Good performances, and foundations for 2012 laid.
Going into the 2011 season, the Exiles had an enthusiastic, if inexperienced, squad. Numbers had been significantly bolstered over the winter, and the ambition was to improve on last season’s record. Two new sides joined the Southern Conference (Colchester Gladiators, and Reading Rebels). With so many unknown factors, nobody really knew what to expect.
The first tournament, at Marlow Wolves, gave the Exiles the hardest possible start, against the defending National Champion London Warriors. This was a tense, but pulsating encounter, with the Exiles running out 9-6 winners. This was the first time they had beaten the Warriors, and also the first time a returning National Champion had lost the first game of their following season. The Exiles could not build on this however, finishing the day with two losses, as broken plays proved the difference in losses to Marlow and London Blitz.
The next tournament saw the Exiles hosting, and a first chance to play a new team as the Rebels came to town. A fantastic game ensued, close all the way through, but a late extra point conversion by Joe Cordery made the difference, and the Exiles won 25-24. Again this was followed by two losses, to the Warriors and Blitz. The Exiles play was better than results showed, but a difficult patch was coming up, as they faced the next tournaments without veteran players including quarterback Digby Holland and Lineman Jack Lewis, and several of their promising rookies.
Tournament three was scheduled to be hosted by Reading, but an eleventh hour forfeiture was rescued by Marlow who hosted instead. This was a break out tournament for several players, including Kwame Opoku and Solomon Agbabiaka, at QB and running back respectively, but also Jonathon Eluwa who deputised for Lewis and receiver James Woods who finally got on the score sheet. With the forfeit win over the Rebels already secured, the Exiles second match was their first against the other league new boys, Colchester. This proved to be a bad tempered affair, but the Exiles prevailed 34-19. For the first time this season the Exiles went into the final game undefeated, and with much anticipation. As well as the Colchester game, the Exiles had also played a friendly against the London Blitz, who had attended instead or Reading to give all participants three matches. At the last minute Marlow declined to play their friendly, giving themselves an extended break before taking on the Exiles. This proved decisive, and they just edged out the Exiles in the final match.
With a 4-5 record, the Exiles were still in post-season contention, and went to the next tournament in Colchester. Again the Exiles started brightly, defeating the hosts behind a great defensive showing from Elijah Wood, Devon Brown and Kwame Opoku. A defeat to the Warriors saw the Exiles at 1-1 again, and another final showdown with Marlow ensued. This time the young Exiles took the game to them, and they led until the final minutes, but the long day took its toll and the Wolves converted a touchdown with under a minute to go to take the lead. One final chance saw a ‘hail mary’ pass from Holland to Myles Leslie fall incomplete, and the Exiles had lost by one point 26-25.
The Exiles picked themselves up for the year’s final tournament, hosted by the London Warriors. Although taking a depleted squad due to injury and holidays, the Exiles caught a break early on, as they were due to face the Gladiators who had failed to turn up, and therefore forfeited the game. So instead they faced the Warriors first, knowing that a win would keep them in contention for post-season play, but it wasn’t to be, despite a good performance, the Warriors won. The Exiles final game of the tournament, and season, was once again versus Marlow, and it proved to be a high scoring and explosive encounter, with points being scored at will. Once again though the Wolves edged the Exiles winning 48-34, and setting the scene for a rivalry which will no doubt continue in 2012.