|July 13, 2013||2:30 pm||BAFA NL II South Central||2013|
14 - 19Full Time
Progress. As long as it is being made, the timescale is not as important. The Spartans showed huge signs of progress, and a great deal of heart and fighting spirit, when they travelled to take on the Watford Cheetahs in scorching July temperatures. The team put in one of their best performances of a disappointing 2013 campaign in the process, but came up short 14-19.
Due to various reasons, the Spartans travelled with a depleted squad to take on the Cheetahs, knowing victory would draw the two teams level in the standings. Watford had a special guest on their sidlines – NCAA Coach Hal Mumme had stopped by to offer his guidance and experience to the hosts as part of his UK tour, and both teams were keen to put on a spectacle of British football. Neither side disappointed, as what was to follow will go down as one of the best games of the Spartans 2013 campaign – finely balanced until the very end, with both teams having chances to snatch victory, but both teams making costly mistakes.
With honorary captain Sam Hill, a member of the Spartans youth team recovering from a broken wrist, leading the team out, things started brightly for the Spartans as they won the coin toss and elected to receive. However, Watford soon found themselves with possession, a misfiring Tom Overton-Smith throwing an interception to gift the ball to the hosts.
Under the guidance of Coach Mumme, Watford were able to methodically work their way down the field, but the Black Tide defense was putting in one of it’s better shifts. Linebacker Kieran Murphy stood out with an impressive display, which began with an interception of his own to give the Spartans offense a chance to capitalise.
The Spartans offense, however, were unable to make regular progress, although running back Danny Wallace was able to gain some positives yards on the ground. The teams traded interceptions, Jack Holder picking off the Watford quarterback before Brandon Slieker fired a pick of his own for the Spartans, and the first quarter ended with neither team able to break the deadlock.
Watford opened the scoring in a controversial way early in the second quarter. A lofted pass into the corner of the end zone was caught by the reciver, who appeared to land out the back of the end zone. The Spartans defenders appealled to the official, who saw it differently – touchdown Watford. The Spartans were still enraged and questioning the call as the conversion sailed through, but this was just one play – a whole lof of football lay in store. And at 0-7 down, the Spartans needed to focus on what had to be done.
The game was becoming a fascinating encounter between two evenly-matched sides. The Cheetahs offense, assisted by Coach Mumme, started to take a hold of the game while the Spartans own offense started to move the ball consistently behind Wallace and Craig Willis. Neil Cooper registered an interception in the second quarter, but as each offense battled against tough defenses, the game entered halftime with the home team holding a slender 0-7 advantage.
After some stern words from Head Coach Marc Saunders and his staff, the Spartans came out with a fresh fire in their bellies in the second half. Defensive captain Lee Millar, returning ater a long absence, made his mark on the game with yet-another interception of the Watford quarterback early in the third quarter. However, despite some strong running from Willis, Wallace, and Andy Tomlinson, the Spartans offense were forced to punt the ball away.
The Black Tide defense were in fine form, however, and Steve Watson snagged his second interception of the season shortly after to give the Spartans excellent field position. Two plays later, Willis turned on the speed to break free on a trademark long touchdown scamper, and with Nick Mayer tacking on the extra point, the sides were square at 7-7.
The Cheetahs roared back, however, and Watson went from hero to villain in the space of a handful of plays. Watford quickly drove down the field, and with Watson watching the ball rather than the player, the receiver slipped behind the exposed Spartan safety and snagged the go-ahead touchdown. However, a botched snap and some fine individual play by Kieran Murphy to deny the attempted 2-point conversion raised the Spartans spirits – they were still in this fight.
As the game entered it’s final quarter, Murphy continued his impressive display by collecting the only sack of the game, forcing the Cheetahs to punt. A few players later, Craig Willis again broke free on a mesmerising run, and to cheers of joy from the visitors sideline, crossed the goal line for his second touchdown of the game. Mayer again converted, and just like that, the Spartans held a slender 14-13 advanatge.
The Spartans had the upper hand, now. Watford seemed to be losing faith, while the Spartans seemed to be growing in theirs. It was now the Spartans turn to be able to move the ball, the Spartans who were able to put together drives and move the chains. But they were just not able to convert their dominance into points.
Coach Mumme was able to offer his guidance to the Watford offense, and they were able to slowly move the ball downfield, slowly taking back some element of control in the game.Time was running out, but the Cheetahs were driving, and in position to strike.
And strike they did, just as the game entered it’s final two minutes. A floated pass, which had caused the Spartans headaches all game, came down in the hands of the Watford receiver in the corner of the endzone, giving the home team the lead. Neil Cooper batted down the pass on the conversion attempt, but the Cheetahs had the lead at 14-19 – and time was tight.
With Willis and Wallace in the backfield, the Spartans were still in with a chance. Gaining chunks of yards either on the ground or with short passes, the two running backs ground their way up the field, and as the game entered the final 60 seconds, the Spartans were inside Watford territory. Victory was there for the taking. Could this be the day the Spartans claimed an impressive win, their second of the season?
Quarterback Brandon Slieker was feeling the effects of a long, hot day in the sun, and had to leave the field due to injury. Tom Overton-Smith, himself carrying a knock from such an epic encounter, tried to generate some offense, but the Cheetahs were holding firm, bottling Wallace and Willis to short gains. On a 4th and long play, a QB scramble netted only 6 yards, turning the ball over to the Cheetahs who were able to kneel in the Victory formation, and claim the win.
After the game, a positive Coach Saunders said, “This was a great and necessary step in the Spartans road to winning games.
“Under tough conditions and with low numbers, every player gave 100% effort and we were close to snatching victory. A solid practise next week should help us get closer to those elusive wins in our remaining games”.
The Spartans now return to the training field before travelling to face the Milton Keynes Pathfinders on Saturday, August 3rd. The team has one remaining home game, a season-ending matchup against the Bedfordshire Blue Raiders on August 18th.