The Colchester Gladiator Juniors faced their longest road trip of the season so far on Sunday as they travelled to Southampton to take on the Hampshire Thrashers hoping to emulate last season’s corresponding fixture by coming away with the win.
With forced last minute squad changes, the Gladiators took to the field in scorching conditions for playing American Football, winning the toss & electing Hampshire to receive the opening kick-off. An excellent deep kick was fumbled and recovered by the Thrashers but Colchester tackled the ball carrier deep inside their own 10 yard line making sure the home team would have a massive challenge on their opening drive. It took just 3 plays for the away sides defence to make an early impact when Jack Greenland intercepted a pass, returning the ball to the 15 yard line to give the Colchester Offence an early scoring opportunity. The Thrashers defence stood firm and on 4th down up stepped the ever resourceful Andrew Cairns to kick the field goal to take first blood. Glad’s 3-0.
Hampshire again received the ball on the kick-off but strong defence forced them to punt the ball away on 4th down. Colchester were then forced to punt themselves in a penalty strewn series with the Thrashers taking over on their 35 yard line. It took just one play for the home team’s star running back Tunde Carter to burst through the middle, cut to the outside and sprint 65 yards down the side-line for a touchdown. A well-executed but poorly defended sweep gave Hampshire the 2 extra points and an 8-3 lead.
With the Gladiators receiving the kick-off, George Louch returned the ball to the 35 yard line only for the Thrashers to intercept Sam Huxtables pass on 3rd Down giving the home team the ball back deep in Colchester’s half. The Gladiators defence had been woken up by the previous score and forced a 4 and out on Hampshire’s next series getting the ball back on the half way line. Poor blocking led to Huxtable being flushed out of the pocket on 3rd down throwing an incomplete pass and again forcing Colchester to punt. Excellent pursuit of the ball by Calum Roberts on the resulting punt meant the home side would start their next drive on their own 7 yard line. Big pressure from the Glad’s defence forced an interception from Cairns who was tackled on the 8. The end of the quarter gave Colchester’s offence a chance to redeem themselves and on 3rd down, a perfectly weighted pass from Huxtable to Cairns split the defence for the score. The extra point from the boot of Cairns gave the Gladiators the lead back 10-8.
With both sides struggling to move the ball, Colchester intercepted the ball twice more through Sean Colliety & Cairns on the Thrashers next 2 drives and the Glads ended up with the ball on Hampshire’s 12 yard line. Uncharacteristic penalties and poor discipline resulted in Colchester punting the ball from the half way line giving up valuable field position and a chance to extend the score. Both sides stalled moving the ball again, traded punts and the whistle was blown for half time.
With the Gladiators taking their half time break in the much needed shade, they returned to the field fired up looking like they really wanted to play ball but then Hampshire had other ideas, driving the ball 60 yards down field to the 8 yard line where they decided to go for it on 4th down but again the Colchester defence stood up to the task and held firm giving the Glads the ball back on their own 12 yard line.
The start of the 4th quarter saw a promising drive with hard running by Cairns and Joe Costanzo fizzle out but an excellent punt from Huxtable meant Hampshire were going to be starting on their own 15. A quick first down moved the home side out of danger but a massive sack by Craig Hudson on 3rd down forced the Thrashers to punt again. Strong running from Costanzo and a free play from Huxtable when Hampshire jumped of side quickly moved the chains downfield. On a 3rd down call, Colchester’s Costanzo romped up the middle into the endzone untouched for the Gladiators second touchdown of the day. The extra point from Cairns was good and the Gladiators stretched their lead to 17-8.
Hampshire then threw their 5th interception of the day to Greenland who lost the ball in the resulting tackle only for Gladiator Greg Forsaith to recover it setting up the Colchester offence on Hampshire’s 15 yard line.
Three plays later Sam Morton swept right for his first score for the juniors. A fumbled snap on the extra point was gathered by Sam Huxtable who was first to the corner of the end zone for an unlikely 2 point conversion. Glad’s 25-8
With Hampshire throwing everything at the Gladiators with the clock ticking away, Colchester halted the Thrashers next drive on downs giving the offence field position on the 6 yard line. With seconds remaining, the Glad’s elected to take a knee to see the game out. The away teams conditioning proving far superior to the Hampshire sides was certainly noticeable producing their best 4th quarter of football so far this year. A penalty strewn match means Colchester have much to work on before facing a tough Cambridge side at home this weekend.
Final Score Gladiators 25-8 Thrashers with the Colchester Juniors moving on to a 3&1 record for the season.