Saints Claim First Win Of 2017
On Sunday 23rd April, Oxford took on their old foes the South Wales Warriors and came home with a 13-6 Division 1 victory.
Starting in place of quarterback Ben Denton was rookie Marcus Alphonso, playing his first season of senior football and his first start in a regular season game.
The Saints received the opening kickoff and began with the ball but were unable to make any progress. Running back James Walter was halted immediately at the line for no gain and two incomplete passes forced the offense to punt the ball away.
With quarterback Dean Jackson on the field for the Warriors, they picked up a first down on the ground and a 17-yard pass gave them another. Their drive came to an end after an incomplete pass and a fumble on 4th down.
Towards the end of the 1st quarter, the Saints were moving the ball well with hard running from Walter. The team marched across the field picking up several first downs. Tight end Richard Bloomer nearly hauled in a great pass from Alphonso in the corner of the endzone but failed to maintain control.
The Saints still managed to cap off the drive with a score as Walter charged in from 2 yards out for the touchdown.
James Walter 2-yard TD Rush
Rookie Dean Fuller kicked the extra point which was deflected by a Warriors defender but fortunately stayed on course and went through the uprights.
Defensive units for both teams continued to dominate the momentum of the game, with both holding strong to prevent either from scoring. The Saints hoped to extend their narrow lead with two field goal attempts from 36 and 31-yards out, but both kicks sailed wide of their target.
The 3rd quarter began with neither team’s offense able to move the ball. Incomplete passes from the Saints were hampering their ability to put together a solid drive and the Warriors offense struggled under pressure from Oxford’s strong defensive line, featuring veterans George Wright, Conor Whitehouse and Deke Morton.
The home team attempted a field goal of their own from 29-yards out to put some points on the board, but Nate Webb’s kick was wide and missed it’s mark.
With both sides being plagued by penalties, it was a back and forth affair for the remainder of the 3rd quarter. The Warriors had several opportunities to score but multiple dropped passes and a touchdown called back for a penalty gave the Saints relief whilst frustrating the South Wales sideline.
George Wright 7-yard Sack on Dean Jackson
The Oxford defense continued to put on a strong display against Jackson and his offense, with George Wright being a dominating force and landing a big sack for a 7-yard loss.
In the 4th quarter, runners Ryan Kingshott and James Walter advanced the ball into scoring distance and Walter hammered it in for his second touchdown of the day, this time from 5-yards out.
James Walter 5-yard TD Rush
Dean Fuller attempted the extra point but the ball was not set in place. The kicking unit scrambled to make a play and pass it to an open player, which would have given them 2 points, but were unsuccessful.
In the final minute of the game, the Warriors were finding success in the air with quarterback Maxime Ayoul now under centre. On 2nd down, he completed a pass to Stewart Bicker for a 24-yard gain and their only touchdown of the day.
Nate Webb lined up for the extra point but it hit the cross bar and floated into the hands of safety Martin Fitzpatrick, who was unable to return the ball to the Warriors endzone for a potential score.
To win the game, South Wales needed to successfully recover an on-side kick, score a touchdown and then a 2 point conversion. With only seconds left on the clock, their chances were ended when Saints defender Misha Brooks recovered the onside kick attempt, securing possession for Oxford’s offense.
Not looking to take any chances against the Warriors defense, quarterback Kyle Swann kneeled out the remainder of the game to give Oxford their first victory of the season against a former-premiership opponent.
FINAL SCORE: 13-6 Oxford
With defense playing a key role, both teams had very different game plans.
The Saints turned to their reliable running game and chose to wear down their opponents on the ground. With James Walter and Ryan Kingshott getting the bulk of the work, with American running back Tony Glover not kitting up for this fixture. Oxford picked up 196 yards on the ground and 2 touchdowns from Walter, with 6 yards on only 11 pass attempts.
Oxford Head Coach Andrew Day was pleased with the win but believed his side had been lucky and committed too many simple mistakes.
“South Wales dropped quite a few passes and on another day they could have easily won it. I’m grateful to get out of here with a victory” – Head Coach Andrew Day – Oxford Saints
The Warriors were a pass-heavy offense which showed with their 45 pass attempts, with only 15 completions. They picked up a solid 208 passing yards and a last-minute touchdown, but suffered from multiple dropped passes and their running backs failed to perform at the same level as the Saints, along with being under heavy pressure from the Oxford defensive line.
Warriors Head Coach Geraint Roberts was similarly frustrated with his team’s performance and an abundance of costly errors.
“We didn’t execute. We thought we had a game plan, it’s just the players didn’t execute” – Head Coach Geraint Roberts – South Wales Warriors
Commenting on the damage done by Oxford’s James Walter, who picked up 156 yards and 2 touchdowns against his defense, Coach Roberts added:
“We knew what he (Walter) had coming in to the game and everyone has seen his highlights and he did well in the Great Britain trials last year. But we tackled poorly.”
The Saints have a week for training and return to action Sunday 7th May, when they host the Ouse Valley Eagles at Tilsley Park.