The existence of an American football team is something that has always seemed to fly under the radar at Oxford University.
At University Parks on the afternoon of 23rd May, however, NFL scouts should have been in attendance, as 84 players comprising 12 teams played in the Intercollegiate Flag Football Tournament. For those uninitiated, it is very similar to its sporting cousin touch rugby, as the aggressive tackling of the full sport is replaced with a softer alternative.
The game is highly tactical and its pace fast, perhaps a little too fast for those who had spent the previous night at Bloody Knuckles. As far as the scoring system goes, a touchdown is worth six points. Then, for a further point the scoring team tries to convert from five yards, or from 12 yards for the chance of two points.
The 12 teams were divided into four groups with the runners-up heading into the plate and the winners progressing into the knockout rounds to battle it out in the all-important quest for Flag Cuppers glory, and also for the day’s other grand prize: a crate of Tailgate beer.
The opening games set the tone for much of the afternoon as the ‘St Antony’s North Americans’ and their garish matching kit choice of pink shirts and very short fluorescent yellow shorts edged, or possibly blinded, ‘Lady Margaret Ball’, led by Lancers Team MVP Scott Tan at quarterback, 13 points to 12 in a firecracker of a game.
More one-sided games followed in the other two groups as the Lancers Alumni team looked masterful as they steamrollered all opposition, defeating Lincoln 22-6 and then Brasenose II 38-6. Similarly, Oriel dominated Brasenose I 31-6 before narrowly edging out the coalition of Oxford Quidditch team and the Lancer coaches 18 points to 16, with some eye-catching scores from Kiran Saini and Charlie Wells.
Holders Brasenose, however, had a rough day of results, falling flat at the first hurdle. They came away with three losses and a draw with Lincoln from their four fixtures.
The most controversial moment of the day came at the end of the pivotal clash between ‘Lady Margaret Ball’ and ‘the Wolfmen’ – a combined force of Wolfson and Mansfield. With the score finely poised at 12-14 in favour of ‘the Wolfmen’, LMH receiver Adam Wongsuwarn caught a long pass over the top of the defence and looked certain to score. ‘Wolfmen’ defender Benjamin Grønvold was almost step for step with Wongsuwarn and managed to make the tackle inches before the attacker stepped into the endzone, much to the surprise of Wongsuwarn.
Trinity were eliminated and Merton squeezed into the plate on points difference as both suffered last minute losses to the Oxford Saints – the local Men’s senior team, despite holding their own against significantly more experienced and well organised opposition.
The Saints easily made their way to the final, overcoming Oriel with relative ease. There they faced the Lancers Alumni team who had defeated ‘the Wolfmen’ in the other semi final. Despite no colleges making it to the Cup final, the decisive 28-12 victory for the Lancers Alumni was a good indication of the abilities of past students. In the plate final, Merton beat Lincoln 12-8. While controversy still abounds following the decision in the dying seconds of the LMH versus Wolfson-Mansfield match, the standard of play was generally very high.
Overall, the success of this tournament is a testament to the growing strength of American football at Oxford, as the Lancers are coming off their most successful season in team history in which they won five matches from a possible seven, including a first victory in their Brookes varsity, narrowly falling short of the playoffs. The flag season now continues at the BUCS National Tournament on Satuday 30th May.