Colchester Gladiators (48) vs Bedfordshire Blue Raiders (16) – Game Report
The Colchester Gladiators welcomed the 4-0 Bedford Blue Raiders to Mill Road and sent them packing with an impressive first half performance before a loss of focus turned the second half into a scrappy affair.
Running back Casey Campbell continued where he left off against the Cheetahs a week earlier. His speed and elusiveness was too much for the Raiders to handle and he clocked up another 253 yards from just 20 carries and four touchdowns in just over two quarters of play.
Big plays were the order of the day with Campbell scampering for 44 yards on the Gladiatorsâ€™ second play in addition to 43 and 47 yard scores. Chris Jackson added a 75 yard scoring run, and backup QB Fabian Ortiz-Barrs, deputising for the injured Curtis Bourke, chipped in with gains of 24, 32 and 43 yards. This amounted to a massive 602 rushing yards on the day, close to an all time club record.
The Gladiators defence started strongly after the Cheetahs elected to receive the ball. James Martin tackled the Bedford running back for a six yard loss before Luke Box stopped him for a loss of two forcing a punt.
The Gladiatorsâ€™ offence had no problem moving the ball with Chris Palmer picking up 11 yards on first down before Campbell took the Gladiators deep into Raider territory with a 44 yard pick up to the six. Two penalties pushed them back however and Bourke was tackled for a loss by a blitzing linebacker on fourth down to turn the ball over back to Bedford.
It wasnâ€™t long before the Gladiators had the ball back when Alex Robinson picked off his fourth pass in as many games as he jumped in front of a Bedford receiver and returned it to the Raider 26.
Four plays later, Bourke seemed surrounded but took the hits from three would-be tacklers who bounced off, enabling him to stroll into the end zone for the opening score of the day. Nathan Brownâ€™s extra point attempt was wide in the wind but the Gladiators led 6-0.
The Raiders had the ball for just two plays before Martin first forced then recovered a fumble before Campbell scored his first of the day. Brownâ€™s kick was good to extend the lead to 13-0.
The first quarter ended with the Raiders still looking to register their first first down but it was the Gladiators who extended their lead early in the second period, Campbell running in from 43 yards out and a 19-0 advantage.
The Raiders got a break on their next drive when, after being forced to punt, the live ball took a deflection off a Gladiator and the Raiders were quickest to pounce to reclaim possession on the Colchester 15. However, a sack by Ian Digby brought up fourth down and an attempted pass fell incomplete to turn the ball over.
Chris Jackson made them pay just seconds later as he made the most of his limited opportunities running the ball with an impressive 75 yard sprint down the away teamâ€™s sideline. The point after took the score to 26-0.
Bedford finally found some plays that worked and they engineered a 12 play, 78 yard drive which they capped with a three yard run for six points. The two point run was successful to take the score to 26-8.
The Gladiators responded immediately and took just five plays to add to their tally, Campbell forcing his way over from four yards out and a 33-8 lead.
Rookie Gladiators lineman Gary Shuttleworth then added insult to injury by sacking the Bedford QB to end the first half.
The Gladiators started the second half in emphatic style; Tom Clarke received the kick off and handed the ball to Ash Latter for the return. Following some excellent blocks by the kick return team, Latter carved through the middle of the field and raced away untouched for a spectacular score. Brownâ€™s PAT extended the lead to 40-8.
The Raiders continued with the game plan that had brought them some success in the first half but came up short, turning the ball over on downs on the Gladiatorsâ€™ 17. The home side made short work however, with Ortiz-Barrs now in at QB running for 32 yards before Campbell finished the four play, 83 yard drive with a 47 yard score, and the Gladiators led 46-8.
The rest of the second half was a somewhat scrappy affair, littered with fumbles and penalties, mainly by the home side, an issue that Head Coach Matt Roberts will need to address.
Bedford gained another consolation score as the Gladiators rotated players in on both sides of the ball while Chris Palmer continued to show promise, picking up 91 yards from 11 carries late in the game. The defence played hard with Dan Jones batting down a third down pass to force another punt which was blocked and recovered by the Gladiators. A 43 yard gain by Ortiz-Barrs was nullified by a fumble on the next play on the Raidersâ€™ one but the Raiders, forced to take to the air to get back in the game, were shut down. Bedfordâ€™s QB, under intense pressure in his own end zone, threw the ball away and was called for intentional grounding, giving the Gladiators a two point safety and a 48-16 score line.
The teams then exchanged fumbles before the game petered out to its foregone conclusion and the Gladiators won the battle of the unbeaten teams by a convincing margin which probably flattered the Raiders.
After the game, Gladiators Head Coach Matt Roberts was pleased with the win against a previously unbeaten team but realised that it could have been better. He said; “Today was far from a perfect day for the club, but what ultimately matters is we came away with what was an easy win in the end, which puts us top of the table and keeps us as the only unbeaten side in the division. Offensively I feel we identified very early on what plays would be the most successful to run, based on their own alignments and combine that with a very able unit who are growing in confidence, and it meant we ran away with the game early and never looked back.
â€œIt was great to see Chris Jackson get on the score sheet again with an amazing 75 yard run, however special praise has to go to Casey Campbell who again not even at 100% fitness really ran a class on them today rushing for four scores and 253 yards in a devastating performance. In the second half we replaced Bourke with Ortiz-Barrs who stepped in at QB and the offence barely missed a beat, himself rushing for 133 and setting up the final score of the day. With Campbell moved to receiver it was up to Palmer and Johnson to share running back duties and despite some errors and turnovers from the offence they added another 105 yards to the unit and showed how much depth we really have right now on this team.”
“Defensively we came out of the blocks fast, causing several turnovers and making numerous tackles for losses and despite Box coming out of the game early and starting nose tackle Ricky Bacon sidelined through injury they didn’t look like they could live with the pressure. It was only when we were faced with some unfortunate injuries and during rotation of second string players they started to find their feet,Â picking up a couple of consolation scores, but that’s all they ever were. I was especially pleased with James Martin at linebacker who led from the front early recording five tackles, (three for a loss), a sack and a fumble, and likewise Garry Shuttleworth who had another massive game which as a total rookie this year is testament to the coaching staff and his own dedication and hard work.”
“Special teams was a massive plus from the day also, with Ash Latter ripping off a 69 yard touchdown on a kick return to start the second half really set the tempo for the half, and with us identifying their punt unit as potentially a weakness to get one blocked was equally pleasing. But now we have to heal up, we’ve picked up an unfortunate number of injuries over the last couple of weeks, so really have to get on the treatment table, get rested, get healed and be ready for our next game in a few weeks versus our county rivals, the Essex Spartans.”
The Gladiators travel to Billericay to take on the Spartans on Saturday 29thÂ June, kick off 7.00pm while the Juniorsâ€™ next fixture is a tough road trip to take on London Blitz on 23rdÂ June.