Semi-final defeat for Braves does not take the shine off a sparkling season
THE University of Derby's American Football side bowed out of the British University and College Sports National Championship semi-finals – their first defeat of the season.
Derby Braves were beaten by the University of Birmingham's unbeaten side 63-7 at Kedleston Road.
The Birmingham Lions will now compete in a record fifth consecutive BUCS National Final against last year's winners, the University of Hertfordshire, in a repeat of last year's BUAFL final.
The Braves were positive from the first down but came up against a strong Birmingham side who led 29-0 at the interval.
Quarterback Joe Brammer sent a good throw to wide-receiver Elliot Strong in the end zone late on for a consolation touchdown, with Strong stepping up to convert the extra point but it wouldn't be enough for the Braves to overturn a mighty deficit.
Linebacker and Student Union President James Beckett is one of the most experienced players on the squad and he was well aware of the threat that Birmingham possessed.
"I have been playing American Football for the last nine years and we always expect Birmingham to get into the finals," said Beckett.
"Their head coach is the Great Britain coach and they have 14 Great Britain players in their squad and terrific strength.
"Their squad has such strength in depth and they'll be going for their sixth title now.
"We showed some good plays, although we didn't execute as well as we could have, but we have exceeded all of our expectations."
Defensive end Nathan Owen says that the late points scored by Derby emphasised the side's never-say-die attitude.
"That's definitely been a feature of the Braves for the three years I've been there. We never quit," said Owen.
"They were a good team but we kept going until the final whistle and we are so happy to have accomplished what we did."
Indeed, the Braves will look back on the 2012-13 season as a successful one. They won their BUCS North-West Conference convincingly at the first time of asking with eight wins from eight games.
They then dispatched the Portsmouth Destroyers in the National Championship quarter-finals 24-0 before coming up against a Birmingham side who had won their own conference in an even more dominant fashion.
In previous campaigns, the Braves had shown much promise but had not achieved the success they perhaps deserved.
But solid recruitment last summer and a Conference switch gave the Braves confidence going into the new campaign.
Owen believes that the Braves' unbeaten run, coupled with the comprehensive win over former champions Portsmouth, underlined the progress made by the players and by the coaching staff.
"The team have done so well. If last year you had told me that we were going to go 8-0 and go on to beat Portsmouth in the quarter finals I wouldn't have believed you," he said.
"We have been the underdog so many times this season especially against the two Sheffield sides, Warriors and Sabres. The odds have been against us and a lot of people were expecting us to lose but the team were strong and we got good wins.
"Everyone was expecting us to lose against Sheffield Hallam and we won 24-6."
Beckett said that, while it was hard to pick one highlight from such an impressive season, one match in particular stood out for him.
"If there is a highlight, it's getting that first play-off victory against Portsmouth," he said.
"There was a lot of hype with them, saying they would smash us, but we just arrived and took care of business.
"They had played five games in about two weeks coming in, which is a lot, but they too had strength in depth and we still won it."
This season will be a poignant one for several players, including Beckett and Owen, who will be leaving the Braves this summer.
"In my first season, we lost all nine games we played, so it's nice to think we've come full circle in that time," said Beckett.
The Braves finished the season fourth in the overall BUCS standings for American Football out of 73 teams and the University as a whole has risen to 61st in the sport-wide BUCS league, up 43 places in only two years.