The pre-season focused on fitness, preparing the team for direct physical exertion, and training the new recruits in order to give them the skills needed to start the first game confident in their new abilities. This year, perhaps due to the growing reputation of the NFL and in general American Football in the UK, the Raiders saw a significant rise in the number of new recruits showing interest and consequently joining the team, which has boosted both the squad size and the talent. These freshers added to the already talented roster of returning players, and it has proved a successful squad as the season has gone on.
The Raiders’ season began on a cold autumnal day in early November, against the Glasgow Tigers. Returning players proved to be rusty on both sides, and new players proved naïve and inexperienced. Defence proved to be the key to the game, which saw frustrating incomplete drives for the whole game on both offences. The game ended a disappointing 2-0 loss for the raiders, proving a dull start to what was hoped to be a big season.
"The next two games were crucial for both the season and pride"
Following the week immediately after, the Raiders travelled up north to visit the Tigers once more, who had asserted themselves as the outright favourites for the division already, despite the season still being young. This resulted in a 14-0 loss for the Raiders, which was a large blow to the hopes of an ambitious team. However, it seemed that this blow was taken as a wake-up call for the team.
The next two games were crucial for both the season and pride. In the two Northumbria games, the latter of which counted toward The Stan Calvert Trophy, both sides were nervy, and it was apparent that this was the strongest the Northumbria Mustangs have been in many years. After winning the first of the two games 14-7, the Raiders visited Northumbria riding the high of the previous week’s glory, and heads were high in anticipation of doing the double over the noisy neighbours.
The Raiders picked up where they left off on defence; the Northumbria offense seemed to have no answer to the strength of the Raiders, led by Ashley Kirby and fan favourite Houston Brown. All seemed well in the camp, especially when quarterback Adam Pynn threw a long ball into the safe hands of Jack Stainthorp, who proceeded to put on the burners and run the ball home gloriously for the first touchdown of the game.
However, Northumbria refused to be beaten. Hope came for the Mustangs as a deep throw found its way over the top of cornerback Tom Rickard’s head and into the hands of a grateful wide receiver, who took the ball into the endzone for the equaliser they so desperately wanted. The game was now in the balance.
"the Raiders have satisfyingly dispatched the threats of Lancaster and Sunderland"
The game then descended into a particularly cagey affair; both sides wanted the victory, but couldn’t risk the loss. It became stalemate. In the dying seconds, however, Northumbria had found themselves with an opportunity to kick a field goal for the win. If not for Captain and President Kai Assoun’s block of the kick, the game would have been lost. His clutch heroics had pushed the game to overtime. In overtime, Adam Pynn took over and threw the game’s winning touchdown to an open receiver. Job done.
Since then, the Raiders have satisfyingly dispatched the threats of Lancaster and Sunderland, with a further game against Sunderland to come before they march into the playoffs. Olivier Masnyk, a 5 year raider and self-proclaimed support beam for the team stated, “this is a really good group of lads. With the new members that have come in this year, we look like our success this season could be just a start as they have just begun and have years ahead of them.”