Essex Spartans (6) vs Colchester Gladiators (51)
The Colchester Gladiators got off to an explosive start, running in three scores in their first four plays, on their way to an over-powering 51-6 demolition of their county rivals, Essex Spartans.
Under the floodlights at Hannakins Farm, Billericay, the host Spartans had no answer to the strength of running back Casey Campbell, who ran for another 176 yards from just 11 carries and three touchdowns, and a strong defensive performance, led by defensive lineman Dan Jones, who picked up 2Â½ Â sacks, and Josh Milgate, who led the team with eight tackles.
The Spartans received the ball to start the game but after collecting a first down, Alex Robinson stepped in front of his receiver to intercept the Spartans QB for his fifth interception in as many games to turn the ball over to the Gladiators for the first time. Robinson returned the ball 52 yards to the Essex 11 giving the offence great starting field position.
It took just two plays for the Gladiators to get on the scoreboard. After short pick up by Campbell was called back for a penalty, Campbell made no mistake with his second touch, evading tacklers on his way to a fifteen yard scoring run for six points. Nathan Brown slotted the extra point for an early 7-0 scoreline.
The lead was doubled just minutes later after the Spartans were forced to punt. Taking over on their own 36, Bourke threw a short pass to Campbell who made a couple of people miss, before sprinting 64 yards to the endzone. Another Brown point after extended the lead to 14-0.
The Spartans could still not get anything going offensively and their problems were compounded with their punting game. A poor snap allowed the Gladiators defence to tackle the punter for a nine yard loss and the offence strolled on to the field just 18 yards out.
The Gladiators again wasted no time in finding the endzone. A fake handoff from QB Curtis Bourke to Campbell fooled the Essex defence and, with five players tackling Campbell, Bourke was able to coast into the endzone for their third score in just four plays and a 21-0 lead, still in the first period.
The Spartans were gifted an opportunity to get back in the game. As the second period began, after another three and out, the Essex defence were back on the pitch, but an errant pitch from Bourke was recovered by the home side on the visitorsâ€™ 18. The lifeline was gratefully accepted and two plays later, an Essex running back found an opening and darted in for a touchdown. The two point attempt failed but they were back in the game down by 15 at 21-6.
The Spartans defence forced the Gladiators to punt and their offence put together an eight play drive, into Gladiator territory, knowing that another score would really get them back in the game. A 20 yard completion on fourth and 15 kept the chains moving but a sack by Dave Crane and Dan Jones halted their progress and they had to punt, pinning the Gladiators inside their own 20, to the 15.
But Casey Campbell is a hard man to bring down, and he left a string of Spartans in his wake as he exploded through the line and outran the rest of the defence for a spectacular 85 yard touchdown. With the extra point and a 28-6 lead, the game was effectively over before half time as the Spartans were just not able to compete with the Gladiatorsâ€™ firepower.
Gary Shuttleworth sacked the Essex QB to halt another drive and the half time whistle came to allow the Spartans to regroup and work out a way of stopping Campbell.
The Spartans kicked off the second half hoping for an early stop to get the ball back but their hopes were dashed as Ash Latter sliced through the middle of their kick off coverage unit for a 54 yard return. The Gladiators could not capitalise however and settled for a field goal attempt but Brownâ€™s 38 yard effort was wide left.
The Spartans failed to capitalise on the defensive stand and gambled on fourth and five on their own 26. A great play by rookie James Birch tackled the running back for an eight yard loss, resulting in first and ten for the Gladiators on the Essex 18.
One play later it was 34-6 as Campbell scored his fourth of the day through the heart of the defence, and Brown added the point after.
After another Spartans punt, the Gladiators were threatening again but a good defensive stand brought up fourth down. Brownâ€™s 37 yard field goal was good to extend the lead to 38-6.
The Spartansâ€™ next possession lasted just one play when Shuttleworth recovered a fumble but the turnover was reciprocated when Bourke threw an interception.
Into the final period, another sack by Jones, having his best day as a Gladiator, thwarted any Spartan optimism, and after Chris Palmer ran for a first down in relief of Campbell, Chris Jackson completed the scoring drive with a seven yard run, taking the score to 44-6.
To rub salt into the wound, the Essex QB threw another interception, this time to Joe Stickings who returned it 23 yards to the Essex 33. The Gladiatorsâ€™ fourth fullback of the day, rookie Dan Johnson, ran the final nine yards for his first ever score and six more points to the total. Brown added one more with his seventh successful kick of the day to give the game its final score of 51-6.
There was time for the Spartans to complete their longest play of the day, a 42 yard completion from a tipped ball that was skilfully hauled in by their receiver and they drove inside the Gladiators 20, but Colchesterâ€™s defence was determined to concede another. A massive 14 yard loss on a tackle by Ian Digby and Tom Burridge brought up third and long and two incompletions turned the ball over, ending any further threats to the score and the Gladiators saw out the final few minutes without any alarms.
After the game, Gladiators Head Coach Matt Roberts was delighted with the win and said: “Today we knew with it being a local derby, previous form can often count for nothing, and that a fast start was vital. So with the defence picking up their first interception of the day on their first series, and then the offence scoring three times in only four plays, I feel we really put the game to bed early.
â€œOffensively it was a very positive performance. With Casey Campbell once again leading from the front with 176 yards off only 11 carries, it enabled us to distribute the ball across the board, and get everyone vital game time, and it was especially pleasing to see Dan Johnson secure his first score of the season from FB, as well as Chris Jackson and Curtis Bourke picking up scores each on the ground. Not only that with Palmer and Ortiz-Barrs picking up nice yards from pitches and screen passes it really was a team effort. Praise must be reserved for the offensive line. With two starting players still out injured, the unit was exceptional today making some classy blocks which made a tough job for the Spartans even harder!
â€œDefensively with Luke Box leading the unit as Defensive Coordinator, we were faced with some challenges, but once again the unit stepped up, recording a staggering seven sacks, two interceptions and three forced fumbles. What’s equally pleasing is once again it’s the new signings making a name for themselves with University stand out Josh Milgate and rookie James Birch leading the way with seven and 6.5 tackles respectively. Taking into account the sack yardage we managed to hold their running game to minus 26 yards which, considering they have one of the best running backs in the University league playing for them is a massive confidence boost to the team.
â€œSpecial teams were tremendous today, with us blocking or sacking two of their punts, us only punting once ourselves and Nathan Brown having a massive day with the boot, hitting six of seven PATs and a 37 yard field goal. Not only that, but with Ash Latter following up a score in the last game to returning his only kickoff return of the day 54 yards to take it to their 18 yard line, it really shows the hard work from everyone paying off in all 3 phases of the game.
â€œBut as great as it is to win so heavily against a local rival, with must keep the game in perspective, and now prepare for the Blue Raiders in a couple of weeks who should be a much stronger challenge.â€
The Gladiators next fixture is a trip to Bedford to take on the host Blue Raiders at Bedford International Athletics Stadium on Sunday 14th July kick off 12.00pm while the Juniorsâ€™ next fixture is part of a double header of action at Colchester Rugby Club on Sunday 21st July when the seniors host Maidstone Pumas and the juniors host the London Blitz.
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