Essex Spartans saw their impressive turnaround season come to an end with a 29-15 defeat by the Hampshire Thrashers in the BAFACL Division 2 playoffs.
After qualifying for the post-season as runners up in the Southern Division, the Spartans travelled to play the Thrashers, the Western Division winners, and played with all the heart and spirit that has defined their most successful season in 4 years.
The game pitted two evenly-matched teams together in what began as a defensive battle. The Spartans opened the scoring with a Seb Tindall field goal, and as both offenses struggled to take hold of the game, the first quarter ended with Spartans quarterback James Dawson being dropped in his own end zone for a 2-point safety.
With Spartans running backs Steven Hull and Craig “Turbo” Willis struggling to find room to rush, the Thrashers put together a dangerous drive which was killed by an interception from cornerback Tom Langford, his third of the season.
The Thashers were able to score the games first touchdown shortly after, however, and the first half ended with the Spartans on the wrong side of an 11-3 scoreline.
Some inspirational talk from the Spartans coaches and captains at halftime provided the team with the spark they needed to raise their game to the next level. Quarterback Dawson was able to exploit the Thrashers secondary, launching the ball deep downfield in the direction of star receiver Jon “Hollywood” Tottman. Tottman used his strength and skill to pluck the ball away from a floundering Thashers defender before demonstrating his breakaway speed to score a 70-yard touchdown, cutting the lead to 11-9.
A second safety of the game increased the Thashers lead to 13-9, but the Spartans showed their strength of character to force another turnover, Tom Marston ending another Hampshire drive with an interception. With the pick, Marston joined Langford for the team-lead with 3 on the season.
An inspired Spartans offense quickly capitalised, Dawson and Tottman connecting again for another sensational long touchdown pass, and despite the conversion failing, the fired-up Spartans found themselves in a deserved lead, 15-13.
The Spartans continued to battle during the fourth quarter, playing with pride and determination, but eventually the Western Division winners were able to pull away from the Essex unit. Two more touchdowns and the games third safety saw the game end with the Thrashers emerging victorious 29-15.
After the game, assistant Head Coach Sean Benton said: “The players did everything that was asked of them, and while it was disappointing that we didn’t get the result we hoped for, we fought hard for 4 quarters of football.
“The team can be very proud of their many accomplishments this season and we are already looking forward to an even more successful season in 2011”.
The Spartans will now take time to reflect on what has been a truly remarkable season, turning a team that managed a solitary win only one season before into a 6-win, playoff-qualifying contender. The team can hold their heads high knowing they have proved to not only themselves but also the rest of the League that they are once again a force to be reckoned with. In the words of the Thrashers own Head Coach – “What a transformation!”
After a short break, the team will host their annual awards ceremony which will be followed by off-season training and player try-outs. More details on these events will be announced on the Spartans website as they are made available.
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Essex Spartans have one foot in the playoffs despite a narrow and hard-fought loss away to the Bedfordshire Blue Raiders, 16-13.
The loss drops the Spartans in a potential three-way tie for second place with the Blue Raiders and Norwich Devils, but the team can take comfort in knowing that only a Norwich victory over the unbeaten London Olympians would spell the end of their season.
Both teams started the game rushing, and the injury-depleted Spartans were dealt a major blow early in the game when talismanic running back Steven Hull was forced to leave the game early in the first quarter through injury. Hull was forced to watch from the sidelines as kicker Aaron Davidson had a chance to open the scoring with a long-range field goal. Davidson was unlucky to narrowly miss as the ball sailed inches wide left.
Spartans running backs Danny Wallace and Craig “Turbo” Willis moved the ball effectively on the ground, but the Spartans were thankful to their special teams for blocking a Bedford field goal to leave the first quarter scoreless.
The second quarter saw the Spartans pinned back deep in their own territory, and the Blue Raiders opened the scoring by dropping Spartans quarterback James Dawson in his own endzone for a 2-point safety. The Spartans disappointment was soon turned to joy, however, as cornerback Tom Marston intercepted a wayward Blue Raider pass and returned it for a touchdown. Davidson converted successfully and the Spartans ended the half leading 7-2.
The second half opened with the Blue Raiders rushing attack marching the team down the field, only to see their second field goal attempt blocked by the swarming Spartans special teams. However the Blue Raiders continued to pound their way through the Spartans defense and eventually broke through to score with a 13-yard rush. The 2-point conversion attempt failed, leaving the Spartans trailing 8-7.
Hull returned to action and it was a case of “anything you can do, we can do better” – Hull broke right and looked to have been stopped after a short gain, but used his strength and power to break free of an attempted tackle, turned left and followed some immense Spartan blocking on an impressive 50-yard dash into the endzone to put the Spartans back on top 13-8.
The forth quarter continued with the Blue Raiders rushing attack pounding through the Spartans defensive as they worked their way into scoring territory. However, their passing attack was not as effective, Marstons second interception of the game killing another Bedfordshire drive.
The Spartans offense struggled to move the ball, and as the game drew to a close the Spartans found themselves backed up in their own half of the field. The Blue Raiders powered into the endzone for the final score of the game and the victory, 16-13.
Spartans Head Coach Marc Saunders said, “This was a good effort by the players who travelled to Bedfordshire, but sadly it wasn’t quite enough on the day. We now need to put this behind us, and focus on the playoffs. The Spartans are not done yet!”
The Spartans will now return to training at Hannakins Farm and await their fate when the Devils and Olympians face off on August 22nd.
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