The Colchester Gladiators continued their recent good form and improved their record to 3-2 with their third consecutive win, when they travelled to St. Albans and comfortably defeated a decent Herts team by 41 points to nil.
With games still to come against the top two teams in the Southern Football Conference Division One, the Gladiators placed themselves right back in the middle of the playoff race.
The Gladiators’ defence set the tone for the day, making a statement on the first two Herts plays after the opening kick off. Josh Milgate continued his fine form, tackling the Cheetah running back for no gain on first down before Garry Shuttleworth and Ian Digby stopped him for a loss of two yards on second down. After an incomplete pass, the Cheetahs were forced to punt and the Gladiators took over on their 31
On their first play from scrimmage, Colchester’s star running back Chris Jackson took the hand off and sliced through the Cheetah defence before outpacing the cover to record a spectacular 69 yard score. The extra point was wide but the Gladiators had an early 6-0 lead.
The Gladiators soon had the ball back when Sam Gennings intercepted a pass, returning it to the Herts 38 and it took just three plays to double the lead to 12-0 through Jackson’s 14 yard run.
After an exchange of punts, Milgate forced and recovered a fumble but the turnover was reciprocated when QB Curtis Bourke threw an interception which was returned to the Gladiators’ 20 as the first quarter ended.
The visiting defence was in no mood to allow a score however and on third and goal on the four, Shuttleworth and Digby again combined to stuff the running back for a loss of three. Alex Robinson knocked down the fourth down pass attempt to return the ball to the Colchester offence.
The visitor’s running game was struggling slightly as the Herts defence adjusted and punted, but Chewy Henson batted down a fourth down pass attempt to regain possession and a Bourke to Joe Parsons completion for 20 yards took the Gladiators into field goal territory, but Andrew Cairns’ attempt was short from 40 yards.
Colchester didn’t have to wait long to get the ball back though as the Herts QB struggled to find his receivers and Gennings picked him off for the second time, and two plays later, Bourke found rookie sensation Sam Huxtable for a 53 yard touchdown. Bourke’s two point run attempt was good to make the score 20-0.
The Cheetahs contributed to their own misery on their next drive, coming out in an unusual formation to try to catch the Gladiators out. After completions of five and 28 yards a terrible snap left them facing a 2nd and 41 situation. Robinson and Gennings knocked down consecutive passes to leave them facing 4th and a near impossible 41 yards which would usually result in a punt with over a minute remaining in the half. The Cheetahs foolishly elected to go for it but Raul Barclay made the tackle for a loss to turn the ball back to Colchester just 34 yards out.
It took the Gladiators one play to score, through Casey Campbell, his first touchdown since injuring his knee back in 2013, advancing their advantage to 26-0. One play later it was 34-0 as Gennings again intercepted the QB, this time returning it 55 yards for a touchdown. Gennings’ amazing run of interceptions took his tally to six in just 60 minutes of football, dating back to the second half against the Bulls. Bourke’s two point pass to Huxtable was good to leave the half time score at 34-0.
The third quarter was scoreless as the Gladiators rotated their players to ensure playing time for rookies and back ups. Mark Gilbranch picked off the Herts QB for his team’s fourth of the day and the Shuttleworth/Digby double act continued to harass the QB, sacking him for a five yard loss. Robinson made it five picks before the end of the third period before a good Herts drive was stopped by a Milgate interception.
With Huxtable taking over at QB, the offence added to the score after the young play-maker sprinted 45 yards to set up Jackson for his third of the day, this time from 15 yards out. Nathan Brown’s PAT was good to make the score 41-0 and with a running clock, there was still time for another pick by the ball hawking defence when Raul Barclay was first to another errant throw.
The Cheetahs picked up one first down as the match came to a predictable conclusion but the Gladiators’ defence had the last word when Shuttleworth had consecutive sacks on the Cheetah QB, forcing and recovering a fumble on the second to ice the game.
Head Coach Neil O’Hare was delighted with the result but warned against complacency with some tough games approaching. He said: “I’m proud of the guys today, the way they have worked hard to turn the season around after a couple of tough losses to start the year. Our defence is playing well, and nine turnovers is testament to their work ethic and determination. Our offence has looked good in parts and we’ll be looking for a bit more consistency as we enter the second half of the season. We have some outstanding individuals on both sides of the ball who can change the course of a game which is great but we also have guys who are more unheralded but are just as valuable.” We also still have four home games left and would love to see a big crowd to spur us on and with Solent and Farnham still to come to Colchester, anything is possible!”.
The Gladiators’ next game is in two weeks, on Sunday 21st June when the winless Cambridgeshire Cats come to Colchester.
British American Football Association: Southern Football Conference Division 1
League table: P W L T PF PA %
Solent Thrashers 5 4 1 0 200 52 0.800
Farnham Knights 5 4 1 0 182 132 0.800
Colchester Gladiators 5 3 2 0 110 104 0.600
Birmingham Bulls 5 3 2 0 100 77 0.600
Ouse Valley Eagles 5 3 2 0 85 101 0.600
Hertfordshire Cheetahs 6 2 4 0 76 138 0.333
East Kent Mavericks 4 1 3 0 67 124 0.250
Cambridgeshire Cats 5 0 5 0 36 128 0.000
Remaining fixture list:
June 21: v Cambridgeshire Cats
July 5: v Solent Thrashers
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.
– By Nick Foxley