Underdogs really bit back

Last Saturday saw the culmination of Cayman’s version of gridiron glory.

On a day when the underdogs would come out on top, the Hammerhead Lady Pirates would beat the previously undefeated Walkers Wonders 19-14 in the women’s final.

Meanwhile in the men’s final the Caybrew Farm Soldiers would upset the Doghouse Bulldogs 20-13.

Leading up to game time rain clouds had clustered in the horizon. In parts of the island rain hampered many outside activities.

For most sports rain signals a time to rest and plan for games being played another day. But for Cayman’s gritty flag football stars rain is only a natural coolant for their fiery souls.

With a late start for the action, fans had a chance to gather after lunch in droves. They brought chairs, music players and a desire to see all the players give it their all.

Whether they were young enough to barely talk or old enough to understand the gravity of the games, the mob was in a silent admiration of the teams and their journey to this point.

It was only the weekend before that the field at Cayman International School witnessed the end of the West Bay Hellcats reign as champions while Walkers were ever-closer to their seeming destiny.

Those games were certainly intense and the fans would be delighted with a similar feeling on the field for Saturday’s matches.

The Lady Pirates were a rugged team that did their best to stay in games on both sides of the ball. More than anything they relied on the playmaking ability of Christina Bisnauth and Allie Amos.

With Amos playing with a not completely mended broken arm most felt Hammerheads were in trouble before the match.

Many thought Walkers and their powerful offense would overrun the side. With Perry Levy calling the plays and Jordana Clarke running them to perfection, Wonders were a heavy favourite.

The first half seemed to prove that Walkers were the team to beat. Clarke was on point in most cases, finding her favourite target Krishan Welcome for big plays down field.

For Hammerheads Lisa Malice did her best to keep the squad in it. Though she doesn’t have the same kind of mobility as Amos, she avoided quarterback rushes best she could and got the ball to Bisnauth for positive gains.

But unsung heroes Hong Nguyen and Eleanor Berry would make Amos’ absence a non-issue. Their play would produce a match few had expected.

In the second half the Lady Pirates came marching back into the game. The Walkers defense had been solid to this point but seemed to be over-confident and unravelled.

They gave up easy plays over the middle and didn’t close in fast to tackle runners and prevent big gains.

The lack of passion visibly disturbed Coach Levy. He could be heard screaming for more hustle and more focus. Bear in mind that at one point Levy’s team were up by as much as 10 points.

The result was the Wonders gave up a bevy of scores to a squad that had not even scored 8 points by half-time.

With each Hammerheads score the crowd would have mixed reactions. Some would cheer and scream in approval while others were silent with looks of dismay as Walkers’ lead evaporated.

Soon Hammerheads would get 19 points on the board with big touchdown runs by Bisnauth and Dionne Whittaker.

However the dagger for Walkers would come via a beautiful pass from Malice to Berry in the game’s waning moments. The touchdown would render a win for the Pirates, a miracle.

Coach Levy did his best to motivate his players and get them to shove the ball down the throat of the Hammerheads defense.

But throwing under pressure would be Clarke’s undoing. With only some 20 yards to go for a touchdown, Clarke stepped back and hurled a pass to the left corner trying to find a towering Dionne Anglin.

But it would fall short and be aptly intercepted. Hammerheads would make a short celebration before trotting back onto the field to spike the ball and run out the clock.

The crowd, shocked but impressed, gave an appreciative applause as the Lady Pirates gathered at midfield to celebrate.

From there the Hammerheads would shake hands with the Wonders before taking the trophy and going on a brief victory trot across the field.

While Berry and company celebrated in the distance, a broken and downtrodden Walkers team gathered by their coach for one final pep talk. Many players took the loss especially hard and had tears flow down their face.

Rex Whittaker, who is an assistant to the Lady Pirates coaching staff, said the team played like a solid unit on the day.

‘The women’s team really gelled together and today they played well together.’

Dionne Whittaker, Rex’s wife, said after the game that the team came out and proved their doubters wrong.

‘Before the game I heard Drew [Dhanraj] of [Digital Design] Storm telling other people we didn’t have the ammunition to win. We proved today that we have more than enough.

‘We knew we could take them down in the end. Big-ups to Lisa and Allie Amos (who was not 100 per cent). Those girls helped carry this team to victory today.’

The mixed emotions of joy and sorrow would linger on the field for some time after. The refs would take a breather and prepare themselves for another passion-filled game in the men’s final.

Both teams could be seen warming up and stretching some 40 minutes before start time. Both knew this game would be winner take all and amped themselves up for a drag-down fight to the finish.

The crowd soon composed itself after the women’s final and was thirsty for blood-pumping plays that would determine the new champion.

Among the spectators gathered for the game were the Doghouse cheerleaders. With their pom-poms and ripped player’s jerseys they brought an element of humour that such a serious game needed.

In the first half, the game was a struggle of attrition. Both teams came out with conservative offenses that looked to gradually rack up yards.

Doghouse’s Johnny Mack was up to his old tricks behind centre as he used his cat-like reflexes to bob and weave his way around tackles and look for receivers down field.

The likes of Sean Moyle and Drew Koslow did their best to help out Mack with some good catches in the heart of the Caybrew secondary.

For Caybrew Luigi Moxam did his best to stick to a five-step drop and hit receivers for short gains in the pocket.

Among his favourite targets were Brad Conolly and Leslie Harvey, who used their speed to get to the first down markers the best they could.

Meanwhile both defenses brought the onslaught of rushes and big-play stopping tackles fans had come to see.

Jason Moir and Leif Ristimaki put the bite in the Doghouse defense, rushing Moxam on many occasions.

Meanwhile Jeff Wight and Edison Jackson were a thorn in the Bulldogs side as they got to Mack and dogged his receivers.

In spite of the squads being evenly matched both would find their way onto the scoreboard.

In the first half Connolly and Harvey would find the end zone for Caybrew while Doghouse countered with scores from Jeff Alban and Joe Ferruzzi.

The crowd was buzzing with each big play and let out moans and cheers with each score.

The level of support for each side was about even though the crowd let the referees hear their displeasure with every yellow flag thrown.

At half-time Coach Johan Moxam preached defense to Caybrew. Moxam felt his linebackers weren’t getting to the quarterback enough and said victory would come down to playing their game.

Meanwhile Todd Hazlewood inspired Doghouse to attack the Caybrew secondary while disrupting Moxam’s passing.

In the second half Caybrew seemed to be the one to execute. Mack was constantly hurried with Eckerd McField and Celester Anderson making some big plays.

Doghouse did their best on the defensive side with inspired play from Jon Pump and the Classens but Caybrew simply ran them to the ground. Oliver Parker’s ability to run through the gaps and Harvey’s knack for shaking tackles would seal the fate of the Bulldogs.

When the final whistle blew the Caybrew side would jump for joy and sprint onto the field, waving their arms in the air in wild celebration.

Doghouse could only look on with misty eyes and looks of disgust as they trotted off the field.

Soon the team would lift the trophy and enjoy a long and spirited celebration well into the evening.

For defensive hero Edison Jackson, the game showed Caybrew were simply the better squad.

‘We were well-disciplined and patient. We worked hard on both sides of the ball and we were simply the better team on the day.’

Meanwhile for partner in crime Celester Anderson the win was the culmination of years of struggle.

‘I’m ecstatic, excited and exhausted. It feels good to beat the best to be the champs. Today we proved we can beat anyone anytime, anywhere.

‘I’ve spent five years in the league and it’s good to win with a talented though seemingly dysfunctional group. It was a great season and we came together at the right time.’

Ultimately Chris Gourzong, who plays for the Hammerhead Pirates, felt Caybrew won by simply sticking to their game plan.

‘They won by Luigi keeping his cool and the team rallying around him. They kept the pressure on Johnny Mack and they won the way I said they would: via a low-scoring game.’

By day’s end though the crowd did not witness proper American football they did see teams labelled as underdogs do the improbable.

For a day they became Cayman’s version of last year’s Super Bowl champion New York Giants as they took down the New England Patriots of their leagues.