The Colchester Gladiators suffered a heart-breaking loss on Sunday at the hands of the Berkshire Renegades, when the visitors successfully kicked a 40 yard field goal inside the final 30 seconds to snatch a victory after trailing for most of the game.
The Gladiators’ record now stands at 1-4 and with three tough comes to come, their continued participation in the top tier will be in doubt. They have showed however, that they can more than compete against most of the teams despite being outmanned, but will need to pick up a win against one of this Sundays’ opponent London Blitz, Bristol Aztecs, or London Olympians, to ensure Premier League survival. However the fluidity of the structure from year to year could mean survival with no more wins or relegation with another win.
The Gladiators started the game well, moving the ball from the opening kick off but a fumble halted the promising drive in Renegade territory.
Berkshire didn’t hold on to the ball long though. A quick screen pass to a receiver actually went backwards and was dropped so was classed as a fumble and a loose ball, and Ian Digby was first to pounce on the ball, returning the offence to the field.
Colchester made no mistake with the second chance and travelled the 39 yards in six plays, culminating with a four yard jaunt from Chris Jackson. Nathan Brown slotted the extra point to give the Gladiators an early 7-0 lead.
The Renegades moved the ball fairly effectively most of the day but couldn’t execute where it mattered most, in the red zone. They responded to the early score with a long drive of their own, reaching the nine but Alex Robinson stopped the running back for a five yard loss, and on 4th and 14, Garry Shuttleworth, returning from injury, sacked the Berkshire QB for a nine yard loss as the quarter ended, and the Gladiators survived.
The Renegades reached the Gladiators’ nine again but Josh Milgate recovered a fumble and returned it to the 20. Both offences struggled for the remainder of the quarter and the Gladiators went in at half time still seven points in front.
The offensive struggles continued in the third quarter but the Gladiators were the first to threaten the scoreboard after a 22 yard run by Vic Williams before a 33 yard run from Jackson took the ball to the Renegades nine. Another fumble was returned to the Gladiators 40 with Ash Latter making a touchdown saving tackle but the ball was back with the visitors. To add insult to injury, starting QB Curtis Bourke was injured on the play, suffering an ankle injury, and his status is uncertain for next week and beyond.
The Gladiators defence continued to bend but didn’t break, forcing stopping two more fourth down attempts in their own half, including penetration as far as the seven but the Renegades’ passing offence was poor, leaving them one dimensional, relying on their running game. After stopping Berkshire at the start of the fourth period, they took over on their own seven but another fumble was lost, leaving the Renegades on the five and the defence couldn’t quite keep them out, a three yard scoring run finally putting them on the scoreboard. The two point play failed to keep the Gladiators one point ahead at 7-6.
A good punt from the Gladiators’ Adam Levy pinned the Renegades deep in their own half as time was ticking away and they were forced to kick the ball back to Colchester with just over four minutes to play. But with Bourke on the sideline, the offence couldn’t muster a first down to put the game away. A poor punt gave the Renegades excellent field position and they drove to the nine. A sack by Brendon Bignell pushed them back and on third down, Sam Gennings couldn’t quite hold on to a wayward pass and on fourth down, Berkshire lined up for the field goal, knowing that a successful kick would win them the game.
The Renegades kicker kept his cool and his kick just crept inside the corner of the crossbar and post but the three points gave them their first lead with just seconds to go at 9-7.
There was only time for the kick off and two plays but Brandon Slieker’s final, desperation pass was intercepted to ice the game.
The Gladiators’ next game is on Sunday 15th June against the Berkshire Renegades, at Colchester Rugby Club, 2.30pm kick off.
Further information about the Club and contact details for all sections can be found at www.colchestergladiators.com.