Photography courtesy of Gareth Brown & Chris Janes
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On Sunday 3rd July, the Saints claimed their 6th win of the 2016 season at Tilsley Park and remained undefeated
Sitting at the top of Division II – Southern Conference West with 6 wins 0 losses, the Saints hosted the 2nd place Bristol Apache in a close game with a big crowd.
Bristol began with the ball and their offense took to the field for their opening drive.
After a completed pass for a short gain, the drive was promptly ended with tackles for a loss of yards from Oxford’s Dean Bryan, Calvin Holmes and George Wright.
With the Saints offense taking over, quarterback Destin Maulding began leading his team down the field but had a tough Bristol defense slowing their progress.
After the ball came loose on 3rd down and was narrowly recovered by the Saints, the ball was punted away to Bristol.
The Apache struck quickly with running back Jon Walters charging across the field into open space for a 78 yard touchdown.
Christopher Jones attempted to add on the extra point kick but was blocked by the Saints defense.
Oxford looked to answer the score but drew two significant penalties which set them back 15 yards each.
On 2nd down, Maulding completed a pass to James Walter for a 22 yard gain but was unable to gain a 1st down on the next play.
The Saints punted the ball again and returned possession to Bristol.
On the next drive, a combination of tackles from Bryan, Sam Stancombe and Deke Morton, along with penalties against Bristol, slowed their momentum and forced the Apache to punt the ball back to Oxford.
The Saints took over from their own 23 yard line and began moving the ball well against the Bristol defense.
Strong running from Rob Johnson and a 15 yard penalty against the Apache looked promising, until James Walter was tackled behind the line for a 7 yard loss on 3rd down.
Attempting to recover the yards on 4th down, Walter was unable to do so and Bristol took over possession.
Early in the 2nd quarter, Oxford got onto the scoreboard after a 43 yard breakout run from Rob Johnson, bringing the Saints into scoring distance.
Walter finished the drive by punching the ball in from 4 yards out for the touchdown. Sam Fielden kicked the extra point and Oxford took the lead.
The Saints forced Bristol to punt the ball on the next drive after a tackle behind the line by Stancombe on 3rd down, which then lead to Martin Fitzpatrick bringing down the quarterback on 4th down for 7 yard loss.
Bristol responded shortly after when Oxford were also forced to give up possession again, soon scoring through Jon Walters for his 2nd of the day from 8 yards out.
Going for the 2 point conversion, Max Gallagher crossed into the endzone as the visitors took back the lead.
Nearing the end of the first half, both sides continued to try and break through their opponents defense but neither were able to make considerable gains.
A hard hitting game from both teams saw possession of the ball changing frequently.
After a delay due to serious injury to a Bristol player, the game was restarted.
The final drive of the first half saw Maulding put the ball in the hands of runner Grant Tebb, who found space for an 18 yard gain.
On 3rd down, Maulding connected with receiver Tom Swift who caught a 14 yard touchdown pass in the endzone.
Fielden kicked the extra point and Oxford tied the game.
The Apache struck back in the 3rd quarter with fast running from Jon Walters, who outpaced the Oxford defenders and scored from 53 yards out for the touchdown.
Christopher Jones’ extra point kick was blocked.
Looking to keep the game level, running back Antonios Athanasiou moved the ball for a 20 yard gain and a first down, stiff arming a defender to the ground and bringing the Saints close to the endzone.
After trying to pick up another first down, the Saints came up short when Athanasiou was brought down for a 2 yard loss followed by an incomplete pass intended for James Walter.
On 4th down, Sam Fielden attempted to kick a 3 point field goal but the ball went wide to the left of the posts.
With Bristol back in possession, a 17 yard run from Jon Walters was brought down by free safety Michael Bearman, followed by a tackle behind the line from linebacker Calvin Holmes.
The 3rd quarter came to a close as Bristol were forced to punt the ball away.
The next drive saw James Walter carry the load as he found running room against the Apache, picking up 3 first downs on 7 carries.
The Saints drove the length of the field and into Apache territory as Walter capped off the drive with a 3rd yard touchdown.
Sam Fielden’s extra-point kicks remained solid and he added the point.
The Saints defense continued to add pressure and gained two critical turnovers. The first came when defensive lineman Deke Morton forced the ball loose, which was recovered for the Saints by teammate Sam Stancombe.
The Apache were cut short again on their next drive when a pass on 2nd down was intercepted by cornerback Misha Brooks, ending another Bristol drive and giving the Saints good field position.
Taking over on Bristol’s 31 yard line, the ball was given to James Walter who gained 9 yards on the first carry followed by a 22 yard touchdown run on 2nd down.
To ensure the Saints had a clear lead, the Saints attempted a 2 point conversion and Walter crossed the line again for the additional score.
Nearing the end of the 4th quarter, tackles from Stancombe and another behind the line from defensive lineman Conor Whitehouse kept Bristol at bay.
On 4th down and 9 yards until a 1st, Jon Walters was under pressure from Ian Hiscock and George Wright but found some room up the sideline as he attempted to reach the first down marker.
Just short of his target, he was stopped by veteran linebacker Dean Bryan, forcing a crucial change of possession.
In the final minutes of the game, Bristol added a final score with a 4 yard touchdown pass from Michael Hindmarsh to receiver Kev Shelbourn.
Jon Walters attempted to run it in for the 2 point conversion but the ball was forced loose and recovered by the Saints.
The Apache had one last chance to get the ball back before the time ran out, deciding to go for an onside kick in the hope they can recover the ball.
Unfortunately for the visitors, Calvin Holmes went into the air to catch the ball and brought it securely to the ground.
Maulding and the Saints offense lined up for the final play of the game and took a knee, running out the final seconds of the game clock and securing Oxford’s undefeated streak.
Following the win, Oxford have now consolidated their position at the top of the conference with 6 wins 0 losses. Bristol remain in 2nd place with 5 wins and 2 losses, both at the hands of the Saints.
Both Oxford and Bristol remained very close throughout the game in most areas.
QB – attempts/completions/interceptions
Oxford: 15-4-1 & 1 TD
Bristol: 16-4-1 & 1 TD
Total Offense Yards
Division II – Southern Football Conference West
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With playoff action all but guaranteed for Oxford, they need to claim wins in their 4 remaining regular season fixtures to secure home field advantage.
The Saints have a trip down to the Cornish Sharks in Newquay on 10th July who will provide a tough matchup at home, after the Saints defeated them 36-12 in game 1 of the season.
You can view the schedule of remaining games here.