Photography courtesy of Chris Janes & Jamie Stancombe.
The undefeated season was converted into the perfect season, with a decisive 24-2 victory in the Division II Southern Final against the Cambridgeshire Cats.
Following a stunning season for the history books, the Saints have looked on form throughout the year. The regular season saw them challenged by the Bristol Apache, but Oxford came out on top in both fixtures. The road to the championship saw Oxford and Bristol meet again in the semi finals, with the Saints claiming a confident 40-19 victory.
As their first appearance in a championship game since their winning season in 2006, the majority of the team were experiencing their first time in a national final.
Meanwhile the Cambridgeshire Cats had a bumpy season and were considered the underdogs going into this game, but were quietly confident after dispatching the #1 seed, the London Hornets, in the semi finals.
With a large group of travelling supporters, the Saints came onto the field under a huge round of cheers and applause.
Following the coin toss, the Cats began with the ball on offense. The Saints were looking solid on defense but the running back was able to break a tackle and pick up 17 yards and a 1st down on the carry, before being brought down by Martin Fitzpatrick.
Tackles from defensive end George Wright and linebacker Dean Bryan prevented another 1st down, along with a 5 yard penalty against the Cats, forcing them to punt the ball away.
Oxford’s offense led by quarterback Destin Maulding showed their abilities immediately. Star running back James Walter ran for 32 yards and a 1st down, with fellow runners Tony Glover and Ryan Kingshott contributing for another 1st.
A costly penalty against the Cats pushed them back 14 yards and gave the Saints excellent field position. On the next play, Maulding rolled out and passed the ball in to Walter for a 14 yard touchdown.
Sam Fielden attempted to add on the extra point but the kick was blocked.
Saints take early 6-0 lead on their opening drive
The Cats looked to retaliate but struggled to find progress against a sturdy Saints defense.
Linebacker Spencer Duffy brought down the ball carrier for just a 2 yard gain, with George Wright added a tackle for no yards on the next play.
Cornerback Misha Brooks sealed the deal when he broke up a pass attempt on 3rd down, leaving the Cats with no choice but to punt.
With the offense back on the field, Maulding kept the ball himself and ran for 19 yards and a 1st down. On the next play, he threw a brilliant pass deep downfield to wide receiver Ali Galbraith, hauling in the ball for a 31 yard gain.
The Saints were unable to finish the drive with a score, as what looked like a guaranteed touchdown pass intended for tight end Richard Bloomer was broken up by a Cats defender on 4th down.
Despite turning over the ball on 4th down, Oxford’s defense remained on point and George Wright landed a sack on the quarterback Mark Rivett for a 2 yard loss.
After failing to get their offense moving and unable to pick up a 1st down, they punted the ball away.
The Saints picked up two 1st downs from Walter and Glover but found themselves unable to convert for another 1st.
On 4th down, Fielden lined up from 35 yards out and kicked a successful field goal for 3 points.
The Cats offense were beginning to make progress on their next drive with a big 18 yard run for a 1st down.
A few more short run attempts saw them gain 2 further hard-fought 1st downs, but a tackle for a loss of 3 yards by David Anthony and a 5 yard penalty against the Cats left them unable to convert again.
On 4th down, Cats kicker Steven Bright lined up for a field goal attempt from 37 yards out but was unable to hit his target.
The Saints offense went back to work and moved the ball well against the Cats defense. Keeping the ball on the ground, Maulding handed it off to Walter, Kingshott and Glover who each picked up 1st downs.
With Walter using his speed to get around defenders, Glover was a weapon who could run straight up the middle for large gains.
Glover picked up 18 yards and 16 yards on back to back carries, finishing off most runs with a big hit on the defender coming in to tackle him.
The Cats struggled to answer the powerful running of Walter and Glover & on 2nd down, Walter out paced his defender and charged in for a 14 yard touchdown run, aided by blocking from receiver Ali Galbraith.
Head coach Andrew Day called for a 2 point conversion attempt and Antonios Athanasiou ran the ball up the middle untouched for the extra score.
Near the end of the 1st half, the Cats faced a determined Oxford defense and a joint tackle from defensive tackle Deke Morton and Dean Bryan stopped the runner for just a 3 yard gain.
Wright added a tackle behind the line for a loss of a yard and on 3rd down, cornerback Mike Turner intercepted a pass from Rivett to put a stop to the Cats drive.
To close out the 1st half, the Cats defense got a much needed boost when Maulding was chased down in the backfield for a sack and a loss of 14 yards, bringing up the half time whistle shortly afterwards.
A rejuvenated Cats defense came out to begin the 2nd half and were able to stop the powerful Saints offense in their tracks, forcing Oxford to punt the ball for the first time of the game.
Mistakes by the Saints defense were costly, giving up 25 yards and three automatic 1st downs.
As the Cats profited from mistakes by the Saints, the tables were turned when a ball was snapped high and left Rivett scrambling in the back field to recover the fumble. He was chased by multiple defenders and linebacker Spencer Duffy brought him down for a loss of 21 yards.
On 3rd down, the Cats managed to redeem themselves and their running back picked up 23 yards and brought them within field goal distance.
Steven Bright lined up to attempt the 32 yard kick but the ball went to the right and missed his target.
With the Saints offense back on the field, Walter was tackled behind the line for a loss of a yard on 1st down.
On the 2nd play, the Cats defense closed down on Walter in the back field and he attempted to pitch the ball back to Maulding. The ball went high and rolled into the endzone.
Although Maulding was able to recover the errant ball, the Cats claimed a 2 point safety with Dean Caldbeck on the tackle.
Following the safety, Fielden kicked the ball back to the Cats and a 35 yard return set them up with good field position.
They ran for 13 yards and a 1st down but Duffy halted their progress with two back to back tackles, one for a loss of 3 yards. A pass attempt on 3rd down was tipped by Bryan, who got his hands to the ball and knocked it off course.
The Cats were unable to convert on 4th down and turned the ball over to the Saints.
Maulding picked up a 1st down on the ground but in evading defenders, he suffered a pulled hamstring and came off the field a play later. The injury forced backup quarterback Kyle Swann to take command of the offense, playing his rookie year with the Saints.
Swann kept his composure and proceeded to hand the ball to Glover, who ran for a 1st down. On 3rd down, a handoff intended for Walter was fumbled to the floor but Walter was able to dive to the ground and recover it.
On 4th down the Saints punted the ball back to the Cats.
Throughout the 4th quarter, a defensive battle saw both teams exchanging blows but neither able to find the endzone. With quarterback Maulding remaining on the sideline with injury, Swann steadied the ship.
The Oxford defense continued to be a dominating force holding the Cats to minimal yards on the ground, with Wright and Duffy playing leading roles in the middle of the defense.
In the air, the Saints pass defenders continued to cover their opponents well, with Rivett unable to connect with his receivers.
The final score of the game was delivered by running back Kingshott. He picked up 13 yards on the first play of the drive followed by a 38 yard run up the middle for the touchdown, sealing the win for the Saints.
Fielden added the extra point kick.
With another defensive stand to close out the game, the Saints defense remained dominant and kept the Cats from scoring throughout.
24-2 Saints – Final Score
A strong display on both sides of the ball, the Saints picked up 390 yards on offense, 350 of those were rushing yards and 54 in the air.
The ground and pound strategy from Walter, Glover and Kingshott proved unstoppable.
– James Walter was named Game MVP for gaining 126 yards on 18 carries with 1 TD. He also caught 1 pass for 14 yards and a 2nd TD.
– Teammate Tony Glover picked up 96 yards on 13 carries, with Kingshott picking up 91 yards on 7 carries and 1 TD.
The defense had their performance of the year and held the Cats to just 157 yards on offense, breaking down to 98 on the ground and 61 in the air.
– Defensive end George Wright claimed 8 solo tackles, 2 assists and 1 sack.
– Linebacker Dean Bryan and defensive captain claimed 5 solo tackles, 6 assists and deflected a pass.
The Saints are now the undefeated champions of Division II South, with 13 wins and 0 losses, completing their first ‘perfect season’ in club history and their first championship win since 2006.
The Saints now have a few months to prepare and recruit before preseason begins for 2017, where they will be competing in Division I following their promotion.
Opponents and fixtures will be announced when available.