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The Spartans got their 2013 campaign off to a shaky start with a narrow 6-0 defeat at the hands of the Bedfordshire Blue Raiders.
Travelling with a young team, filled with first and second year players, the Spartans and Blue Raiders played out a tight and nervy contest which was impacted by a strong wind throughout the game. With both offenses stiffled by stout defenses, points were at a premium at it took a special teams mistake for the home team to score the games only points in the third quarter.
The Spartans defense had the measure of the Bedfordshire offense early on. Joe Venables marked his return to the Essex side with his first sack of the season early in the first quarter, and the home team offense was unable to move the football. However, the same can be said of the visitors – a combination of first game nerves and sloppy mistakes leading to penalties caused the Spartans to seemingly move backwards instead of forwards.
Running backs Anthony Yeboah, Andy Tomlinson and Osi Nzeako found the going tough, with yards hard to come by. First-year passer Tom Cooke showed great poise and composure in the pocket, but was unable to regularly connect with his receivers.
As the second quarter began, the Spartans defense continued to flex their muscles. Lawrence Reid, Neil Cooper and rookie Billy Swick all collected their first sacks of the season as the Bedfordshire offense sluttered and stalled. Slowly, the Spartan offense began to click, Yeboah breaking clear on a long run, and Cooke connecting with Nzeako for a 37-yard catch and run. Sadly, however, the sloppy mistakes and needless penalties continued to haunt the Spartans, negating several big plays and killing drives.
Bedfordshire will think themselves unlucky not to have opened the scoring after intercepting a Cooke pass, almost returning it for a touchdown only to be denied by a crunching last-man tackle from offensive lineman Samson Adepoju. As the first half ended, the scoreboard remianed untroubled with the teams locked in a scoreless contest.
The strong wind contiued to be a factor in the second half as both offenses found a passing game to be difficult to establish. Bedfordshire were able to find some joy with screen passes, while the Spartans continued to pound the ball with their selection of running backs. Spartan Lester Brandon forced a fumble deep in Bedfordshire territory, and with rookie Aaron Donaldson recovering, the Spartans were given good field position, but were unable to capitalise.
Disaster struck mid-way through the third quarter. Inside his own 20, punter Andy Clarke was set to kick the ball away. The onrushing Blue raiders, however, were able to get to the ball in numbers, blocking the kick, then gleefully scooping the loose ball and running it in for games only points. With the extra point attempt failing, the Spartans were down 0-6.
The game’s final quarter saw a noticeable improvement from the Spartans. Brandon and Cooper each collected sacks of the Bedfordshire quarterback, and after shaking off a crunching sack, Cooke started to cause the home team defense problems with his determination and rushing ability. As time ran down, Bedfordshire lined up to attempt a field goal, but the strong wind caused the attempt to fall wide and short.
Swick recorded his first fumble recovery as a Spartan shortly after, giving the visitors one final chance to snatch the victory. A combination of short passes and powerful running saw the Spartans move downfield, but hopes were extinguished when Cooke floated his third interception of the day to gift the ball back to Bedfordshire to run out the clock.
A reflective Spartans Head Coach Marc Saunders said, “I’m taking today’s result as an important lesson to our young team. There were some good performances on offense and defense from which to build, our focus will now be on eliminating the mistakes that probably cost us the win.”
The Spartans now have time to lick their wounds and reflect on what could have been. A week of training to iron out the creases, eliminate the mistakes, and establish exactly what worked and what didn’t. And then – it’s the Battle For The Bridge.
April 27th. 7pm. Spartans welcome old rivals Kent Exiles to Hannakins for what should be quite an event – the first “Saturday Night Lights” Rivalry game for 2013!
We hope to see plenty of our fans cheer us on as we look for our first victory of the season!
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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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