GAME HIGHLIGHTS – provided by sussex thunder
THRILLER AGAINST CONFERENCE LEADER SUSSEX THUNDER SEES OXFORD LOSE BY 1 POINT
The rematch between Oxford (2-3) and Sussex (6-0) saw a game that was extremely close throughout, with the Saints hitting the scoreboard first but falling to a 13-12 loss.
On 4th June the Saints travelled to take on the Sussex Thunder for the 2nd time in 3 weeks. Competing in Division 1 following promotion at the end of 2016, Oxford have been holding their own with their only losses coming from Sussex, who sit at the top of the Division 1 Southern Football Conference Central.
With James Walter under centre as the quarterback for this game, he immediately went for the deep pass on the opening play with receiver Charlie Day making the catch for a 45-yard gain. What looked like a strong opening statement against Sussex was unfortunately overturned, as it was ruled that Day fumbled the ball upon being tackled and it was recovered by the Thunder.
The first quarter remained a stalemate with both teams trying to find a way through their opponent’s defenses. When Oxford and Sussex previously met, the Thunder took a 19-0 runaway lead before the end of the half but there was to be no repeat this time.
Although a flurry of penalty flags hampered both teams progress, the Saints defense were performing strongly forcing the Sussex offense to punt the ball multiple times.
At the beginning of the 2nd quarter, George Wright and Travis Folkes landed a 10-yard sack on Thunder quarterback Eber Kington, bringing him down for a loss of yards. Despite this, their offense were moving towards the endzone and looked poised to score, before a goalline stand on the 1-yard line caused a fumble with Dean Bryan recovering for Oxford.
Towards the end of the 2nd quarter, Oxford continued to pressure Kington who was sacked on back-to-back plays. Firstly by Conor Whitehouse and Calvin Holmes for a 3-yard loss, followed by another from Martin Fitzpatrick for a 8-yard loss. Both teams were hit by further penalties in this very intense contest.
Keen to enter the 2nd half with a lead, Sussex attempted a field goal on the final play of their drive. Andrew Stone lined up to take the 32-yard kick but it fell short.
0-0 HALF TIME
With Sussex being a high scoring team, the Oxford players and supporters celebrated the 0-0 half time result, given their opponents had a 19-0 lead at this point in the previous match.
Kington and the Thunder offense began with the ball in the 3rd quarter, but momentum shifted when defender Misha Brookes intercepted a pass for a 4-yard return. The turnover gave the Saints good field position with their offense taking over with just 18 yards to the endzone.
Walter added a first down on the ground before running the ball in himself from the 1-yard line for the first touchdown. The Saints went for a 2-point conversion as kicker Dean Fuller suffered a injury earlier in the game, but running back Rob Johnson was unable to get into the endzone.
On the following kickoff with Spencer Duffy stepping in for the injured Dean Fuller, Sussex returned the ball 58 yards and set up great field position for their next drive. Kington moved their offense towards the endzone but the Saints defense held firm again, forcing a turnover on 4th down at the 3-yard line.
Disaster struck for Oxford on their next play when the ball was fumbled and recovered by Sussex. With Kington back on, the Saints attempted another goalline stand but a penalty flag against the defense on 3rd down gave Sussex a first. On the next play, Kington ran the ball in for a 1-yard score. Kicker Danny Wallace attempted the extra point but hit the left goal post, leaving the score tied at 6-6.
At the end of the 3rd quarter, the Saints punted the ball away and it rolled out off the field on the 2-yard line and gave Sussex a difficult starting position for their offense. On their first play, the ball was fumbled and George Wright recovered it forcing the change of possession.
The Thunder defense were unable to keep the Saints out of the endzone and Luke Fry ran up the middle for a 4-yard score, giving Oxford the lead again. Going for 2 points, Walter threw the ball intended for tight end Sam Armstrong but it was incomplete.
Kington looked to strike back in the air and a completed pass for 38 yards gave them a big gain. On the following plays, Travis Folkes put pressure on the quarterback and 2 pass attempts down field were broken up by Martin Fitzpatrick and Misha Brookes, forcing a turnover.
Late in the 4th quarter, the Thunder were on the attack again and put together a sustained drive taking them across the field. With a combination of passing and running, Kington and the Sussex offense picked up much-needed first downs. On 3rd down, Kington delivered a strike to receiver Chris Evans for a 8-yard touchdown.
Andrew Stone kicked the crucial extra point, giving Sussex a 1 point lead over Oxford with less than 2 minutes remaining in the game.
On their final drive of the game, the Saints were unable to make the yards they needed. Walter looked to take a shot deep down field but was under pressure from the Sussex defense and the pass fell incomplete.
13-12 SUSSEX – FINAL SCORE
After a strong performance all game long, especially from the defense, the Saints lost by a margin of just 1 point to conference leaders Sussex Thunder.
Although a tough loss, the Saints can take solace in the fact they pushed the top team right to the final moments of the game and have proved they are a force to be reckoned with in Division 1 football.
The Saints go straight into their next game hosting the Solent Thrashers at Tilsley Park on 11th June.