ON SUNDAY 2nd April the Saints took on the Leicester Falcons in their 2nd preseason test of 2017
Both teams were recently promoted to Division I following undefeated seasons in 2016, with the Falcons taking the northern title and the Saints named the southern champions. This game was a good opportunity for the two sides to prepare for regular league games and test their players.
With Oxford’s former quarterback Destin Maulding back in the US, up and coming quarterback Marcus Alphonso was named starter for this game. Playing his first season in senior football, it was the first time he had took to the field with the starting offense.
Running back Tony Glover set up excellent field position after returning the opening kickoff 64-yards to the Falcons’ 20-yard line. After some short runs, Alphonso released a deep ball into the corner of the endzone which was on course for his first career score but fell incomplete.
The drive still ended with success from veteran James Walter running into the endzone from 8-yards out for the touchdown.
The defense held the Falcons attack at bay for 2 consecutive drives with tackles for a loss by defensive ends George Wright and Conor Whitehouse, and linebacker Sam Stancombe.
A star performer for the day was Leicester’s American quarterback Troy Lee, who quickly demonstrated his passing skills picking up 2 first downs in the air. The Falcons found the endzone when a backwards pass was fumbled but recovered and ran in for the score.
With returning quarterback Ben Denton back under centre for Oxford, the Saints were slowly moving the ball with Walter picking up a first down on a 17-yard catch and run. On 4th down Denton was sacked for a 9-yard loss, forcing a turnover on downs.
The Saints answered back with a 10-yard sack from Conor Whitehouse on the first play of Leicester’s next drive but they recovered with a 36-yard touchdown pass on a 8 play drive.
Before the end of the 1st half, Falcons QB Troy Lee and his receivers continued to dominate in the air before punching the ball over the goalline on a 3-yard run.
21-6 HALF TIME
With the Falcons beginning with the ball in the 3rd quarter, linebacker Calvin Holmes landed a big sack on Troy Lee for an 11-yard loss but they shook it off and continued to move the ball well on the following plays.
With frequent rotation on the Saints defense, the defenders gained valuable experience against a heavy passing attack but couldn’t keep the Falcons from reaching the endzone, setting up an 11-yard touchdown run.
On offense, Oxford had difficulties getting their passing game going and two consecutive drives failed to pick up 1st downs and resulted in punting the ball back to Leicester.
The Falcons meanwhile continued to impress in the air, picking up two 1st downs and a 45-yard touchdown pass. They added another passing score on their following drive against the rookie-heavy defense, pulling ahead further with a 41-6 lead.
Experimenting with a different formation, the Saints offense found success on the ground and drove the length of the field with running from James Walter and Tony Glover, before Walter sprinted through for a 16-yard touchdown. Rookie kicker Dean Fuller added the extra point.
The defense looked like they were going to hold the Falcons on 4th down and force a turnover, until Troy Lee connected with his receiver for another touchdown pass for 22-yards.
The Saints hit back immediately with Antonios Athanasiou on two back to back run plays for 26-yards and then charged through for a 35-yard touchdown.
49-21 FINAL SCORE
Another preseason loss for the Saints, though there were plenty of opportunities for rookies to get on the field and be tested against a high power offense with the ability to pass well.
Oxford were able to rotate through their quarterbacks including first year player Marcus Alphonso and experiment with different personnel groups, but failed to find momentum again until late in the 4th quarter.
Meanwhile the Falcons impressed throughout with quarterback Troy Lee remaining under centre for the entirety of the game, along with a dangerous group of receivers finding the endzone in all 4 quarters. Running back Taylor Brown and receiver Joe Brammer also had big performances and multiple touchdowns.
The Saints now have a training week to implement lessons learned and identify the starting line-ups for the season opener against the Sussex Thunder on 16th April at Tilsley Park.