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Oxford Saints v MK Pathfinders
It took exactly 3 plays for the Oxford Saints to find their feet in 2012, 3 plays to put the first points on the scoreboard, 3 plays for Dean Bryan to score his first ever touchdown and 3 plays to breathe life into aspirations for the new season.
An off-season of turmoil, controversy and disappointment preceded the Saints Division 2 West campaign. Suffering the ignominy of a 2-8 Division 1 campaign in 2011 and the relegation that followed spirits were low in Oxford as practices began in earnest in the freezing rain of a Thames Valley winter.
On the other side of town the students of the OBU Panthers were working their own magic in the BUAFL, cantering to a 6-1 record and a place in the championship playoffs of the University game. Suddenly the downcast American football scene in Oxford, a 2-8 senior team and a 1-6 University outfit in 2011, was transformed. Hope sprang, if not eternal, then certainly with a sense of purpose.
One: 1st and 10. Strong right, handoff to the full back, dive into the 1 hole. No Gain.
As the ides of March became the showers of April the depleted ranks of the Saints roster began to swell. Half a dozen invigorated Panthers exchanged maroon for white, former Saints bullwarks Chris Ellis, Simon McEvoy and Troy Smith came home and Plymouth got a little closer to Oxford with the return of Lydon Ward-Best and a coterie of Plymouth Blitzers.
Two: 2nd and 10. Strong right, handoff to the half-back, running off tackle right. 2 yards.
A new start, a new head coach, new systems and a fresh attitude dictated a preseason of intense hard work.
The first new defensive scheme in 15 years, implemented by OBU Head coach and Saints DC Nick Wykes, demanded a massive learning effort from a patched up defensive unit.
An entirely new offensive scheme, devised and installed by 1st year Head Coach Andrew Day and 1st year Saints coach Michael Price, complete with new quarterbacks, runningbacks and tight ends insisted on attention.
Three: 3rd and 8. Strong right, drop back pass. Interception Dean Bryan, returned 54 yards. Touchdown.
And the Oxford Saints v.2012 crackled into life.
Bryan’s touchdown paved the way for a 41-0 opening day victory, followed up a week later by another Bryan score and a 42-6 triumph over the Bristol Apache. 3 weeks of inactivity then a double header against the fancied Bournemouth Bobcats. One week of defensive domination was followed by a relative shootout by Oxford standards. 2 weeks, 2 wins and the Saints were 4-0 and top.
Two weeks later the Controversial Cornish Sharks came to town and put the only blot in the Oxford copybook, shutting out an overconfident and lacklustre Saints side who had begun to think that the game was always to be played on their terms.
The final three weeks of the regular season featured three games that would shape the Saints year. Bristol, Gloucester and Bournemouth all played host to a refocused team and all were dispatched. Michael Oluwole exploded into form in Bristol to inform a 28-0 win. Lightning quick Harry Carr did the same in the Gloucester sunshine to triumph 21-12, and Chris Ellis, as formidable with ball in hand as he is when lined up next to linebacker partner Stephen Bentley iced a hat trick of wins over the Bobcats with his 5th touchdown of the year.
With an awarded win over the agoraphobic Sharks and a waterlogged tie against the Apache, 8-1-1 is where our heroes now stand. Seeded second in the East/West half of the playoff draw and hosting the Milton Keynes Pathfinders in the quarterfinal there is regrouping, refocusing and rehabilitating to be done.
MK have only been bested by perfect Peterborough this term and their 8-2 record denotes the best the Saints have had to face thus far. It is Oxfords 6.5 points per game defence with the challenge of the Pathfinders 29 points per game offence who will be in the firing line. The unit which has generated 36 turnovers, 23 sacks and 30 points of their own in 8 games will need their big players playing big.
Alistair Galbraith always plays big. The first year passer, in tandem with Josh Randall, has hit more than he has missed and gets better by the day, and with targets growing in confidence under the expert tutelage of Price, has options. The running back carousel has gouged, danced and bulldozed its way to 1400 yards spread across 5 different men.
Injured brothers are returning to fitness, the Saints have played most of the season without their starting free safety and outside linebacker, much of it without their starting halfback and fullback and significant games without a starting receiver, cornerback, middle linebacker, right tackle and defensive end. And still they march forth. With almost continual playoff calibre throughout their 30 year history and 2 bowl game wins to spur each generation's reach to exceed its grasp, there is yet more to be written. On Sunday the pen will unlikely be as mighty as Lee Hutton’s pass rush.
Leading lights so far....
Harry Carr 49 carries for 438 yards; James Walter 20 catches for 222 yards & 5td's; Lee Hutton 8 Sacks; Chris Ellis 69 tackles; Jonny Dover 4 interceptions 1 td;
Want to know how what happens next? Then you want to be at Abingdon RFC in Lambrick Way on the 5th of August 2012 from around about 2.30pm.
Published: 02-08-2012 by nw