A champion on the field and now a champion on the sidelines, Zavier Cobb pushed all the right buttons to lead his Dubai Barracudas to the Desert Bowl title in his first year as head coach.
The former quarterback received outstanding two-way performances from veterans Luke Norrey and Alex Rodriguez to defeat the Abu Dhabi Wildcats 19-0 in Desert Bowl VI at Dubai Sports City on Friday, relegating the capital side to runners-up for a third consecutive year.
One season after finishing near the bottom of the Emirates American Football League (EAFL) standings, the Barracudas returned to prominence under Cobb by finishing unbeaten at 6-0-1.
“It was a remarkable season,” Cobb said after lifting the Desert Bowl trophy for a second time, with the first coming as a player in 2016.
“The team just made it an easy transition for me. I couldn’t have done it without those guys. They respected the position I had and transitioned into and just made it easy for me. It was a good season.”
Norrey, who often shared the same backfield as Cobb, deflected the credit back onto his coach.
“He brings a lot of experience. He knows the guys, he knows the league and he knows football very well,” Norrey said. “He’s able to use what he knows and train the guys up. We got new guys and he was able to help them and he’s able to put certain people in positions to succeed.”
Rodriguez and Norrey flipped the script in the contest, with the former – a lineabacker – scoring two rushing touchdowns on runs of 7 and 2 yards, while the latter – one of the league’s best running backs – notched a sack, a forced fumble and tackle for a loss. Norrey also did his usual damage carrying the ball by racking up 103 yards on just seven carries.
Rodriguez and Norrey picked up Defensive and Offensive Player of the Game honours, respectively, but they could have just as easily swapped awards.
The Barracudas’ third score came on a 56-yard connection from quarterback David Pearce to wide receiver Gary Stillman.
For as many points as they scored, the newly-crowned champions were arguably more impressive on the other side of the ball.
Facing one of the league’s best players, running back Vivaldi Tulysse, the Barracudas held the Wildcats star to just 54 yards on 14 carries.
“We expected the no-hurry and the formations,” Rodriguez said. “Coach Z had us prepared for it, so we had formations to respond to everything they had – the double tight, the overload – we had positions added to the line to stop the run, which is how they beat Al Ain last week.”
Cobb singled out the defence as the number one reason the Barracudas earned their second title, saying: “If it wasn’t for the defence, we wouldn’t be here. We can win 3-0 because of our defence. It was easy for us to win like that. The defence was the backbone of the Barracudas this year.”