|August 11, 2013||2:30 pm||BAFA NL II South Central||2013|
6 - 55Full Time
The Spartans saw their forgetable 2013 campaign take a step closer to the finish with a 6-55 destruction at the hands of the Colchester Gladiators.
This was always going to be a tough game – Essex travelled with a heavily depleted squad, with the Spartans coming dangerously close to a forfeit before the opening kickoff. But that is not the Spartan way, and the small travelling core of the Spartans squad elected to do whatever it took to play the game, leading to players playing both ways, or in positions they had not played before.
The visitors knew they needed to do something special to pull off the upset over the undefeated Gladiators – and starting with an onside kick certainly caught the eye, catching Colchester on the back foot and gifting the Spartans good starting field position. The Gladiators seemed stunned, and the Spartans soon capitalised, quarterback Brandon Slieker connecting with rookie receiver James Thompson for his first touchdown as a Spartan. The conversion failed, but the Spartans had taken an early 6-0 lead – and in doing so, had become the only team to score on their opening possession against the Gladiators in 2013.
Colchester were shocked – but not out of the fight. They quickly marched down the field, using their no-huddle option offense to try and tire the brave handful of Spartan defenders. A mixture of rushing and short passing plays saw the home team gobble up the yardage, before running back Casey Campbell forced his way in from the one-yard line. With the conversion, the Gladiators took the lead 6-7.
Running back Andy Tomlinson carried the load for the Spartans with his powerful rushing style, and Slieker was putting in his best performance of the year for the men in black and gold. With nothing to play for but pride, with no fear, the Spartans were relaxed and enjoying their game – and it showed.
However, the Gladiators are not undefeated without reason, and their strong defense held the Spartans in check. Nick Mayer was unfortunate to see his punt attempt blocked, and Gladiators quarterback Curtis Bourke ran the option to perfection to bamboozle the Black Tide defense and scamper home for the touchdown. With the conversion, the home team had extended their lead 6-14.
As good as the Gladiators offense was, the Spartans defense were putitng in a solid performance, ending drives and forcing mistakes. Sadly, the Spartans offense were not error-free, Slieker firing a pick to end a promising drive. However, linebacker Neil Cooper registered a sack of Bourke on the next drive, and as the first quarter ended, both teams knew this game was finely balanced.
The home team converted good field position into further points at the start of the second quarter, Campbell on a long rushing score to lengthen the advantage to 6-21. Following another blocked punt, the Gladiators could smell more points, but the Black Tide held firm, Cooper forcing a fumble which Kieron Goymer recovered.
Slieker was connecting with his receivers well, Thompson and George Mitchell both pulling in passes to help the Spartans move the chains. However, they were unable to add to their total, giving the ball back to the Gladiators inside the two minute warning. However, Nick Mayer intercepted Bourke as time wound down to ensure the first half ended with the Gladiators holding a slim 6-21 advantage.
The Spartans were turning in their best day at the office in many weeks. Such a small, and dedicated, group of warriors were standing toe-to-toe with their old rival – their undefeated rival. And they were giving as good as they got. The Gladiators knew these Spartans were here to fight – and they knew they were not going to roll over and let one of the favourotes to win the National title dominate them.
The second half started exactly as the first did – a Spartans onside kick recovered by Jack Holder again shocking the Gladiators. They did not have long to wait before possession was theres, however, Tomlinson fumbling the ball away on the Spartans first offensive play.
With the Gladiators able to call on the vast squad depth, they continued running their no-huddle option offense to try and wear down the stout Spartans defense. And as hard as the Black Tide fought, the cracks were beginning to show – an excellent option play allowed the home team to score another touchdown, and with another conversion, their lead grew to 6-28.
A holding penalty called back another Colchester score shortly after, but it soon became 6-35 with a short pass taken home by the Gladiators running back, hurdling two Spartans en route to paydirt.
Bourke ran in another score shortly after, before Campbell saw yet-another touchdown called back by a holding penalty. The Black Tide were fading, and when Bourke ran in another quarterback option for a touchdown to end the quarter, the Spartans were left staring at a 6-48 scoreline.
Another interception of Slieker in the final quarter allowed Campbell to score another long rushing touchdown to take the score to 6-55, and although Aaron Donaldson registered an interception to give the Spartans a chance to score, the only other touchdown of the day would again fall to Campbell – only for his 80-yard punt return to be called back by another holding penalty.
The Gladiators may have won by a large scoreline – but they knew they had been in a battle. As the final whistle blew and players shook hands, respect had been earned and was clearly displayed by the home team, compliemnting the brave Spartan warriors for their fighting spirit, their determination, and their courage. Quarterback Brandon Slieker, running back Andy Tomlinson, and defensive back Earnest Owusu were all praised by Gladiators coach Matt Roberts after the game for their efforts.
Spartans Head Coach Marc Saunders commented, “The Spartan few who faced the Gladiators today are worthy of the name Spartan. Our lowest turnout of the year produced one of our best perfomances to date, regardless of the scoreline”.
A week to lick wounds and heal injuries – and then the season comes to an end with the visit of the Bedfordshire Blue Raiders, a team who narrowly defeated the Spartans on opening weekend 0-6.
Kickoff for the final game of 2013 is scheduled for 2:30pm at the Spartans home ground of Hannakins Farm. This may not have been the best year for the team, but it is hoped there will be plenty of home support as they look to end the year on a high, with the victory this hard-working group of warriors deserves.