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Gloucester Centurions 12-21 Oxford Saints
The Oxford Saints booked their place in the Division 2 quarter finals and clinched the West Conference crown on a scorching afternoon in Gloucester.
Despite a patchy performance on both sides of the ball the Saints accommodated the absence of 5 key starters with just enough quality at just the right times, and you can’t fake quality anymore than you can fake a good meal. Harry Carr underlined his explosive talent with another 100 yard day and the defense managed to pick up turnover ball at key moments to keep the game under control. Just.
It was with the skies as kindling waves in the magic of the summer clouds and glorious sunshine that the Saints defence held firm from the start. Despite some positive Gloucester running Ali Galbraith and his patched up offence had the luxury of time to find their rhythm. The uncompromising defence of their endzone and purposeful progress towards Gloucester’s would be the theme of the first half and see the Saints out to a 21 point lead. The second half would be a very different story.
Three successive drives from inside their own half put the Saints in the box seat. After their defence had wrested the first turnover of the day from the Centurions Harry Carr ripped off his first carry of the afternoon for 43 yards, only dragged down at the 6 by tremendous backside pursuit from the Gloucester secondary. As surely as the internal motions of the watch are displayed about its face, so the brutal work of the Saints offensive line allowed Mike Oluwole to chime the hour just 3 plays later.
With the Centurions prevented from any further first downs in the half, the Saints offence made hay. Trapping the quixotic Carr is akin to trying to catch an idea with a butterfly net and again the young half-back did the damage. Mixed in with significant receptions by Sam Armstrong and James Walter Carr first wove into the endzone from 10 yards out and then followed it up with a footrace that he never looked like losing from 21. Three scores up at the half and looking untroubled a straightforward afternoon seemed inevitable. The Centurions and quarterback Andrew Newiss in particular had other ideas.
With a window of opportunity, in the form of a crisis, Gloucester moved quickly and with a purpose, creating a compelling momentum for change. Playing with more freedom and committed to using all 4 downs in the second half the athletic Newiss and running back Shaun Griffin began accumulating short gains on the ground and notably from the option. Gloucester began building time consuming drives just as the Oxford offense went into its shell and the shape of the game turned through 180 degrees.
As the end of third quarter became the start of the fourth Griffin capped a superb 17 play drive with a 1 yard plunge. With Oxford restricted to 3 and outs, a combination of poor field position, a short punt and a penalty on the return allowed Newiss to bring Gloucester within a score. The Centurion signal caller finished a 20 yard drive himself with a 6 yard bootleg.
All of mankind is divided into three classes; those that are immovable, those that are movable and those that move – in this finite universe linebacker Stephen Bentley is the former and he crushed the 2 point attempt with a stand up goalline tackle, preserving Oxford’s rapidly diminishing advantage and duly resolving the Han Feizi paradox.
Josh Randall was intercepted on the second play of the next drive so the Saints D needed to stand resolute, MVP Martin Fitzpatrick’s fumble recovery with two and a half minutes left proved decisive. With the Saints defenders having toiled on the field for almost two thirds of the game it was left to Mike Oluwole and Simon McEvoy to pick up the requisite first downs and that they did with minimal fuss.
Victory takes Oxford to a record of 7-1-1, enough to take the West conference title from the second placed Cornish Sharks, and gives them a quarter final match up against the Milton Keynes Pathfinders on the weekend of the 4th/5th August. Before that however for the Saints is the little matter of a final regular season game against the similarly playoff bound Bournemouth Bobcats on the 28th July.
Published: 23-07-2012 by nw