Varsity Bowl XIV: Victory for Oxford!
A Long-Awaited Match
On 26th June 2021, the Oxford Lancers and Cambridge Pythons finally clashed in the long-awaited Varsity Bowl XIV. Two years had passed since Varsity Bowl XIII, where the Lancers had emerged victorious in a hard-fought, 19-9 game in Cambridge; the COVID-19 pandemic forced the match, scheduled in 2020, to be delayed into 2021, but both sides were determined to make it happen.
This time it was Oxford’s turn to host, with the game being played at Tilsley Park, the site of the Lancers’ huge 48-6 win over the Pythons in Varsity Bowl XII. Coming into 2021 with a two-win streak in the Varsity Bowl, the Lancers had their eyes set on the three-peat, while Cambridge were keen to break their string of losses.
A Strong Start
The game finally kicked off at 2pm, with the Lancers winning the toss and electing to receive the ball. Two plays later, they were faced with a difficult 3rd & 12 on their first drive of the game. However, a clean pocket from the Lancer’s offensive line allowed QB Will Szymanski to throw a beautiful deep ball that was caught by WR Kelechi Apakama for a quick strike 53-yard touchdown. This was a crushing blow for the Pythons after so nearly forcing Oxford to punt on their first drive, and their offense was feeling the pressure when they took to the field for their own first possession, already 6-0 down. Three run plays were bottled up by the Lancers’ defense in quick succession, leading Cambridge to punt on 4th and 8.
The second Oxford drive started with more difficulty; before long several penalties and an incompletion had left them at 2nd & 25. However, another miraculously clean pocket for QB Will Syzmanski allowed him to find WR Kelechi Apakama with another deep pass that brought the Lancers’ offense to 1st and Goal at the 9 yard line. Two plays later, Szymanski ran the ball in himself to make it 12-0 to the Lancers, the kick for the extra point being just wide.
The Pythons’ second possession saw more success than their first, an end-around run going for 14 yards on their first play. However, an even longer run that followed this was called back due to the Pythons having five men in the backfield. Cambridge decided to go to the air, but a strong open field tackle from CB Charlie London limited the gain to 5 yards from what was their sole completed pass all game. From here it was clear that the previous momentum of their drive had stalled. More dominant play from the Lancers’ defense, including hard hits from SS Molayo Ogunde and a TFL from DE Jon Vince, limited the Pythons’ success in their preferred avenue of attack, the run game, forcing them to punt yet again.
The Scoring Keeps Coming
A long outside run from RB David Ojeabulu, some tough yardage from RB Olie Townrow, and a good catch by WR Dom Reedy set the Lancers up for another successful drive, with the final blow being two consecutive catches by WR Tal Jeffrey for the score. With the second quarter having only just begun, the Lancers were already up 18-0.
Cambridge’s third drive started near their own endzone, penalties on kickoff giving them very little room to work with. The Pythons went to the air to escape, but rookie CB Liam Paton had the targeted receiver locked down; the ball was batted down for the incompletion. SS Molayo Ogunde and DE Jon Vince then combined to force the Cambridge running back into his own endzone for a safety, making the score 20-0.
A 6-yard run by WR Dom Reedy started another strong Lancers drive, wearing down the Pythons secondary. After several incompletions, turning to the run game once again saw RB David Ojeabulu break free for another long run, this time 38 yards into the endzone for a touchdown. WR Dom Reedy again proved crucial on this drive, catching the two-point conversion to make the score 28-0.
The Pythons continued to struggle with the run game on their fourth drive, with several rushes being shut down for very little gain alongside a false start penalty. Faced with a 3rd & 14, the Pythons again went to the air. However, once again this proved to be a poor decision, with their QB rifling a pass straight into the hands of LB Eric Hembling for an interception, who managed to pick up significant return yardage before finally being brought down.
Several holding penalties and a TFL by the Pythons defense prevented the Lancers from immediately capitalising on this turnover, but a 30 yard catch by WR Tal Jeffrey extended the drive at a crucial moment. RB David Ojeabulu finally broke Cambridge’s resistance with a 30-yard touchdown run, trucking several Pythons on his way to the endzone. A two-point conversion was also punched through by David, making the score 36-0 to the Lancers.
From this point onwards, the clock ran continuously due to the score difference exceeding 35. The final Pythons drive of the half saw them struggle to move the ball either on the ground or through the air, with a Lancers TFL and an incompletion leading to a 4th down that went unplayed due to the whistle for halftime.
Keeping Up The Pressure
The Pythons received the ball to start the second half, but found that the Lancers had no intention of allowing them to stage a comeback. A big hit from LB Eric Hembling, as well as a Lancers sack, once again forced Cambridge to bring on the punt team.
QB Nolan Whitcomb started the first Lancers’ drive of the half off strong, completing a pass to WR Dom Reedy who proceeded to fight through several Pythons for extra yards. The dual threat quarterback then evaded a collapsing pocket and managed to scramble for another 14 yards. A completion to RB Olie Townrow was unfortunately called back after a big hit by backup QB/WR Joel Chesters was deemed to have been a blindside block. Several other penalties followed against the Lancers, including a false start, but QB Nolan Whitcomb managed to recoup much of the lost yardage in another long scramble for 15 yards. Unfortunately, an interception ended the drive before Oxford could extend their lead even further, but their defensive dominance allowed for such gambles to be made on offense.
The Lancers defense continued to shut down the run, with two consecutive rushes being stopped for short or no gain, including a big heads-up tackle by LB Eric Hembling that wore down the Cambridge running backs. However, the Pythons, who threw a near-interception on 3rd down that ended up only an incompletion, managed to convert on 4th down with a big end-around run. Running the same play to the other side, they picked up another 9 yards, while a run up the middle picked up 7. Cambridge had managed to drive to the Oxford 29 yard line, but after pitching a shut-out for the first three quarters, the Lancers were determined not to concede any points here. A brutal TFL by DE Jon Vince put a stop to yet another end-around attempt, and the following shot to the endzone fell incomplete. After an unsuccessful run up the middle, Cambridge faced a 4th and 5, and what was probably their last chance to put up points due to the constantly running clock. However, the pass fell incomplete; the Lancers had maintained the shut-out.
Coming To A Close
The last Lancers drive once again started with a bang, QB Nolan Whitcomb connecting with WR Tal Jeffrey for a 52 yard deep shot. Unfortunately, a tipped pass led to an interception on the following play, but by this stage the two minute warning had come and gone, leaving Cambridge with very little time to move the ball. A pass attempt was knocked down by CB Toby Sanderson before being called back for a false start, and on the following play SS Molayo Ogunde executed a textbook dump tackle on an unfortunate Python running back. The game ended with the same kind of defensive dominance that had occurred throughout, with Ogunde combining with DE Victor Deprez to smash the same Cambridge running back behind the line of scrimmage as the game clock ticked down to zero.
Final score: Oxford Lancers 36-0 Cambridge Pythons
With resounding victory in Varsity Bowl XIV, the Lancers managed to secure the three-peat, now on a three-win streak going into the 2021-22 season. The consistent effort put in by everyone on the team to stay fit and committed to the team during lengthy periods of lockdown made this victory well-deserved. In particular, President Stewart Humble, Vice-President Jamie Forsythe, secretary George Newick and the entire executive committee worked tirelessly throughout the year to keep the Lancers physically and mentally healthy, and give them the best chance to win the Varsity Bowl. Equally, all of the Lancers’ coaches, especially Head Coach Ian Hiscock, Offensive Coordinator Patrick McAleer, and Defensive Coordinator Thomas Casson, put in significant amounts of their own time to help the team perform to the best of its ability, and this win would not have happened without them. All in all, the Oxford Lancers turned an extremely difficult year into an extremely successful one, and are determined to continue their momentum into the 2021-22 season.
Oxford Lancers Cambridge Pythons
Pass - 15 of 26, 264 yds, 2 TDs, 2 Ints Pass - 1 of 8, 5 yards, 1 Int
Run - 13 rushes, 136 yards, 2 TDs Run - 31 rushes, 78 yards
Varsity MVP (voted by Cambridge’s coaches): QB Will Szymanski
MVP (voted by Oxford’s coaches): Eric Hembling
OMVP: Will Szymanski
DMVP: Molayo Ogunde
STMVP: Kelechi Apakama
Hammer: Jon Lee
Juice: Jon Vince (for crushing a pulling guard and taking the soul out of a running back)