|May 26, 2012||2:30 pm||BAFA NL I Central & South||2012|
6 - 7Full Time
The Spartans slipped to their third defeat of the season in the blazing sun, going down by a single point to the Hampshire Thrashers 6-7.
Playing their first Saturday game of the 2012 campaign, a Spartans squad depleted through injury and other commitments travelled to play Hampshire hoping to complete the season sweep – Essex had defeated the Thrashers 27-6 earlier in the season.
Playing at the Thrashers magnificent home ground of Solent University, the Spartans knew they were in for a long day. With several key members of the offensive line not making the trip, and with starting quarterback James Woodward still sidelined through injury, the Spartans had to dig deep in their roster and fill gaps with players lining up in positions they had not previously played.
The Spartans defense, the strength of the team so far in 2012, played to their usual high standards. Cornerback Nick Mayer registered his first interception of the game in the opening quarter, gifting the offense great field position. However, quarterback James Dawson was unable to move the ball behind a makeshift o-line, and the visitors had to settle for an Aaron Davidson field goal attempt which the Thrashers were able to block.
The Thrashers implemented a wildcat offense with some level of success against the Black Tide, driving downfield as the quarter wound down. It took an open-field tackle by Mayer to ensure the first quarter remained scoreless.
The second quarter began with the Spartans pinned deep in their own territory and unable to move the ball. A booming punt by Davidson saw the return man scamper back to field the ball, then weave his way through the Spartans special teams to set the Thrashers up with a first and goal from the 2 yard line. Two plays later, a quick screen pass resulted in the Thrashers opening the scoring, and with the extra point good, the home team lead 7-0.
The teams became locked in a defensive battle, neither offense able to move the ball consistently. It was the Thrashers offense, with their wildcat formation, that was able to make the bigger impression on the game, but the Spartans defense held firm. As the half entered the final two minutes, the score remained 7-0 to the home team.
Dawson tried to spark the offense, rolling from the pocket and setting up to throw. However, he took a crunching hit as he did so, and despite his arm moving forward as the ball came out, the play was ruled a fumble, which the Thrashers recovered to give their offense a chance to extend their lead.
However, the Spartans defense struck back instantly. The Thrashers quarterback was stripped of the ball, and Spartan Ally Minto attempted to scoop the ball up, seeing nothing but clear field between him and the endzone. As the ball bobbled in the air, Minto was unable to field the fumble, and instead fell on the ball to see the first half end with the Thrashers ahead 7-0.
Dawson needed time to shake off a vicious hit sustained at the end of the first half, thrusting backup quarterback Steve Watson into the lineup. His impact was almost immediate, fumbling the football to gift Hampshire excellent field position at an early stage of the third quarter. Again, the Black Tide held firm, preventing the Thrashers getting into the endzone and blocking their field goal attempt to keep the contest close.
On the Thrashers next possession, the Spartans defense went one better. With the ball on the Spartans 1 yard line, the Thrashers quarterback attempted another screenpass, which Mayer stepped in front of before running the length of the field for the touchdown. Davidson saw his extra point attempt blocked, but the Spartans were back in the game with a 7-6 scoreline.
Slowly, slowly, the Spartans started to claw their way back into the game. Their offense started to move the ball behind the power rushing of Shulba Hunte. Their defense held firm, rookie lineman James Jackson recording his first sack as a Spartan to go alongside Aaron Millar’s sack. As the final quarter began, and with Dawson returning to action, the visitors had good reason to believe they could snatch the victory in this closely-fought contest – and the final quarter did not fail to provide the climax the game deserved.
Linebacker Kieron Treacy unleashed a huge hit on the Thrashers quarterback, forcing him to fumble the ball. Dominant lineman Lawrence Reid scooped up the loose ball, and accelerated away towards the endzone. With the visitors sideline willing him on, Reid marched on, yard by yard, the endzone approaching – only to be denied by a last-second tackle from a Thrashers lineman, tripping Reid before he could score.
7:45 left in the game. Again, unable to move the football, the Spartans set up for the field goal. Again, a botched snap leads to a blocked kick. Again, they come up empty.
Like so many times before, the Spartans defense fought hard to keep the team in the game. Treacy recovered another Thrashers fumble, and the Spartans found themselves with a first and goal on the Thrahsers 2 yard line. Time was running out.
Three rushing plays yielded no yards. 4th and goal. Dawson floats a pass towards tight end Paul Cossu, who dives, and hauls in the ball. The Spartans sideline erupts in jubilation, believing they had finally taken the lead.
But, no. The referee judges Cossu to have not crossed the goal line. Jubilation turns to dismay as the play is ruled short, inches away from the go-ahead score. Inches away from the victory.
The Thrashers gained a handful of yards, before punting the ball, giving the Spartans one last chance. Dawson connected with new signing Phil Groombridge for two deep passes, and the Spartans were able to line up for a 41-yard field goal attempt by Davidson. The snap was good, the hold was good – but with a strong wind catching the ball, the kick fell wide and short, leaving the Thrashers to take a knee to run out the remaining few seconds.
After the match, a reflective Coach Saunders commented, “Despite an outstanding performance by our defence, we couldn’t quite snatch victory. It will be good to get a week of practise in now so we can work on improving our offense.”
The Spartans now have a week of practise to fine-tune that offense before the visit of the East Kent Mavericks to Hannakins Farm on June 10th. Kickoff is scheduled for 2:30pm in what promises to be a pivotal match that could very well define the rest of the Spartans season.
Down, but not out. Beaten, but not broken. Knocked down, but not knocked out. For we are Spartans – and Spartans always fight. Spartans never surrender. Spartans never back down. And the Spartans always have faith, belief, and heart. And nothing will take that away.
ROLL TIDE ROLL!