|July 8, 2012||2:30 pm||BAFA NL I Central & South||2012|
10 - 7Full Time
This one was always going to be a hard-hitting affair, with points at a premium. Sadly for the Spartans, their crucial match-up with old rivals Kent Exiles ended with the team on the wrong end of a 7-10 scoreline.
After the previous weeks defeat against Berkshire, the Spartans knew only a victory would save them from a relegation battle as the season reaches an exciting climax. Struggling with injuries, the Spartans were forced into several personnel changes as the team looked for that elusive second victory of the 2012 campaign.
First-year quarterback Steve Watson took control of the offense as the team looked to generate some kind of spark, having failed to score an offense touchdown since the teams second game of the season. A promising opening drive was ended, however, when a mis-communication between Watson and receiver Samuel Clarke resulted in a pass being intercepted.
The visitors used a combination of powerful running and short, accurate passing to move downfield, and found themselves in a position to score. Quarterback Zac Ritchie was fortunate to see his pass deflected into the hands of receiver Colin Chislett for the opening touchdown, and with a successful 2-point conversion, the Exiles had jumped out to an 8-0 lead.
The Spartans were able to drive deep into Exiles territory on thir resulting possession, but with the Exiles defense holding firm inside the 20-yard line, the Spartans had to settle for an Aaron Davidson field goal attempt. The ball sailed through the uprights, but a penalty on the Exiles resulted in the Spartans declining the 3 points and instead receiving a first and goal inside the Exiles 10 yard line. Two short runs later, it became 3rd and goal and a second interception of the game from Watson killed any chance the home team had of scoring.
Once again, it was down to the Spartans defense to make something happen – and they did not disappoint. Nick Mayer, the ballhawking cornerback, stepped in front of an Exiles pass, and weaved his way through a mesmerised Kent offense to take the ball the length of the field for the score. Davidsons conversion meant the home team were right back in it, trailing 8-7.
With the Spartan offense struggling, it was down to their defense and special teams to keep the game close. The Exiles were forced to punt, and return expert Ally Minto broke through some poor Exiles tackling for a 60 yard return. Will Steel and Neil Cooper both snagged their first interceptions of the season. And the Black Tide defense held firm inside their own 10 yard line, forcing a turnover to give the Spartans the ball deep in their own territoy.
Disaster struck. A botched handoff between Watson and running back Ryan Towey meant the ball fell to the ground in the Spartans endzone. The quick-thinking Towey fell on the ball, saving the defensive touchdown, but the Exiles were able to extend their lead to 10-7 as a result with the 2-point safety.
The second half saw the Spartans defense continue to flex their muscles, keeping the victory within sight while injuries took their toll. Defensive back Danny Rowton de-cleated the Exiles return man on a punt. Mayer intercepted two more Exiles passes, extending his incredible total on the season. Kieran Murphy was on his game to force and recover an Exiles fumble, and registered the only sack of the game shortly after. Jack Holder also pounced on a loose ball as the Exiles again turned the ball over. But the Spartans medical team were kept busy – and the team began to show the wears and tears of a tough season as many of their players succummbed to injury.
With Watson yanked in favour of the veteran influence of James Dawson, the Spartans passing attack sprang to life. As time ran down in the final quarter, Dawson connected with his receivers on two deep passes to put the team in a position to steal the win. As the seconds ticked down, Dawson took the snap and set himself in the pocket, waiting for a receiver to break open for the Hail Mary attempt – but it was not to be, Dawson taking the sack on 4th down to allow the Exiles to kneel and end the game as winners.
A positive Head Coach Marc Saunders commented after the game, “The actual result of this game was not as important as how the team needed to face it after last weeks massive defeat, and I’m proud to say every Spartan who took the field faced it with Spartan fire in his heart”.
On the heels of such a huge defeat the previous week, and with the injury list growing each week, many teams would have rolled over and limped their way to seasons end. But this is not just any team. This is the Spartans. And Spartans do not die easy. We do not know how to. All we know – is how to fight. And we may have lost the battle – but the Exiles knew they had been in a fight, and that every single man in the black and gold shirts gave their all to the cause.
The Spartans now face a battle to preserve the teams place in Division One for 2013, with their next game an away trip to face the Cambridge Cats on July 22nd. With everything to play for, the game promises to be a close and tightly-fought encounter.