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Bright start for the newly beatified Saints
The Oxford Saints continued their strong pre-season with a road trip to face the reigning division 2 champion South Wales Warriors Sunday. Despite returning up the M4 on the wrong end of a 21-14 scoreline the Saints will take a great deal from the game as they prepare to face the Bristol Apache on the 5th May in their SW Conference opener.
Head Coach Andrew Day had scheduled the toughest of pre-season games against a Warriors side that scored over 400 points on their romp to the Division 2 title in 2011. It was always going to be a fixture that would truly test the mettle of a young side in the process of bedding in brand new offensive and defensive units, and so it proved.
From the opening plays it was clear the Saints would be pushed hard on both sides of the ball. Wales standout QB/WR combo, rightly selected for GB representative honours hooked up on the games second play for a long touchdown over a shell shocked Saints secondary.
The Saints offense, behind rookie quarterback Alistair Galbraith had it all to prove on their first drive and they did not disappoint as they rolled downfield behind the bruising running of Chris Ellis and Troy Smith. Wales had seemingly no answer to the brutality of the Saints as the veteran offensive line opened huge running lanes in the Warriors defence. As the defence began to adjust for Oxford power backs a footballing enigma was released. Sensing over commitment to the run by Wales Head coach Day released Alex Clarke up the sideline and Galbraith, all of 5’5 tall, aired out a pinpoint fade for his first ever completion and a crucial first down; ‘Air Midget’ is real.
Despite chewing the clock the Saints first drive stalled inside the Warriors 5 with a fumble. The Saints were in no mood to repeat it’s brief first appearance and despite the Division leading offense of last term getting some small gains, constant pressure forced the punt and Oxford, and Galbraith were back. This time they would not be denied, more tremendous blocking and running saw them move patiently down field before Ellis bulldozed hi way into the endzone from 20 yards out. Dover’s PAT gave Oxford no less than they deserved.
A marauding Lee Hutton forced a Warriors fumble on their next drive and after the teams exchanged possessions the Saints found themselves knocking on the door again. Ellis strolled into the endzone standing up but a flag brought it back and the Oxford offense momentarily lost it’s composure. The chance was lost when a pressurised Galbraith coughed up the ball. The momentum swing was complete when 3 plays later Wales victimised the Saints secondary again this time for a 24 yard strike that left the half time score a slightly bemusing 14-7 to the home side.
Oxford took the ball to start the second half and behind second year trigger man Josh Randall continued where they left off, driving the length of the field before Ellis, who would finish the day with 130 yards on the ground, again shrugged off would be tacklers to amble across the goalline from the 8 to restore parity.
Stung into action Wales put together a drive of their own, and befitting of such a high powered unit, capitalising on some sloppy Oxford tackling, surged back in front with a 23 yard touchdown strike that the Saints secondary will feel they should have done better with.
As the game entered the final quarter the teams, by now heavily rotating personnel, traded drives with the closest either side came to scoring a tremendous goalline stand by the Oxford D which resulted in the Warriors attempting to ice the game with a short field goal. All-everything Ellis surged through the line reaching the kicker almost as quickly as the ball did, the resultant block and recovery gave Randall and his offense one last look at the endzone but sound prevent defense from Wales saw them home. Final score 21-14.
Oxford and their new coaching staff will have taken great heart from a performance on both sides of the ball that, in patches, showed that they will be a real force come the regular season in May. In the meantime it’s back to the training ground to iron out the kinks and build on a start which had them rack up 270 yards on offense, while fine tuning a defense which generated 4 turnovers and 9 momentum shifting tackles in the Wales backfield.
Coach Day was quick to praise his new charges, but stressed that there was much work still to be done before taking on the Apache in anger.
Published: 18-04-2012 by nw