With the majority of this year’s squad made up of rookies, the Sabres were considered a long shot at making the playoffs. However, with experience at all the skill positions on offence, and a wealth of speed on defence, Sheffield were to prove their doubters wrong in an exciting season which was to be the final year for Sabres founder Damian Marshall.
Additions to the coaching staff of former BCAFL standouts Clive Kelty (Glasgow), defensive co-ordinator, and Mark Gowan (Loughborough), Offensive Line coach, were to be key factors in producing a team capable of competing with the bigger clubs in the Northern Conference. Setting hearts racing with their exciting passing game and aggressive defence, the 2001-2002 Sheffield Sabres were entertaining the crowds on their way to their first ever playoff appearance.
|Away Team||Home Team|
|Tees Valley Cougars||51-12||Sheffield Sabres|
|Strathclyde Hawks||16-20||Sheffield Sabres|
|Leeds Celtics||8-18||Sheffield Sabres|
|Sheffield Sabres||8-19||Hull Sharks|
|Sheffield Sabres||14-0||Newcastle Mariners|
|Sheffield Sabres||7-20||Nottingham Outlaws|
|Sheffield Sabres||14-0||Lancaster Bombers|
|Newcastle Mariners||6-37||Sheffield Sabres|
|Sheffield Sabres||13-18||Stirling Clansmen|
|BCAFL Northern Conference – Eastern Division Standings|
|UT Cougars 51-12 Sheffield Sabres|
|Coming into the game the Cougars were strong favourites and showed why, overwhelming the inexperienced Sheffield side in all facets of the game. The Cougars, however, were surprised at Sheffield’s ability to pass against their defence, catching a glimpse of things to come for future Sabres opponents.The Sabres kicked off their 2001 season at home, hosting last year’s Northern Conference runners up, Teesside. The Cougars started well, forcing the Sabres to punt on their first posession, and scoring on their first drive with Richard Marshall’s rumbling 30 yard run. the PAT made it 7-0.
The Sabres came back strong as QB Damian Marshall hooked up with his receivers to drive downfield. The drive saw Will Davis catch 3 passes, including a 3 yard touchdown. The PAT was blocked and the score was 7-6.
From there, the Cougars running game took control of the game, punishing tacklers and helping Teesside to a 30-6 halftime lead. The Sabres opened the third quarter with a strong drive, culminating in a 20 yard pass from Marshall to Mark Squire, who made a diving catch in the corner of the endzone. Although Sheffield continued to move the ball throughout the game, they couldn’t find the endzone regularly enough to keep up.
The Cougars stayed with their strong running game and wound up as winners, 51-12, in a game which could easily have a had a much tighter scoreline. Encouraging signs from the Sabres that this year they could pull off some surprises.
|Strathclyde Hawks 16-20 Sheffield Sabres|
|Coming off a big opening day win against divisional rivals Stirling, the Hawks made the long journey south to Sheffield hoping to extend their winning start. The Sabres had other ideas as Strathclyde QB Gary McNey was contained by the defence and the Sabres passing once again was the talk of the town.Strathclyde’s long journey to Sheffield seemed to have no effect on the visitors as they drove down to the Sabres’ goal-line on their opening drive. Sheffield’s defence played big on the goal-line and stopped the Hawks on fourth down. After the turnover, a fumble by the Sabres gave the ball right back to Strathclyde who made no mistakes this time, opening the scoring with a 2 yard run by Simon Shankie. The Sabres came back in the second quarter as QB Damian Marshall hit wide receiver Simon Gibson in stride for a 24 yard touchdown. When the Hawks got the ball back and eventually fumbled it, allowing SS Jake Treen to return it 35 yards for the score. The two-point conversion failed, leaving the Sabres up 12-8. Strathclyde, however, fought back, scoring again before half time and converting for two to take a 16-12 lead into the break. Sheffield regained the lead in the third quarter as Marshall found WR Mark Squire, who turned the ball upfield to score a 14 yard touchdown. The conversion again went to Squire to make it 20-16 to the Sabres. Both defences held out in the fourth and in the last two minutes, Sheffield controlled the ball to win their first of the season against a much fancied Strathclyde team.|
|Leeds Celtics 8-18 Sheffield Sabres|
|The rivalry between the two Yorkshire cities of Leeds and Sheffield was brought onto the gridiron in the first divisional match up between these two teams. The Celtics gave Sheffield an early scare but 3 TD passes in the 2nd quarter and strong defence in the second half sealed the win.Three touchdowns in the second quarter was enough for Sheffield as they came back from 8-0 down to secure victory by 18 points to 8.A slow start by Sheffield’s defence allowed Leeds to drive into the Sabres’ redzone on their first drive. After being stopped on fourth down the Sabres took over the ball but went three-and-out on their first possession, forcing a punt. When the punter kneeled as he caught the ball a safety was called and two points awarded to Leeds. The Celtics extended their lead when Hytham Hamad ran the ball into the corner of the Sheffield endzone to make it 8-0 to Leeds. The extra point kick was blocked. In the 2nd quarter the Sabres offense came to life. QB Damian Marshall (pictured) found wide receiver Simon Gibson across the middle of the field, who took the ball into the endzone for a 45 yard touchdown. The Sabres next possession saw Marshall again hit Gibson, this time to convert on third down. Gibson, however, had more than a first down in mind, eluding defenders to score a sensational 40 yard touchdown. A fumble by Leeds on the ensuing kickoff gave the ball back to Sheffield with less than a minute remaining in the half. The Sabres took to the skies once more as wide out Will Davis hauled in a 28 yard 4th down pass from Marshall to score in the back corner of the endzone. That score gave the Sabres a lead they would hold on to, as a scoreless second half resulted in a Sheffield win. Sabres wide receiver Simon Gibson finished the match with 6 catches for 125 yards and 2 TDs.|
|Sheffield Sabres 8-19 Hull Sharks|
|In this game a new rivalry was forged as the Sabres were frustratingly denied by the eventual North Eastern division winners, the Sharks.On a cold and windy day in Hull, both the Sharks’ and Sabres’ defences frustrated the opposition offensive units with clutch plays to stop drives. Sheffield’s opening drive brought them to the Hull red zone where they were unable to come away with any points. Hull’s tough running game and Sheffield’s slick passing attack both continued to move the ball but couldn’t score any points. With the game at 0-0 in the fourth quarter, a controversial call by the referees gave Hull the ball at the Sabres’ 10 yard line, after it was judged that the ball hit a Sheffield player after being punted, allowing Hull to recover possession. Sheffield’s defence, having just stopped the Sharks, had to retake the field and were unable to stop them again, as RB Ollie Tiainen scored on an 8-yard run. Mike Barrat added the extra point to take the score to 7-0. After Sheffield’s next drive failed, Hull increased their lead, as Ollie Tiainen scored his second TD of the day to make it 13-0. A fumble by the Sabres on the ensuing kickoff gave the Sharks the ball deep in Sheffield territory again, where Victor Choi ran the ball in from 20 yards out, giving Hull a 19-0 lead. With less than 2 minutes remaining, QB Damian Marshall led Sheffield on an 80 yard touchdown drive culminating in Simon Gibson’s 3 yard TD catch as time expired. Will Davis caught the 2 point conversion to give Sheffield some consolation points. Marshall ended up with 256 yards passing in the game but was frustrated at losing a game which could have gone either way.|
|Sheffield Sabres 14-0 Newcastle Mariners|
|With Sabres QB Damian Marshall playing with an injured throwing shoulder, the rest of the Sheffield squad stepped up beat the Mariners and bring Sheffield to 3-1. Victory, however was not assured until late in the game.On a cold day in Newcastle, Sheffield’s running game exploded with a big performance by Ben King. Despite his running, the Sabres had trouble in the redzone and failed to score until just before halftime. From the three yard line King broke a tackle and managed to sprint into the corner for the go ahead score. Tough defence from both teams continued in the second half, as neither team could force their way to a score. In the last 2 minutes, Sheffield punter Mike Cowdy pinned Newcastle down on their 2-yard line with a kick into the corner. From there, a high snap sailed out of the back of the endzone to give Sheffield two points. The ensuing free kick was returned 50 yards by Will Davis to seal the win for the Sabres. King finished the day with 127 yards rushing and 20 yards receiving.|
|Sheffield Sabres 7-20 Nottingham Outlaws|
|Sheffield were sloppy after the Christmas break and lost a game they should have won because of poor preparation. After this game their playoff spot seemed in jeopardy.Both teams started slowly in their return to action after the Christmas break but it was Nottingham who managed to get on the board first as Eric Puleio scored from 5 yards out in the second quarter. The Outlaws defence held firm again as the Sabres failed to make any significant offensive gains on their next drive. With possession of the ball once more Nottingham consumed time on the clock and managed to extend their lead as Dan Gistri scored from 3 yards out to give a halftime scoreline of 12-0. After the break Sheffield looked much more lively, as their defence stopped Nottingham and allowed the Sabres offense to take the field. A 70 yard drive which included 3 catches by WR Will Davis and a 15 yard run by Half Back Ben King was culminated by Simon Gibson’s 8 yard reception from Damian Marshall. Nottingham came back, however, and Dan Gistri’s 20 yd catch from Mark Fisher, converted by Puleio’s 2-point run, made it 20-7 to the Outlaws. Chasing the game late in the fourth quarter, Marshall was intercepted going deep by Roland Verhaaf, and Nottingham ran out the clock to seal the win.|
|Sheffield Sabres 14-0 Lancaster Bombers|
|A constant downpour in bleak Lancaster made this a game where the team who made the fewest mistakes would win. Sheffield were the team, as RB Ben King continued his string of good performances on astro-turf.In driving rain and strong wind at Lancaster, the Sheffield Sabres were able to grind out a win to keep their playoff hopes alive.
Sheffield started strongly, driving down to the Bombers 8 yard line where Damian Marshall hit Simon Gibson in the endzone with an 8 yard pass. The 2 point conversion attempt failed. Lancaster struggled to move the ball and the Sabres defence were able to give the ball back to their offensive teammates to move the ball again. Behind strong running from fullback John Stack, Sheffield drove to the 12 yard line, where RB Ben King ran a sweep behind blocking from Stack and WR Will Davis into the corner of the endzone.
On the bombers’ next possession they were pinned inside their 10 yard line and were forced to punt. The snap bounced at the feet of the punter, who was forced to run the ball but was unable to escape his own endzone as CB Dan Eyles laid a huge hit on him in the front corner. From then on, the weather took control, making any offensive success hard to come by.
It was Sheffield who controlled the ball and the clock, forcing offensive errors by Lancaster along the way, to seal a hard fought win in tough conditions.
|Newcastle Mariners 6-37 Sheffield Sabres|
|An improved Mariners team were not improved enough as the playoff hungry Sheffield sabres closed out the regular season with a win, sealing a playoff spot.The Sabres clinched their first post season place with a strong team performance against the visiting Newcastle Mariners. WR Simon Gibson opened the scoring with a 25 yard touchdown catch which was converted by Ben King’s extra point kick. In the second quarter, with Sheffield moving the ball again, Newcastle CB Chris Bland stepped up took an interception 55 yards for the touchdown. The conversion attempt failed. With just over a minute remaining in the half the Sabres marched downfield to extend their lead as Damian Marshall found a wide open Will Davis in the endzone. The PAT gave Sheffield a 14 – 6 halftime lead. In the third quarter with Newcastle attempting to punt, a Sheffield hand blocked the kick for DT Matt Court to rumble 10 yards into the endzone. A short time later the Sabres offense came back into the game, driving downfield but coming up short and settling for a 25 yard Ben King field goal. On their next drive, however, they weren’t to be stopped, as FB John Stack powered his way over the goal line from 2 yards out. The scoring didn’t stop there. With the Mariners pinned back inside their 10 yard line, a high snap sailed over the punter’s head and into the endzone where Clive Kelty recovered for the Sabres, sealing a 37-6 win over their division rivals.|
|Sheffield Sabres 13-18 Stirling Clansmen|
|A long trip north was fruitless for the Sabres as the lead was lost late in the game and an exciting season was ended in Stirling.Sheffield’s match at Stirling escaped the wintry conditions which had hit Scotland over the weekend and the Sabres first playoff encounter was an exciting one.
After a scoreless first quarter Sheffield opened the scoring when QB Damian Marshall found Simon Gibson slanting across the field and Gibson eluded defenders to reach the endzone from 60 yards out. Stirling came back and methodically drove downfield for QB Andrew Macalla to run the ball into the corner of the endzone from 7 yards out. Stirling weren’t finished there though. With the clock ticking toward the end of the 1st half they scored again as Jon Sutherland caught a pass from Macalla to give the Clansmen a 12-6 halftime lead.
In the 3rd quarter a fired up Sheffield defence came out and stopped Stirling’s offensive momentum. The Sabres offense then drove downfield, converting a crucial 4th down and 10 as Marshall found Gibson for a 12 yard gain. From there the Sabres went on to score through Gibson once more as he caught a pass from Marshall for an 8 yard touchdown. Ben King’s PAT then gave Sheffield a 13-12 lead. From then Sheffield were moving the ball but couldn’t find a way to score and Stirling made them pay.
Driving down to the 2 yard line, aided by some key penalties, Andrew Macalla scored his second TD of the day to make the score 18-13. Sheffield found themselves with the ball at their own 13 yard line with 5 minutes left in the game.
An injury sustained by LT Eddie Mellor caused a stoppage in the game as the ambulance crew had to take him to a nearby hospital. Fortunately Mellor, who was named one of the game’s MVPs, had sustained a badly sprained neck and was able to walk later on and return home with Sheffield. After around an hour’s stoppage in the game play recommenced.
The Sabres were unable to advance from 2nd and 5 and were forced to punt the ball downfield and hope to regain possession. The Clansmen, however, had other ideas and were able to convert key plays and get first downs to run out the clock.
Despite the loss, and the chances they had to win, Sheffield look forward to returning to playoff action next year, albeit without long-time Sabres legends Simon Gibson, Will Davis, Ben King and Damian Marshall.