THE Exeter Demons fell to a heartbreaking 6-14 loss at Coombe Dingle as a last-minute punt was blocked and returned for the decisive Plymouth touchdown. The match was initially supposed to be played at Duckes Meadow, but weather conditions dictated otherwise. Instead of the familiar Exeter fields, the game would be played at Coombe Dingle, the home ground of Bristol.

The Blitz kicked off proceedings, and after a decent return, Exeter started their first drive. The Demons made steady progress along the field, with the highlight undoubtedly being a spectacular fake punt on which Toby Ferrison managed to make it over the line to gain a first down. However, eventually the drive ran out of steam, and, without a kicker to take the field goal attempt, Exeter turned the ball over on downs at the Plymouth 25.

The early signs continued to be positive from there. The Blitz, in their own half, failed to make progress – going three and out, and punting the ball back to Exeter, in modest position in their own half. However, that’s where the errors started to creep in, and the tide of the game began to turn. On the next Demons drive, an erroneous snap that flew far over the quarterback’s head summarised the majority of the rest of the game. This time, unlike last, Exeter did not possess the same potency, and as they punted the ball away, the direction of the game changed.

Plymouth’s drive was far more clinical than their previous attempt, as they chipped away at the Exeter defense. Playing out the remainder of the quarter, they eventually made it to the Exeter 15 by the time the sides changed ends. With the first snap of the 2nd Quarter, Plymouth found the endzone through a crowd of players. Their two-point attempt was no good, but little did it matter, for the Blitz led by a scoreline of 6-0.

Plymouth kept the pressure going. Before halftime, twice did Exeter’s defense cling on. The interceptions – one on a short pass on their own 1-yard line, and one from a slightly more adventurous pass. Exeter’s offence struggled, however, until the final drive of the half. Making it from their own half as far as the opposition 20, the Demons began to look threatening. Unfortunately, the clock was against them, and they were unable to capitalise before the referees called everyone in for halftime.

The second half definitely swung further in the Demons’ favour. Despite a poor kick to resume play, Exeter succeeded in holding Plymouth in their offensive 15-yard line, with them turning over on downs. Exeter pushed back up the field, but despite their best efforts, they found themselves picked off on the 14-yard line, handing possession back to Plymouth to run out the quarter.

Still, it wasn’t long into the 4th Quarter before Exeter regained possession. Finally, they found their way onto the scoreboard, and took away Plymouth’s lead. A sneak play by quarterback George Pearson from 11 yards out saw the Demons put up 6, and gave them hope ahead of their 2-pt conversion attempt. Yet on the conversion, their lack of timeliness cost them, as a delay of game penalty saw them pushed back by 5 yards. With just one play to try to get it in from 8 yards out, the Demons put forth a feeble attempt, and couldn’t capitalise.

Shortly after the kickoff, Exeter found yet another stroke of luck, as they pounced upon a loose ball in the Plymouth backfield to give Exeter a chance to take all the spoils. They quickly pushed up the field, making it into the red zone before eventually becoming unstuck, not least due to an illegal formation penalty that pushed them back even further. Taking their final shot on a 4th & long attempt, Adrian Baeck just couldn’t pull the ball in to keep their hopes alive.

Instead, Plymouth took over in their own territory. The Blitz put forward a clinical offensive display, advancing the ball quickly and capitalising on indiscipline from the Exeter side. With everything on the line, the defensive side managed yet another interception, as Tom Seager pulled in an attempt to pop it over the top.

With just 44 seconds on the clock, it fell to the Exeter offense to cling on to a tie. Making little progress, it was quickly 4th down, and the punter was out to clear Exeter’s line.
With the ball snapped, Plymouth lived up to their name, with rushers chasing down the kick. It had been a close call on previous punts – in fact, one punt in the 1st Quarter had actually been tipped to go out of bounds. Unforuntately, this time they didn’t quite get away with simply a slight tip. The Blitz blocked the punt, which promptly sent the ball bouncing around and back into the endzone. A mass of Plymouth players were soon after it, and with just 15 seconds left on the clock, they claimed their winning points. The 2-pt conversion, to add injury to insult, was run successfully up the middle, leaving the scoreline at 6-14.

Exeter made a last-ditch attempt from the final kickoff, even making Plymouth re-kick after their initial attempt went out of bounds, but the challenge that the clock had set them was always going to be insurmountable. A Plymouth recovery from a dropped lateral only confirmed the result – a tragic heartbreak for Exeter, and a Devon Bowl triumph for Plymouth.

Louis Chai – Team Captain: Going into the game I felt we prepared very well, adding new plays to both our Defensive and Offensive playbook. From the get go we knew Plymouth had planned to lock down our tight end Adrian Beck, as he proved to be a threat to their defense last time we played. We worked out several other plays to counter this which worked well throughout the game, such as the running back counter and slot receiver stretches. As a team we felt the game was there to be won, but due to an unlucky punt we gave up a game-deciding touchdown with no time to spare. Both teams were evenly matched, it just seemed luck wasn’t on our side. Moving forward we are trying to iron-out all mental mistakes [for] our next game against Solent. The season is still very much in our hands.

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