The Colchester Gladiators maintained their turn around in form, registering their fifth win in succession, against the division title favourites, Solent Thrashers. In doing so, they overturned a 42-6 defeat in their opening fixture, and with a rematch against new leaders the Farnham Knights due on the final day of the season, they put themselves back in the division title race.
In a game that had almost everything, the Gladiators overcame an 18-7 half time deficit and won the game with two long touchdown receptions from QB Curtis Bourke to junior sensation Sam Huxtable, and two runs from Chris Jackson. A third quarter safety worth two points by the Gladiators completed the scoring.
The Gladiators got off to a good start, recovering their own kick off to take the opening possession. However, the joy was short-lived when on their third play, Bourke tossed the first of five interceptions on the day.
Conversely, the Thrashers had no problem moving the ball, and opened the scoring on their sixth play from scrimmage with a 14 yard touchdown pass. The extra point failed, striking the post before rebounding into the field of play, but they led 6-0.
A good kick off return by Vic Williams was negated by a penalty flag, forcing the Gladiators to start deep in their own half. After generating only a single first down they had to punt and were soon backed up in their own redzone after the Thrashers again found progress relatively easy by the arm and legs of their athletic QB.
The drive stalled on the six when Raul Barclay and Alex Robinson combined to stop a third down play forcing Solent to attempt to kick a field goal. The Thrashers’ usually reliable kicker was not up to the job and his kick sailed wide left to leave the Gladiators six points adrift at the end of the first period.
The miss proved to be more costly than the Thrashers could have imagined as it took the Gladiators just one play to get on the scoreboard. Bourke found Huxtable over the middle with a pinpoint pass and the sure-handed receiver outsprinted the defence to record a spectacular 80 yard touchdown, tied for the fourth longest reception in the Gladiators’ 32 year history. Nathan Brown’s extra point was good and the Gladiators found themselves 7-6 ahead.
To add salt in the wounds, the Gladiators again recovered the ensuing kick off but a promising drive stalled on the Thrashers 33.
The following Solent drive threatened to regain the lead. A 47 yard run down to the home 26 was just stopped by Joe Stickings but the defence regrouped and Christian Steward and Jack Greenland combined to stop a third down play before Ian Digby and Dave Walton thwarted the fourth down play for a turnover on downs.
However it was the Thrashers who were next to trouble the scoreboard when linebacker Ed Butcher intercepted a Bourke pass and returned it all the way to the endzone. The extra point was blocked but the Thrashers had a slender 12-7 advantage.
The Gladiators thought they had responded immediately when an apparent touchdown pass from Bourke to Joe Parsons was negated for a questionable unsportsmanlike penalty, taking them back to the 17. A fourth down pass fell incomplete and the Thrashers increased their lead before half time following another Bourke pick and a 51 yard run took them to the Gladiators 26. They capped the drive when QB Dayle Greenfield found nemesis Josh Amis from 39 yards out for six points, but the two point attempt failed to leave the score 18-7 going in to the interval.
A swift three and out by the Gladiators was not what was required to start the second half but they soon had the ball back when Alex Robinson intercepted Greenfield, however the drive was stopped on the Thrashers’ 18 and Brown’s field goal attempt was blocked.
The Gladiators soon took the lead though after forcing a punt as Bourke found Huxtable again over the middle and the speedy receiver did the rest, going the distance, this time from 66 yards out. The two point attempt failed but the Gladiators had closed the gap to five at 18-13.
Colchester soon had the ball back but could not take advantage and were forced to punt with Huxtable’s kick being downed on the Solent 15. A penalty forced the Thrashers back and on third down they tried a pitch to Amis but the talented receiver could not handle the ball and it bounced into the endzone. A brief scramble saw the ball knocked out the back of the endzone resulting in a two point safety to the hosts, edging them closer at 18-15.
As the third period drew to a close, the Gladiators were on the move again with first down runs from Andrew Cairns and Casey Campbell. A change of ends soon saw the Gladiators take the lead when Chris Jackson barrelled in from two yards out. The PAT gave the Gladiators a four point lead at 22-18, and it wasn’t long before this was extended through another Jackson run and Brown’s extra point made it 29-18.
Solent are made of stern stuff however and after an exchange of punts, closed to within five when Greenfield took an option 68 yards for a score. With plenty of time still left on the clock it was anybody’s game and the Thrashers were soon celebrating when the Gladiators lost a fumble deep in their own half. They thought they had taken the lead but a penalty negated the score and Robinson made his second pick of the day in the endzone to rescue his team and maintain the slender lead.
The Gladiators then took a sizeable amount of time off the clock after a clutch catch by Campbell from Huxtable, now in at QB, and a 23 yard run from Jackson, however they were forced to give the Thrashers one final chance when a third down play came up short, forcing a punt which was collected by Amis. The dangerous returner was quickly collared by rookie Jacob Spindler forcing the Thrashers to try to win the game from their own 13.
Having used all their time outs on the previous Gladiators’ possession, it would take a couple of big plays to move them within striking distance and intelligent play from the Gladiators defence ensured the ball handlers were kept in the field of play, keeping the clock running.
Solent reached the Gladiators 27 but time expired leaving the Gladiators exultant and the Thrashers wondering how they managed to lose a game in which they gained over 400 yards offence and forced six turnovers.
Gladiators Head Coach Neil O’Hare was understandably delighted with the win and said: “Coming into this game we would have rightly been the underdogs in most people’s estimation. Solent had beaten us very easily in our first game but we knew we weren’t as bad as we made ourselves look that day. As a coach I am immensely proud of the effort that everybody on our team put in this week; we were warriors from the first whistle to the last and never got down even when we were behind at half-time. Players and coaches all worked together to make the changes and adjustments we needed to to pull off what to everyone except ourselves, was a shock result. What made it even more satisfying was that we achieved this despite being hampered on defence by key absences and injuries, meaning that we had a few players in unfamiliar roles but they acquitted themselves magnificently. We have now put ourselves in a position whereby we can still win our division despite losing our first two games, which is nothing short of remarkable and a credit to our guys.”
The Gladiators’ next game is in two weeks, on Sunday 19th July when they travel to Canterbury to take on old rivals, the East Kent Mavericks.
Download the Match Program for this Game here : http://bit.ly/GladsVsThrashers15
British American Football Association: Southern Football Conference Division 1
League table: P W L T PF PA %
Farnham Knights 8 7 1 0 331 159 0.875
Solent Thrashers 8 6 2 0 251 102 0.750
Colchester Gladiators 7 5 2 0 155 130 0.714
Ouse Valley Eagles 8 5 3 0 175 153 0.625
Birmingham Bulls 7 3 4 0 107 101 0.429
Hertfordshire Cheetahs 7 2 5 0 103 187 0.286
East Kent Mavericks 7 2 5 0 101 215 0.286
Cambridgeshire Cats 8 0 8 0 53 229 0.000
Remaining fixture list:
July 19: @ East Kent Mavericks
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.