The Oxford Saints begin their year with a 53-28 loss in a pre-season friendly against the Sussex Thunder
We finished our 2014 season with a 7-3 record and narrowly missed out on playoff eligibility.
Last Sunday we travelled to Sussex for a pre-season warm up and a chance to get new players valuable game experience before the regular season starts.
Following a successful recruitment drive, we have boosted the 2015 squad to over 60 players with lots of interest among Oxford locals who are picking up the sport for the first time.
The Saints have also signed several players with previous experience, including linebacker Graeme Taylor from Scotland’s Edinburgh Wolves and tight end Laurent Antoine, who formerly played in France’s American Football league.
Oxford won the coin toss and received the ball at kickoff. The ball was kicked towards rookie running back Troy Bryan on the 20 yard line, who returned it all the way for a impressive 80 yard run and a score. This was Troy Bryan’s first game of his career and his first touch of the ball ended in the touchdown for Oxford making the game 6-0 in the opening seconds. The extra point kick attempt failed.
The Saints offense this year is led by quarterback Ben Denton. Playing his new position for the first time in a game, Denton and the offense were unable to make any gains on their opening drive. The Sussex Thunder offense led by quarterback Eber Kington evened the score early on, when their running back found the end zone with a 22 yard run to make the score 6-6. The extra point kick attempt bounced off the goal post and was no good.
Back in Oxford’s possession, Denton led a strong drive down the field with good blocking from his offensive line. Kev Brooks, awarded rookie of the year in 2014, went untouched into the end zone for a 13 yard touchdown and then ran for the extra two points to make the score 14-6 to the Saints.
Nearing the end of the 1st quarter, the Thunder were close to the end zone and looked poised to score when a short pass from Kington was intercepted by Oxford safety Martin Fitzpatrick.
The Saints were unable to capitalise on the Sussex mistake on their next drive and possession soon switched over again. Oxford’s defense struggled to contain the Thunder’s running game and in a short two play drive, Sussex moved 60 yards up the field and their running back found the end zone. They missed the extra point attempt and the score was 14-12 Oxford.
Another unsuccessful Saints drive resulted in the ball being back in Kington’s hands and once again he put together a scoring drive, with their running back finding the end zone and scoring on a 2 yard run. They went for the extra two points and ran the ball in to make the score 20-14 Sussex.
With time running out in the first half, Oxford’s Troy Bryan scored for the 2nd time by running into the end zone for a 8 yard touchdown. The extra point kick was missed and the score was tied 20-20 at the half.
At the start of the 2nd half, Head Coach Andrew Day made adjustments in the line-up and replaced most of the starting players with the new recruits. A large number had never played before and this was a valuable opportunity for them to experience game conditions and practice against a highly experienced opponent. Sussex appeared to have kept the majority of their starting players on the field for the duration of the game.
Sussex received the ball to begin the 2nd half and put together another strong drive. Realising that the Saints defense had made considerable changes, Kington returned to the passing game and looked for opportunities to move the ball in the air. Before long the first passing touchdown of the day came in and Sussex took the lead
Denton remained on the field leading the offense and also turned to the passing game but his first pass of the 2nd half was immediately intercepted by a Sussex defender and gave them great field position. With this momentum swing, Kington connected in the air again and completed a pass for a 23 yard touch down.
Despite the two quick scores by Sussex, the Saints offense carried on working hard and experimenting with different formations and personnel. Precision passing from Denton and strong running contributed to a 7 play 67 yard drive which ended with a 3 yard touchdown run from Kev Brooks. Denton then attempted a pass for the extra two points and found tight end Laurent Antoine in the end zone for the two point conversion.
As the contest came to a close, Sussex added several more scores in the final quarter whilst the Saints continued to rotate personnel heavily and the game ended with a 53-28 score line.
With lots of excellent performances to choose from, the coaching staff acknowledged the following players during the post game speech:
- Offensive MVP – Laurent Antoine
- Defensive MVP – Graeme Taylor
- Team MVP – Ben Denton
The coaches were pleased overall with the performance of the team. Although Sussex added four touchdowns in the 4th quarter, it is important to remember that the main focus of this game was to get the team used to match conditions, experiment with different personnel sets and give rookies experience against a highly competitive team.
Game statistics available here: Oxford Saints VS Sussex Thunder – 22nd March 2015
Photos courtesy of Chris Janes/Jamo’s Pics
Oxford quarterback Ben Denton commented on his first game at the position:
“It was a great feeling to step out onto the field with the Saints offense for the first time.
We had already done most of the hard work; on the muddy practice field, in the gym and through hours of studying the playbook and game film, so it was great to get out there and execute.
I thought offensively we played pretty well, despite some simple mistakes that we can put right in training. When everything clicked we were able to move the ball with ease on a very good defense.
I felt like this game was incredibly useful to everyone involved, despite the score at full time, and can’t wait for our home game against Tobay Trojans on 12th April at the Oxford Rugby Club”
Sussex Thunder head coach Ian Ellis said:
“Today was a great opportunity to introduce our rookies into a live game environment against quality opposition. We were also able to work on things scheme wise before our first game in 2 weeks.
I would like to thank Oxford for travelling down and wish them luck for their upcoming season.”
Sussex quarterback Eber Kington said:
“It was a big day for our team, we were able to put into practice everything we’ve been working on and get our rookies on the field against a good team.”
Check out our schedule here and come see this historic team in action.
We also have a range of new tshirts and hoodies available for the 2015 season:
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