Thunder Roll Sends Warriors To Defeat But No Disgrace
American Football BAFA Division One Central
By Twm Owen – http://www.dai-sport.com/thunder-roll-sends-warriors-defeat-no-disgrace/
South Wales Warriors 0 – Sussex Thunder 17
The play-off bound Sussex Thunder struck early on their visit to South Wales, but never quite managed to rumble the winless Warriors.
Though the game finished with the hosts still searching for a first win this season, the undefeated Thunder, who sealed the division championship a week earlier, were made to work hard for victory in this Saturday evening clash.
It looked as if it would be a long night for the Warriors, who suffered a heavy defeat in their last fixture away at the Oxford Saints, when the Thunder scored on just the second play of the game.
Thunder quarterback Jaden Ellis tossed a short pass to his right to receiver Chris Evans, who slipped through a weak attempted tackle from Warriors cornerback Owen Griffiths, and then raced more than 60 yards down the home team’s sideline to open the scoring – shrugging off another defender as he did so. Kicker Andrew Stone added the extra point.
Things went from bad to worse for the Warriors when stalwart Stewart Bicker, playing in his final game for the Welsh side before returning to his native Scotland, inexplicably fumbled a punt return after calling for a fair catch.
The Thunder were without regular starting QB Eber Kington and running back Ben Chukwu-Onu, who tore through the Warriors defense on his side’s earlier visit to Llanharan in May, but it didn’t appear to matter.
Starting from the Warriors’ 19-yard-line, after recovering Bicker’s fumble, the Thunder looked poised to add to their early touchdown on just their third possession.
Running back Stone moved the Thunder inside the Warriors 10 and though a penalty and a fumbled snap had pushed them back to the 20-yard-line Ellis looked to have recorded his second TD pass when he connected with wide receiver Kelly Thomas. But a holding penalty ruled out the score and pushed Sussex out of field goal range and the visitors opted to punt.
The Warriors looked set to follow suit as their offence failed to make any impact until, on third and 10, home QB Max Ayoul hit receiver Zac Taylor for a 30-yard gain down the left sideline. But having advanced into Thunder territory any threat from the Warriors offense disappeared and the ball was turned over on downs.
Evans was giving Griffiths a torrid time but the Kiwi cornerback soon grabbed the first of three interceptions he would make in the second quarter, the last almost certainly preventing the Thunder from doubling their advantage in the final minutes of the first half.
In the third quarter the Warriors defense gave up 30 yards in one drive through face mask penalties to advance the Thunder downfield and running backs Chisango Tichaona and Stone carried them to the five-yard-line. But that’s when the Warriors defense showed their resolve to deny the Thunder three times, with a penalty also costing them another five yards.
The Thunder settled for a field goal from Stone to finally register their second score of the evening.
A second touchdown wouldn’t come until the fourth quarter when the Warriors defense again held firm and forced Sussex to punt. Bradley McManus’ angled punt caused chaos when it bounced at the Warriors one-yard-line and when the loose ball tickled the leg of a Warriors player it became live and the Thunder swooped to recover.
When the Warriors stopped Tichaona on first down it looked as if they might mount another heroic goal-line stand but the short and powerful runner pushed his way through the line on second down to increase the lead to 16. Stone again added the extra point.
Despite the resolute defensive performance the Warriors had offered little on offense and the attacking highlight of the second half was punter Josh Hurford faking a kick and racing 10 yards for a first down.
But overall the Warriors had struggled to run the ball with consistency and three interceptions undermined the home side’s passing attack.
The game finished when Stone hit the post on a 30-yard field goal attempt.
Head coach Geraint Roberts said the Thunder coaches told him the three games between them had been their toughest this season.
Roberts’ message to his own players, though, is to take pride from what they did well but to cut out the mistakes.
He said: “I just said to the guys on defense the 17 points came from three big mistakes and we know we’re better than that.
“The first touchdown was from two missed tackles, their field goal was the result of two 15 yard penalties, that’s 30 yards on one drive, and the last touchdown our player should never have been standing near the ball.”
The Warriors complete their season at home on Sunday, July 30 when they welcome the Solent Thrashers to Llanharan Rugby Club.