required a win at Coldham’s Common to guarantee their spot in the playoffs.

They began proceedings emphatically, going 67 yards in 9 plays on their first possession. Quarterback Ethan Brown (11/17, 162 yards, 4 TDs) completed the drive with a slant to Michael Ballentine (2 catches, 16 yards, 1 TD), who strutted into the end zone for the first score of the day.

This was followed by two consecutive three-and-outs (plus a turnover on downs) by the Rhinos’ offense as they struggled to establish neither a run nor a pass against the formidable Pythons’ defence. Despite the Rhinos’ defensive linemen and linebackers having a general size advantage over their Pythons counterparts, the hosts’ mobility allowed them to regularly evade blocks and breach the pocket.

It was the same story in the second quarter. After a failed fourth-down conversion which left the ball on the Rhinos’ 16, Brown lobbed a beautiful arcing ball into the arms of Jonny Holland (2 catches, 28 yards, 2 TDs), resulting in the Pythons’ second touchdown.

The Rhinos’ breakthrough nearly came on the next drive. Their offense by this point had become heavily reliant on Dennis’ running game, and a 26-yard run took them into the Pythons’ territory. Confronted with a 4th and 7 at the Pythons’ 40, Dennis rolled out to the right before taking off once more, gaining another 20 yards and the first down. A couple of quick completions then gave the Rhinos a first and goal, which Dennis duly converted by rushing into the end zone with seconds of the first half left to go. There was a penalty flag on the play, however, and the Rhinos lined up for a 30-yard field goal attempt. Just as they were on the verge of getting on the scoreboard, the visitors were again penalised, this time for an illegal substitution. The resulting 40-yard attempt was just beyond Fulford’s reach, missing wide left.

That was the closest the Rhinos came to breaking their scoring duck. Two magnificent passes by Brown, one to Holland in the third quarter and the other to Simeon Kakpovi (2 catches, 36 yards, 1 TD) in the fourth, resulted in Cambridge touchdowns. The Pythons’ defence continued to nullify the Rhinos’ run and passing game, while a fatigued Dennis was eventually substituted late in the fourth quarter with the outcome beyond doubt.


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Sunday’s win was the home team’s sixth straight victory over their local rivals, who they have never lost to. They are now guaranteed second spot in the 2A South East Conference behind Essex (6-0), and await further results to determine who they will encounter in the playoffs. After the conclusion of the playoffs, their focus will shift to the Varsity match in May, in which they are looking to regain the trophy at home.

Statistics were provided by Steve Guy

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