On Sunday 26th April 2015, the Oxford Saints hosted the Bristol Apache.
Coming off a 18-6 win over the Torbay Trojans, the Saints had momentum on their side as they looked to beat Bristol, the division favourites.
Present at the game was special guest Eric Watts, a former player and coach who had a prestigious career at the Oxford Saints.
Eric provided great inspiration to the team and we greatly appreciated him visiting us.
In the build up to the game, Coach Eric said:
“Saints, you all will be in for a match against division favourites. This is an opportunity to send a team home with a loss.”
“Go out and impose your will each and every play. Save nothing for later. Do not pace yourself, go out and attempt to win each encounter with whoever is upon you each play.”
“There is a tally the football gods keep and it is how many times you put a body down! How many times your hunger and effort allows you to beat your opponent to contact! AND HOW MANY TIMES YOU STEAL MOMENTUM FROM YOUR OPPONENT!”
“Regardless of the previous plays outcome, share the resolve Head Coach Andrew Day played with each and every time he took the field.”
“You all are an extension of him and he gave more than his all and left every bit of him on the pitch…”
“Be confident in your preparation and second guess nothing. Play a good clean game but play it as our football forefathers envisioned; play full speed and with very bad intentions but clean… Finish every play and execute your duties. Trust in your training, coaches, and teammates and play with the mindset that your assignment on each play is the most important thing at that time and do everything in your power to complete it.”
“Remove fear from your head as it is useless on the pitch. What will happen will happen. So embrace the opportunity to be great. To be the best you can be on every snap. Do not embrace doubt and only concern yourself with Success. Technique that you have drilled so much that it has become apart of your muscle memory. Own the opportunity at greatness and be the player that other players would sacrifice for and watch an inseparable bond form.”
“Be ready for contact! Be ready to cheer on your team when not playing and all players stay near their coaches for subs. #GOSAINTS!!!”
Coach Eric led the Saints pre-game huddle and reinforced the sentiments he shared above. He shared his passion and love for the team with former teammates and the next generation of Saints alike.
After being fired up by Eric, the Saints got the party started but suffered a struggling beginning to the game and a quick Bristol touchdown was soon on the scoreboard.
Quarterback Ben Denton led a retaliation drive and hit wide receiver Sam Armstrong over the middle for 6 points to even the contest.
Alas, the Saints offense would not find the endzone again during the first half and a rampaging Bristol quickly turned the tide and put up 22 unanswered points on the boys in white.
Critical half time adjustments by the coaching staff and a renewed determination was brewing on the Saints sideline during the break.
A cinematic-like comeback saw Oxford fight harder then ever. A rampaging Saints offense marched across the field and Bristol struggled to stop them. A touchdown from James Walter helped narrow the gap, but a Saints interception really got people pumped! Cornerback Mike Turner caught the ill-fated Bristol pass and returned it 72 yards for a score.
On the next Bristol drive, free safety Michael Bearman intercepted another pass and returned it 15 yards for another Saints touchdown!
Within moments, the seemingly impossible had become possible.
Bristol answered back with another passing touchdown but were visibly struggling to deal with the momentum change. The Saints were constantly on the attack and runningback Kev Brooks dived into the endzone, making the score 34-33 to Bristol.
Head Coach Andrew Day ordered a two point conversion attempt instead of a tie and Denton connected with towering tight-end Rich Bloomer for the catch!
With the Saints in the lead for the first time, the 4th quarter was extremely tense. Stunning performances from the defensive unit continued to add pressure to Bristol’s crumbling offense.
In the dying seconds of the game, the Bristol quarterback made one last pass attempt deep downfield. With all eyes on the ball, it was looking like a possible reception until Mike Turner defiantly batted the ball to the ground.
Saints win 35-34!
(You can read the full game report here)
Following the intense game, we caught up with Coach Eric and asked if he would share his thoughts with us…
What was it like being back at the Saints?
“Revisiting familiar faces and a chapter of my life that has long since passed was indescribable with words.”
“I was humbled by all the kind remarks and comforted being able to embrace friends I have not seen in quite some time.”
“Meeting the new roster was awesome. Seeing how far some players have come and knowing how far new players will go is refreshing and why I love the game. It was an instantaneous bond. The worst parts of the game are obviously injuries and those missed assignments. Those things are a part of the game that I hate more than anything.”
“I would say first I think everyone is doing a great job. Anytime you can come back from a deficit like that shows that. ”
The play calling was allowing for plenty of momentum stealing plays. The adjustments made at the half was what life is about. You make mistakes and you learn from them. That made for great entertainment.”
“It also showed the character of the team. You fought when the game was out of reach and imposed your will on the Bristol team that simply lost interest.
“Lesson from that is play four quarters of football… SO FREAKING PROUD!”
You guys kicked butt! Utilizing momentum and not panicking would be something that I can say was something that has this team poised to be a force for many years…
What was your favourite moment of the game?
“In my opinion the ability to make plays by #4 free safety Michael Bearman early and then his adjustments and relaxing and reacting to what was given… OMG PICK SIX!!!”
Widely considered an Oxford Saints legend, we asked a number of players what they think about Coach Eric, both those who knew him already and those who met him for the first time…
Veteran middle linebacker #54 Dean Bryan remembers Coach Eric well, and said:
“Eric is the most passionate football guy I have ever met. I have known him as a teammate and a coach and he has been instrumental in so many positive ways. He knows the game technically, he understands the game from a players perspective and a coaching perspective and his knowledge is second to none. Just having him down for one game on the side line is a huge inspiration, especially for the lads that knew him while he was part of the Saints team.”
“He also used to make a point of coming over and helping me learn the position of offensive line when I was a new player. His ability to share knowledge is what made him both a great teammate and a great coach.”
“Beyond football, he is just a great guy as well. It was great to see him again. I’m glad we found a way to turn the game around and get him a win.”
2nd year linebacker #42 Luke Fry met Coach Eric for the first time, he said:
“I hadn’t met Coach Eric before Sunday but purely from the way our experienced players and coaches reacted to him confirming he would be at the game, I got a sense of the respect they all have for him.”
“It didn’t take long on Sunday for me to hold that same respect. Coach Eric speaks with such contagious passion and motivation that it is impossible not to get swept along with him.”
“In his huddle with the team before the game he said that football is a game of momentum. I don’t think there is a better example of that than what happened on Sunday and I am so pleased we managed to show him what we, as a team, are about.
“It was an honour to have such an inspirational guy who has so much Saints heritage at the game and I hope to meet him again at another game.”
Veteran safety #82 Ali Galbraith remembers being coached by Eric Watts:
“It meant so much to me to have Coach Watts back on the sideline. He was my positional coach when I was finding my feet with the Saints in my second or third year, what a coach to learn from!
“His heart and passion not just for the sport but for the Saints is so infectious. The man is forever coaching and it was a pleasure to come off the field and get the feedback from him: Minor tells to spot a play, whose looking dangerous, if someone isn’t doing their assignment. Amazing knowledge!”
“The Saints is filled with a lot of young and fresh faces now that have never met Coach Watts so I really wanted to show them why he was, and still is, so valuable to me as a player and the Saints as an organisation.”
“I messaged him the day before the game to ask him if he could say a few words in the pre game huddle to get the guys pumped up, just like how he did when I was in my early years. Boy did he deliver!”
“In true Eric Watts fashion, he put words together that sent chills down my spine. I can honestly say it was an honour to have met such an inspirational character and I’m happy the young guys got to see a sneak peek of the great Coach Eric Watts.”
The Saints now move on to battle the Swindon Storm on 3rd May 2015. View our full schedule here.