Ever since the Stallions lifted the Emirates American Football League (EAFL) Desert Bowl trophy back in 2015, wins have been more at a premium for a team that has suffered consistent turnover both on the field and on the sidelines.
But after coming away empty-handed through the first two weeks of this season, the Stallions got off the mark to earn head coach Patrick Campos his first victory with his new club by beating Abu Dhabi at The Sevens on Friday.
Offence had been a bright spot for the Stallions even in their two losses and the attack was impressive once again with Joe Chamberlain getting his first start at quarterback.
“It was amazing to get back under (centre),” said Chamberlain. “It’s been about six years since I last played QB. The last time I played we lost by about 44 so I’m quite glad we got the victory today and got the monkey off my back.”
There was little to celebrate for the Wildcats, however, as they remained winless by moving to 0-3 (one loss by forfeit).
It’s been a trying start to the season for Tony Robinson’s men after reaching consecutive Desert Bowls the past two years.
Once known for controlling the trenches, the Wildcats have struggled early on with line play.
“We have to have a little more pressure up front. I mean, our offensive line was pushed around a bit today,” said wide receiver and safety Paul Carrizosa.
“But we have a lot of faith in our guys. We need to get a little more time in practice, get some of the puzzle pieces back in order and I’m confident we can win football games.”
The top two of the teams in the league, meanwhile, battled to an 8-8 draw on Friday.
Each team’s offence was able to find the end zone this time, with Al Ain switching up their attack to finally score against the Barracudas’ stingy defence, which allowed their first points of the season.
“Our coach implemented a new offence and I think we executed it alright, considering we only had two days to practice it,” said Desert Foxes wide receiver and defensive back Te’andre McKinney. “A lot of our guys were injured so I think we did pretty good with what we had.”
On the other side of the ball, coach Johnny Sharp wasn’t pleased to see his defence surrender points again. So as he did two weeks ago, Sharp made his team run after the final whistle.
And McKinney expects some more tough love this week, saying: “I’m pretty sure we’re going to get it at practice.”
The Desert Foxes and Barracudas are knotted atop the standings with a 2-0-1 record, but the defending champions hold the tiebreaker with their superior point differential.
If it wasn’t clear before, it is now: expectations for the Al Ain Desert Foxes have been drastically raised and coach Johnny Sharp intends on meeting them.
The defending champions remained perfect on the Emirates American Football League (EAFL) season with a second win in as many chances by beating the Dubai Stallions 20-6 at Zayed Sports City on Friday.
But for Sharp, Al Ain eluded perfection when they allowed a garbage-time touchdown in the final minutes, marking the first time anyone has scored on Desert Foxes’ stingy defence through eight quarters of football.
Sharp, who proclaimed ahead of the season that he would be disappointed if his team allowed any points, wasn’t pleased to see the Stallions find the end zone on Taylor Avritt’s 2-yard pass to Theo Von Aspern late in the fourth quarter.
So after the game, Sharp made his squad run.
“Expectations are always ‘give up nothing at all’. I screamed to them, ‘if you give this up, we’re going to have to deal with it,’” Sharp said.
“Immediately, we shook hands, we lined up and we ran. The expectations are clear not only to my team, but to the league. The expectation is to give donuts to everybody, every week.”
These are the same Desert Foxes who were happy just to earn a win last season to end a multi-year drought.
But much has changed since and after claiming their first title, Al Ain have adopted the mentality of champions.
“We just need to finish. Every play is a new down,” said Desert Foxes receiver Nicholas Amica, who scored Al Ain’s first touchdown against the Stallions on a pass from Jay Hall. “[Coach Sharp] said he wanted us to finish. We just didn’t finish the way we wanted to finish.”
The Desert Foxes’ offence, meanwhile, was impressive in punching in three touchdowns.
After Amica’s score, Hall added a 1-yard quarterback keeper in the second quarter and then recovered a fumble to set up Thomas Newman’s 3-yard plunge in the third quarter.
The only points in the battle of attrition came when Barracudas quarterback David Pearce connected with Bernard Morrey II on a touchdown pass, with running back Luke Norrey converting the two-point conversion in the third quarter.
“We knew it was going to be a tough game with both sides short on players, but we trusted our line, ran hard and we got the result,” said Norrey.
After just one game, the Dubai Stallions‘ offence already appears well ahead of schedule.
Though the results didn’t bear it out in the Emirates American Football League’s (EAFL) opening weekend, the Stallions impressed with their ability to move the ball, especially through the air.
If not for a goal-line stand by the Al Ain Desert Foxes, the Stallions would have scored on Johnny Sharp’s impenetrable defence and perhaps pulled out a win.
The Stallions get another crack at the defending champions when the teams meet at Zayed Sports City in Abu Dhabi tomorrow (Friday) in a battle of top units on each side of the ball.
For the Stallions, quarterback Matt Duncan turned heads with his ability to sling the ball in the opener and despite suffering a dislocated finger towards the end of the contest, he’ll again be under centre tomorrow.
“Across the board, of all the three teams, we probably by a wide margin had the most passing yardage,” said Stallions coach Patrick Campos. “Matt throws the ball real well, but we also have Taylor [Avritt] who also runs at quarterback as well as a duel-threat guy.
“People didn’t expect us to throw the ball like that because in our league especially it takes until the middle of the season before you get that rhythm down.”
Avritt was the regular quarterback last season under coach Brett Turek and while Duncan may take more snaps going forward, Campos plans on utilising both players and mixing in different offensive packages at various points in the game.
The Stallions offence will also receive a boost with wide receiver Christian Ridley making his debut for the Dubai side.
After showcasing in his lone appearance with the EAFL Falcons in Ukraine over the offseason, Ridley will provide the Stallions with a playmaker on the outside.
“He will be [on Johnny Sharp’s radar],” Campos said of Ridley, who played at St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia, Canada. “He’ll be even more after this week, I’m sure.”
Sharp, meanwhile, was complimentary when giving his first impressions of the Stallions from last week, saying: “They have a really nice team and I think they’re going to surprise some people.”
But the Desert Foxes coach doesn’t expect any surprises against his stout defence, who he remains confident in to shut down all opponents this season.
“Like I said last week, I’d be really disappointed if someone scored on us,” Sharp stated. “We’re just really big, we’re really strong and fast at all the right positions.”
Tony Robinson’s men had to forfeit last week after not having enough players to field a team, while the Barracudas got Zavier Cobb’s coaching tenure off to a strong start with a win for the week.