Solent vs Glads

GLADIATORS SOUTHERN CHAMPIONS, GAIN PROMOTION - Posted on September 24th, 2013

The Colchester Gladiators travelled to Southampton on Sunday, to tackle the Solent Thrashers for the National Division South Championship and a place in the National final.

The Thrashers came in to the game boasting an unbeaten record, with the number one ranked defence in the league. But on the day, it was the defence of the Gladiators that won the day, holding Solent’s offence scoreless in a tremendous display of guts and determination, with strong support from the special teams kicking and coverage units.

The Gladiators started slowly as the Thrashers came out fired up and determined to throttle the league’s number one offensive unit. Indeed the Gladiators couldn’t get a first down throughout the first quarter, going three and out on each of their first three possessions.

Curtis Bourke

The Thrashers’ speedy backs combined to gain the initial first down of the game but their drive stalled when Alex Robinson added to his interception tally, picking of the Thrashers’ QB. But as the Gladiators’ offence struggled, punter Sam Gennings was pinning Solent back and the coverage unit, led by Raul Barclay, ensured the league’s number one return man could not break loose.

Early in the second quarter, the Thrashers drove to the Gladiators’ 15 but consecutive incomplete passes on third and fourth down, turned the ball over to the visitors.

Casey Campbell

The Gladiators’ offence finally burst into life when Casey Campbell broke free for a 62 yard gain. The drive stalled at the five however, but Nathan Brown slotted the 22 yard field goal to give them a slender 3-0 lead.

A sack on the Thrashers QB by Josh Milgate forced them to punt but Solent soon had the ball back when a long pass from Bourke to Tommy Clarke was intercepted.

The Gladiators defence was getting to grips with the Solent playbook and it was them that had problems moving the chains, but a 55 yard punt backed the Gladiators up on their own eight.

Sam Gennings

Campbell converted a third and long with a 17 yard run before Bourke sprinted 51 yards for another first down. The home defence stiffened though and Brown attempted a second field goal, this time from 44 yards but his kick was just wide left.

As the first half approached its conclusion, after another Solent three and out, Bourke connected with Ash Latter for a 32 yard gain over the head of former Gladiators Adam Cleaver much to the sideline’s delight, but time ran out before Brown could make an attempt at another three pointer so the teams went in at the half with the Gladiators edging it by 3-0.

Joe Stickings

The Thrashers took the ball to start the second half but a third down pass fell incomplete to bring on the punt team. Instead of kicking the ball downfield, the punter took off with the ball, evaded three tackles and scrambled 30 yards for a first down. This brave call by the Solent head coach appeared to spark their offence in to life and they continued the drive down to the Gladiators nine but the 12 play drive faltered and they sent on their field goal unit, trying to match the only score of the day and tie the points at three. Linebacker Mark Gilbranch had other ideas and a tremendous effort saw him break through to tip the ball in, pushing it off course, wide of the upright, to keep the Gladiators lead intact.

Bourke, Campbell and Bourke again ran for first downs but a couple of untimely snaps saw the ball rolling loose, causing the Gladiators to lose yards. Gennings’ punt however, pinned the Thrashers back and Gilbranch and AJ Crabbe, thwarted a third down play and a good punt return by Campbell set up the crucial phase of the game, nearing the start of the final period.

Raul Barclay

Two incomplete Bourke passes brought Gennings on for another fourth down punt, but his low kick struck a Thrasher, making it a live ball and the Gladiators were more alert, falling on the ball, setting them up 21 yards out.

Bourke ran for another first down but took a big hit and was forced to leave the field, leaving Campbell to take the snaps from centre. A short run by Chris Palmer gave the Gladiators third down on the two before Campbell handed off to Jackson who forced the ball over the line for a touchdown. Brown’s PAT was good to extend the lead to 10-0.

The strength of the Thrashers’ offence is not throwing the ball playing catch up, but they were forced to take to the air now that they were trailing by two scores. The Gladiators’ secondary was playing inspired football and Sam Gennings knocked down a third down pass to force another three and out and a punt.

The Gladiators were winning the field position battle and punter Gennings pinned the Thrashers deep inside their half and after a penalty for holding, they were backed up on their own five.

Solent attempted to pass their way out of trouble but with Josh Milgate utilizing his speed to threaten the home QB, were forced to illegally hold him. A holding penalty in the end zone, by rule is a safety and two points to the defence, increasing the score to 12-0, giving the Gladiators a two touchdown cushion.

With Bourke still on the sideline, the Gladiators offence struggled and had to puntand Barclay was the first man downfield to tackle the dangerous return man for a two yard loss.

With the Gladiators smelling victory, the noise from the sideline was deafening as the Thrashers tried to make their calls. Down by two scores, Solent were passing on almost every play but the Colchester defence was fired up forcing a turnover on downs.

After another long punt, the Thrashers had just seconds left and a screen pass was easily read by Barclay for a loss, tackling the reciver in bounds so the clock kept ticking and ran out, leaving the Gladiators as southern champions of the National Division, claiming their place in the final to decide the National champs at the John Charles Stadium, Leeds, on Saturday 5th October.

Head Coach Matt Roberts was elated and emotional after the game, saying: “Today is the culmination of 12 months of hard work for a large number of our players. Last season was massively frustrating in part, with low player numbers we were unable to really express ourselves on the field over the course of a long season and it hurt us. This season we’ve recruited well, doubling our squad size, guys commited in the gym and at practice and that proved to be the difference today.

Chris Jackson

“Solent are a massively tough side to breakdown, they have real athletes in all three phases of the game and we knew to win we would have to play close to a perfect game. Offensively whilst we were far from perfect, playing the countries #1 defence which has only allowed one TD all year at home, we controlled the ball well, took our chances and still amassed over 200 yards of run game, which meant we won the field position battle that was to prove decisive. We secured the football well on the whole, and it was pleasing to see Bourke to run for 106 yards before coming out of the game with suspected concussion at the end of the third quarter. All of our players gave everything from the line to the receivers so it’s hard to single out anyone as today was all about the team.

“Defensively it was vital we kept the score as low as possible, and for us to secure a shutout is fantastic. We held then to only a couple of completions and under 200 of offence all day, and with Luke Box and Josh Milgate playing to such a high level especially in the run game recording 12 solo tackles between them and it was Josh’s speed that drew the penalty which gave us the safety at a vital point of the game.

“Special teams were the real stars of the day however. With their return man being famous in the league for his blistering speed and a number of scores from the kicking game, it was on Coach Bourke to ensure the right people were on the field and they delivered. Bar one fake punt which they broke, we bottled them up all game, pinning them on their goal line a couple of times from massive punts from Gennings, Campbell averaging 60 yards on his two kick offs and Brown slotting home the vital field goal which for most of the game was the only points from either team.

“Now we have to re-focus, and get to work on breaking down film on the former premiership side, the Gateshead Senators who will be another massive test for us in the national final, but one we’ve worked hard to get to so will give it everything we’ve got!”

The Gladiators will be hoping to go one better than their previous appearance in a national final when, in 2009, they were narrowly beaten by Leicester Falcons 33-32. In a see-saw game, the Gladiators scored a touchdown inside the final minute and attempted to tie the game with an extra point but the kick caromed off the upright and back on to the field to leave them disappointed.

Victorious

Their previous success in a final came in 1988 when the Gladiators dominated the second half over the Brighton B52s, running away with the victory by 47-28 before being denied promotion to the top tier by politics and geography. This year, promotion should be confirmed by reaching the final so the Gladiators can look forward to playing at the top flight of American football in the UK for the first time since 1992.

Further information about the Club and contact details for all sections can be found at www.colchestergladiators.com.

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