The Colchester Gladiators’ early season struggles continued in this rematch against the high flying Kent Exiles, in a game that highlighted their lack of depth. Running backs Andy Cairns and Eddie Collison, cornerback Jim Gilchrist, and wide receivers Vic Williams and George Louch were all sidelined after sustaining injuries from last week’s game, adding to an ever increasing injury list.
Trailing 7-0 late in the first half, starting QB Curtis Bourke scrambled for an 11 yard gain but took a hit to the ribs and left the game. With both back up QBs unavailable, Head Coach Karl Bourke was forced to use a “Wildcat” formation, utilising the skills of running backs Casey Campbell and Chris Jackson with no QB, but with no real passing threat, the Exiles could stack the line of scrimmage to focus on stopping the run. Bourke was unable to return to the game which left the Colchester offence struggling for production and ultimately unable to rally around a solid defensive performance.
The game started just like the season opener between the teams with the Kent offence fumbling after a Brendan Bignell hit, but the Gladiators returning the turnover with a Bourke interception.
The Gladiators’ defence was thwarting the strong passing game of the Exiles behind American QB Zac Ritchie forcing three consecutive punts but another Bourke pick and some equally solid Exiles defence, the quarter ended scoreless but the Kent in possession.
The visitors completed an eight play drive covering 54 yards and scored the game’s opening touchdown on a four yard run. The extra point was good and gave them a 7-0 lead.
After a Gladiators punt, the home defence got the ball back after a completion took the ball into Gladiator territory but the receiver fumbled which was picked up by safety Chris Jackson. Unfortunately the offence could not take advantage but another turnover, this time from Joe Parsons who intercepted a Ritchie pass, gave them great field position. However, after Bourke left the field, the drive stalled and the Gladiators turned the ball over on downs on the Kent 15.
The Exiles took to the air to try to extend their lead before half time but good defence ensured Colchester were just down by one score at half time and with an opportunity to assess Bourke’s condition.
It was clear that Bourke would not return so after the Gladiators received the kickoff, Campbell and Jackson lined up in the backfield. Campbell took the direct snap on the first play of the second half, avoided a tackle, picked up a monster block from Paul Bovingdon, and scampered down the sideline for a 75 yard touchdown. Nathan Brown’s extra point was good and the game was tied at 7-7.
The Exiles then showed what a good team they are and responded immediately, taking the ensuing possession 52 yards in nine plays, including converting a third and thirteen. The drive was completed with another short touchdown run. The extra point attempt failed but the Exiles were in front again at 13-7.
The Exiles soon extended their lead, after a Gladiators fumble gave them excellent field position just 24 yards out. A missed tackle on a short pass became a 33 yard touchdown reception to take the score to 19-7 just before the third quarter ended.
Kent fumbled the ball away again on their own 30 and Bignell was on hand to snag the ball and return it to the Kent 14, but the Gladiators fumbled themselves to end the drive.
Wide Receiver Andy Xheka gallantly stepped in at QB to try to offer an alternative to the wildcat and led the offence down to the Kent 16 but another fumble ended the Gladiators’ last real threat.
Head Coach Karl Bourke was impressed with his team’s effort and said: “Every man gave his all today, and the Exiles know they have been in a game. Defensively we played a good game, holding a high scoring offence to three scores, but we need to get healthy and we need to get to training.”
The Gladiators return to action on Sunday 5th June when they host the unbeaten Bury Saints at Colchester Rugby Club, kickoff 2.30pm. Admission is again free.
League table: P W L T PF PA %
Bury Saints 4 4 0 0 138 27 1.000
Kent Exiles 4 3 1 0 86 67 0.750
Solent Thrashers 4 2 2 0 112 71 0.500
Sussex Thunder 4 2 2 0 56 72 0.500
Colchester Gladiators 3 0 3 0 40 100 0.000
Hertfordshire Cheetahs 3 0 3 0 16 111 0.000
Remaining fixture list:
June 5: v Bury Saints
June 12: @ Herts Cheetahs
June 19: v Sussex Thunder
July 3: v Solent Thrashers
July 10: v Herts Cheetahs
July 17: @ Bury Saints
July 30: @ Sussex Thunder
Full details can be found through the Gladiators’ website at www.colchestergladiators.com