Dubai Barracudas break deadlock with Al Ain Desert Foxes for top seed
As the saying goes, the third time was the charm for deciding who holds the edge in the budding rivalry between the Dubai Barracudas and Al Ain Desert Foxes.
After playing to a draw in their first two head-to-head meetings, the Barracudas broke the deadlock with a last-second 3-0 victory to hand the defending champions their first defeat of the season at The Sevens on Friday.
Not only was the number one seed in the playoffs up for grabs in the clash, but both teams also put their unbeaten records on the line.
A contentious pre-game, in which the teams didn’t shake hands, was followed by a chippy contest that featured both defences at the top of their games.
With points at a premium, the Barracudas were able to seal the win on Daniel Viranyi’s 20-yard field goal with 35 seconds remaining.
“We wanted to take that momentum and we wanted that first seed,” said Viranyi. “Lot of trash talk before the game and I think it wasn’t quite what we were hoping for. Each team wanted to shut up the other team and it didn’t quite turn out that way. 3-0, lucky punch, but we’ll take it.”
The game’s hero nearly ended up as its zero after missing a field goal and dropping a would-be touchdown earlier.
But when given the green light by coach Zavier Cobb to line up for the eventual game-winner, Viranyi came through.
“I knew I could take the distance. Saw it in the first kick,” he said. “Coach trusted in me and that’s why I just took it. I didn’t think about it. Just up and in.”
The loss was a tough pill to swallow for Al Ain coach Johnny Sharp, who had been visibly upset whenever his team even allowed points this season.
Though a rematch with the Barracudas – which can only come now in the Desert Bowl – may be at the forefront of the Desert Foxes’ minds, Sharp knows they’ll have to clean up their mistakes before they can exact revenge.
“It’s a lot of work we need to do. We said that three times,” Sharp said.
“They won the game with less than two minutes to go with a good kicker. He’s a great kicker. We just hurt ourselves. I’m not taking anything away from the Barracudas because [Zavier] Cobb put together a solid game, but we made a lot of mental errors that we need to be able to do better, otherwise we won’t make it to the Desert Bowl.”
While one rematch will have to wait, the opening round of the playoffs will feature a rematch of last year’s Desert Bowl epic after the Abu Dhabi Wildcats earned their first win to move up to the three seed.
Tony Robinson's men have had an uncharacteristically poor season following consecutive Desert Bowl appearances, but they finally got off the mark by beating the Dubai Stallions 14-0 on Friday.
Justin Kirby reeled in a receiving touchdown to open the scoring for the Wildcats, before quarterback Robert Lega used his legs for a 7-yard rushing score and the 2-point conversion.
“It’s an amazing feeling,” said Robinson. “I knew the guys were capable of coming out and playing this way all season. It just took us a little longer than we anticipated and expected to put a win on the board.”
Though the Barracudas and Desert Foxes appear destined to battle it out at this year’s Desert Bowl, Robinson knows as well as anyone that regular season success doesn’t guarantee playoff triumph.
Which means the door is still open for Abu Dhabi to return to the big stage and capture a title that has been so elusive.
Robinson said: “We’re starting to peak at the right time and right when it matters and I think these guys are in it to try and make it to the dance.”
Jay Asser - Sport360