|July 24, 2011||12:00 pm||BAFA NL II East||2011|
20 - 24Full Time
The Spartans travelled to face the Division-leading Kent Exiles and were left shocked and stunned as a touchdown on the games final play gave the Exiles the victory 24-20.
A victory would have handed the Spartans the East Division title. Defeat leaves the team knowing they must win their final regular-season game against Maidstone on July 31st to clinch a wild-card place in the end-of-season playoffs.
In a close game between two evenly-matched teams, the Exiles intercepted quarterback James Woodward on their own 2-yard line, and were then able to capitalise by driving the length of the field to open the scoring with a touchdown.
The Spartans struggled to move the ball, but the Exiles we able to move downfield and threatened to score again before a John Palmer interception ensured the first quarter ended with Kent leading 6-0.
The Spartans offense began to click in the second quarter, running back Steven Hull gaining impressive yardage before powering his way into the endzone to tie the game at 6-6. However, the Exiles soon struck back with a touchdown of their own, and the Spartans were fortunate not to end the half further behind after an Exiles receiver dropped a pass in the endzone.
With the team behind 12-6, the Spartans coaching staff made some changes in the second half to counter the Exiles offense, and the rewards were almost immediate. Defensive captain Lee Millar grabbed his first interception of the season deep in Exiles territory, and with Hull taking the ball to the 2-yard line, Spartans Head Coach Marc Saunders drove into the endzone himself to tie the game up again at 12-12.
The Spartans defense were starting to take control of the game. The Exiles, who had moved the ball seemingly at will in the first two quarters, struggled and mis-fired. Koby Williams accounted for the teams third interception to end another Kent drive, and with the game going into the final quarter, the Spartans were within striking distance.
Hull scored his second touchdown of the game to open the final quarter, and with his conversion, the Spartans found themselves in the lead for the first time 20-12.
The Exiles were still struggling to make an impact on the adjusted Spartans defense, but they were able to trim the lead with a touchdown themselves and soon found themselves in a position to take the lead with less than two minutes to go in the game.
However, Spartans defensive back Tom Langford wrestled the ball away from the Exiles receiver at the 8-yard line, and with time running out, the visitors had the ball, and the lead.
However – it was not to last. Spartans quarterback James Woodward was unlucky to fumble the ball away to the Exiles on the very next play, but the Spartans defense, playing with their usual passion and heart, forced the home team to attempt a game-winning field goal.
With great pressure from the entire defensive line, Saunders rose, and blocked the kick, much to the jubilation of his teams sideline. With less than a minute to go, again, the Spartans had the ball, and the lead.
Three rushing plays failed to get the Spartans a first down, however, and Aaron Davidson boomed the punt to pin the Exiles back inside their own 20 with 18 seconds to go. Players on both sides knew the game was going to come down to the wire.
Sometimes, the luck just isn’t with you. Sometimes, things just don’t go your way. And, two plays later as the Exiles receiver crossed the line as time expired, the Spartans were defeated. Shocked. Stunned.
But not out-played. Not dominated. The team stood and fought and pushed and struggled for every single second of the 60 minutes, and the Exiles knew they had been tested to their very limits. The Spartans were 18 seconds away from a victory in a game against a team who were playing Division One football last season. And they gave the Exiles everything they could handle.
“Obviously we are all very disappointed with the outcome of today’s game”, said a reflective Coach Saunders. “The key to Spartans football is how we will recover from this – the season is not over yet!”
One more game. One last regular-season game. A win is required. One win, and the Spartans qualify for the playoffs for the second season in succession.
The Black Tide has been slowed – look for it to return by engulfing the Maidstone Pumas on July 31st and continue on its path to the playoffs.
Day by day . . . .