The Colchester Gladiators kicked off their 2018 season with a hard fought win against the newly promoted Wembley Stallions. The North London team took advantage of some early season mistakes to keep the game and scoreline close but the Gladiators’ offence was in fine form, holding on to the ball, eating up the clock, and keeping the visitors at arms’ length.
The Gladiators started the game fast, stopping the Stallions strong running game and forced a punt from where QB Rob Wickham led a balanced drive that culminated in a two yard TD pass to Byron Smith. The extra point was wide but the Gladiators led 6-0.
Their advantage was increased to 13 points shorty after when Adam Dickens ran the ball in from four yards out and this time, Nathan Brown’s kick was good.
Wembley surprisingly got themselves back in the game when their monster running back Junior Ejehu took advantage of some poor tackling to race through the centre of the home defence for a 47 yard breakaway score and the PAT closed the gap to six points at 13-7.
A long pass from QB Wickham to brother Jake looked to have added to the home score but the ref, well behind the play, ruled it short of the goal line. Three plays later however, there was no doubt as Dickens hung on to a deflected pass in the end zone for the touchdown. Brown’s kick made the score 20-7.
The Stallions came back again with a carbon copy of their first touchdown when Ejehu ran 63 yards for his second score of the day. The extra point attempt was blocked but the Gladiators’ lead was back to seven points at half time.
The home side received the ball to start the second half and wanted to make a statement but on just their second play, the Wembley defence stripped the ball from Eddie Collison and returned it for a touchdown. The extra point tied the score at 20.
The Gladiators’ offence was having a strong game however, driving the ball at will behind Rob Wickham’s strong arm and twin receiving threats Jake Wickham and Sam Gennings. QB Rob finished the game with 278 yards through the air and three scoring passes, with his sure handed receivers finishing with five catches for 64 yards and seven for 119 respectively.
Tom Blum scored his first touchdown as a Gladiator with a one yard run to retake the lead before the Stallions’ first long drive of the game ended with a 26 yard scoring pass from veteran Britball QB Junior Price to reduce their deficit to one point at 27-26.
The Gladiators responded again at the end of the third quarter when Smith caught his second TD pass from Wickham, this time from eight yards out. Brown’s PAT gave them an eight point lead which they never really looked like relinquishing.
The Stallions took to the air as time was running out but the revamped Gladiators’ secondary never looked threatened with Frazer Lamb and Lewis Mews both nearly grabbing interceptions, and it was the home side that looked most likely to trouble the scoreboard. With just one score separating the teams, you can’t relax but the Gladiators’ offence ate up large chunks of the clock and saw out the game fairly comfortably.
Head Coach Luke Box was delighted with the performance and starting the season with a win, saying “After what we felt was a good preseason it was the start we were looking for. Both sides of the ball had a fairly good day stepping up when needed to. Our focus is now very much on what went well as we prepare for the Cats next Sunday.”
The Gladiators have no time to dwell on their performance as they are straight back in to league action when they host the Cambridgeshire Cats at the Corporal Budd VC Gymnasium, Berechurch Road on Sunday 22nd April, 2.30pm kickoff 2.30pm.