The Colchester Gladiators improved their record to 6-2, notching up their sixth successive win as they comfortably defeated the East Kent Mavericks, and clinched at least a playoff place. They could still take the division title if they won their final two games; a remarkable turn around after opening the year with two consecutive defeats.
The Gladiators were again without a number of key players, particularly on defence, but strong running from the tandem of Chris Jackson (25 rushes for 140 and 1 TD) and Andrew Cairns (26 for 144, 1TD) proved more than the Mavericks could handle.
The Gladiators had the ball first and took just three plays to open their account when QB Curtis Bourke ran in from 62 yards out. Nathan Brown slotted the extra point and extended the lead to 7-0.
East Kent hit back immediately though, their QB connecting downfield for 31 yards then running for 25 more down to the one. He then completed the drive, diving over the goal line for six points. The two point pass attempt was incomplete leaving the Gladiators up by a point at 7-6.
It didn’t take the visitors long to re-establish their lead however. Vic Williams returned the kick off to the Mavs’ 43 before Bourke ran for 22 yards. Six plays later, Jackson ran in from the ten. Brown’s PAT was again successful for a 14-6 advantage.
Although down on personnel, the Gladiators defence were strong on heart and they began to assert their authority over the Mavericks’ offence. A tackle for a loss of seven by Raul Barclay forced a three and out and set up a long Colchester drive. Jackson got the call on seven of the ten plays in the drive before Cairns finished it off from nine yards. Brown’s third PAT made it 21-6, still in the first quarter.
Scott O’Brien forced a fumble that was recovered by Barclay to stop the next Kent drive and the Gladiators were on the march again as they changed ends to start the second period. The drive stalled at the 14 and Head Coach Neil O’Hare elected to send on kicker Brown to try for a field goal but the kick was wide.
The Mavericks were three and out on their next three possessions as the short-handed Gladiators defence fought hard in the hot sun while their offence continued to run through the Mavs “D”.
Colchester couldn’t capitalise however and had to wait until the two minute warning to add to their tally when the running game took them to the 14 and Bourke found Cairns through the air for their fourth TD of the half. Brown’s PAT was blocked but the Gladiators went in at half time satisfied with their performance and scoreline at 27-6.
The Mavericks came out in a determined mood, driving from their 12 down to the Colchester three but a fumble turned the ball over to extinguish the threat. It wasn’t look before they had the ball back when the Gladiators returned the favour with a fumble of their own just 24 yards out but three incomplete passes turned the ball over on downs.
Another promising Gladiator drive was stopped by a fumble but linebacker Josh Milgate sacked the Mavs QB on their first play and recovered the ball. Cairns scored his second of the day four plays later to further extend the lead to 33-6. The extra point was blocked and returned the length of the pitch for a two point safety to the Mavericks to take the score to 33-8.
The final period was scoreless with neither side able to threaten the scoreboard. With the Mavericks passing at every opportunity, the Gladiators’ secondary was tested but passed with flying colours, knocking down a total of seven passes on the day. Ian Digby and Jack Greenland led the defence with eight and seven tackles respectively; Greenland being another product of the Gladiators youth system who, along with Cairns and Sam Huxtable, have made sensational starts to their senior careers.
Head Coach Neil O’Hare was thrilled by the performance and said: “This game could easily have been a banana skin for us. We were missing a significant number of starters for various reasons and East Kent were on a high after beating a tough Birmingham side the week before.
“We had to adjust a few things and we couldn’t play the kind of defence that we might like but our guys rose to the challenge magnificently to run out winners on the day. I am so proud of our players and coaching staff.”
The Gladiators don’t have much time to reflect and heal up as the same Mavericks come to Colchester this Sunday for the return. The game is at Colchester Rugby Club, Mill Road, and kicks off at 2.30pm, and admission is free.
British American Football Association: Southern Football Conference Division 1
League table: P W L T PF PA %
Farnham Knights 9 7 1 1 364 192 0.833
Colchester Gladiators 8 6 2 0 188 138 0.750
Solent Thrashers 9 6 2 1 284 135 0.722
Ouse Valley Eagles 8 5 3 0 175 153 0.625
Birmingham Bulls 8 3 5 0 115 129 0.375
Hertfordshire Cheetahs 8 3 5 0 131 195 0.375
East Kent Mavericks 8 2 6 0 109 248 0.250
Cambridgeshire Cats 8 0 8 0 53 229 0.000
Remaining fixture list:
July 26: v East Kent Mavericks
Aug 2: v Farnham Knights
All home games will be played at Colchester Rugby Club, Mill Road, Colchester, kick off 2.30pm.
Full details can be found through the Gladiators’ website at www.colchestergladiators.com.
By Nick Foxley