Warwick Wolves @ Coventry Jets 27/01/19
The sweet taste of victory was still strongly in the memory of the Wolves from their pre-Christmas victory, and they were looking to emulate the result with their similar one against their bitter rivals, the Coventry University Jets. For what was formerly such a raucous rivalry, the teams hadn’t faced off for 5 years and this was the first time most, if not all players were playing in a Warwick-Coventry grudge match. Both teams, with wins and losses on the stat sheet were going into the game with the belief they had a fantastic chance to put one over their rivals for the first time in half a decade.
The Jets received the ball but it was the Wolves D that asserted their dominance early, the linebackers shut down the Jets’ three run attempts, and with an extremely short punt the Wolves started with the ball already in the Jets’ half. On the Wolves’ first play a blitzing Jets linebacker blew up a toss play and put the Wolves nearly 20 yards away from the first down marker. After an incompletion, the Wolves faced a 3rd and long and all looked lost when QB Matt Oosthuizen after scrambling out, dumped off a check-down to Rookie TE Rhys De Gruchy. But the TE who was playing in his first start of his Wolves career took the ball in, stormed down the field, and then brought out a perfectly executed spin move to leave the would-be tackler lying face first on the ground. With this completion taking the Wolves one yard out, they attempted to convert on 4th down but strong pressure off the edge stopped an outside run attempt by Warwick and the Jets regained the ball.
The Jets went back to their running game and it looked to have more of an impact, gaining yards in each attempt, but it was the 3rd run of the drive which sparked the Coventry offense into life. After taking a handoff the Jets’ wingback raced past Warwick’s D-line and linebackers, then reaching top speed there was no chance for the defensive backs to catch up; and just like that, Coventry were 6-0 up.
After the shock of the Jets’ long touchdown the Wolves offense needed a response, but with Coventry’s D-line outmuscling Warwick’s O-line, all 3 plays were halted before they could even start and the Wolves had to punt. Coventry again kept on pounding the rock with run plays, and the Wolves’ linebackers were responding with hard hits of their own to stop any large runs from breaking out. After two massive stops by LB James Wilson, the Jets were on a 3rd & 12 and the Wolves finally looked to have halted the Coventry drive, the Jets then executed a perfectly set-up screen pass to their running back who powered through the massive gap his blockers had set up for him all the way down the field for a second large score of the game, in what felt like a déjà vu moment for the Wolves, Jets were up 12-0.
On the resulting kick-off, a serious case of lack of communication between players on the field lead to Coventry recovering their own kick-off within the Wolves 25-yard line. With the defence back on the field, The Wolves linebackers were aggressive with MLB Ed McNamara and OLB Koorosh Fatemian laying hits on Coventry runners to stop them in their tracks. Having to change their game-plan the Jets then went to the air, and it seemed to be the correct call after the Coventry’s QB threw a perfect ball to the Jets wingback on an out route, the receiver then broke off two tacklers and casually strolled into the end zone; after a successful 2-point conversion to the same receiver, the Jets were up 20-0 within the first quarter.
Starting on the 30-yard line the Wolves then successfully drove the ball down the field, a run to the outside from QB Matt Oosthuizen for 18 yards kick-started the drive and he backed that run up with a couple more positive ones. Then a moment many have been waiting for, the Oosthuizen-Whiteley connection finally produced with a nice grab by the rangy receiver bringing the Wolves into the red zone. But a habit that Wolves have wanted
to shake off hit them again, the inability to move the ball once entering the redzone. Two negative runs and an incomplete pass set up a 4th and long, and a hopeful ball thrown deep by Oosthuizen was picked off by the Jets Free Safety, ending the Wolves hopes for a score.
Riding all the momentum the Jets opened their drive with two strong runs, but this was all that the Wolves D were to allow. Every Coventry play was abruptly quashed by Warwick’s Defence; interior pressure from LB Koorosh Fatemian and DT Araan Dass forced inaccurate throws and allowed LB James Wilson to utilise an aggressive two-handed pat down. On 4th down the Jets went for it but swift DT Will Carroll burst through the O-line and wrapped up Coventry’s wingback attempting to run to the outside.
The Wolves again went 3 and out, with the drive characterising the offense’s performance with negative runs and dropped catches. Then, Coventry’s first play of their next drive further drove the dagger deeper into the Wolves’ hearts. With the Quarterback scrambling around in the backfield, the Wolves looked to have surrounded him with bodies and to force a negative play, but somehow the athlete emerged from the crowd, sidestepping at least 3 defenders, then turning on the burners, he raced down the side-line for Coventry’s third massive touchdown, this one the largest totalling 65 yards. After a successful pass to the end-zone for the 2-point conversion, the Jets now had a 28-point lead.
Now with little time left in the half the Wolves tried to quickly move the ball down the field with the passing game, but QB Matt Oosthuizen was not helped by his receivers on the drive. A cacophony of errors meant that the three passes all ended up incomplete; whether it was receivers slipping over, stopping mid-route or dropping a perfectly placed ball, the men out wide had a lot to improve upon.
With little time left the Jets tried to hurry their offense but after FS Ed Roberts was unable to corral a terribly underthrown ball, the Jets Offensive Coordinator seemed happy to play risk-free football and close the half out. With the score being 28-0 the Wolves had to buck their ideas up if they wanted to stop the game becoming a blow-out.
But starting the half with the ball, the Offence could not do anything with 2 stuffed runs and then a coverage sack. On the other hand, it looked like Defence wanted to join the party and made a massive play on their first snap back on the pitch. MLB McNamara burst through the A gap on a blitz and stripped the QB on a designed run from the playmaker, LB Fatemian was, as often is the case, the first to react and clutched the ball underneath the pile of bodies. But in what was again a failed drive, the Wolves couldn’t move the football with their great field position, WR James Norris was nearly able to make a big play running a vert route, but the slightly underthrown ball was just able to be tipped by the Jets CB forcing an incompletion.
With the ball back the Jets continued to work the running game but the Wolves Defence, fuelled by their success on the last drive, stopped everything the Jets threw at them, with all 3 runs ending up as negative plays. Alas, the story was the same on Offence for the Wolves and all three runs attempted were not of much gain at all, with both outside run attempts by QB Oosthuizen being stopped by the Jets’ nifty OLB. On the punt, in what was a good snapping day for first-timer David Carnegy, snapped it low and the ball clunked into PP Araan Dass’s large shins.
But the great field position didn’t stop the Wolves defence from making great plays, again it was LB’s Fatemian and McNamara, the lifeblood of the Wolves smash mouth defence, that came up massive again. It was LB Fatemian bursting through the A gap this time, and he laid a humongous hit on the Jets’ backup QB that left him lifeless on the ground, but not before he threw a loopy grenade-like ball straight to MLB McNamara. Then the
linebacker, reminiscent of his days when he weighed 20 kg lighter, returned the ball 30 yards downfield breaking numerous tackles, the Wolves Defence now was showing their true capabilities as a game-changing unit.
The Wolves offense were then successful in moving the chains with a well thrown pass rolling out to his right by QB Oosthuizen, Slot Receiver Michael Higham cleverly adjusted his route to account for the rollout and found a soft spot in the coverage to gain 12 yards on the play. QB Oosthuizen then showed off his playmaking ability on the ground with a highlight-reel hurdle of a Coventry defender which left both side-lines in awe of the skill involved in the play. But the Wolves demons continued to haunt them, with a botched pitch on the next play and an incompletion on the next, Offence had to leave the field for the punt.
Coventry stuck with the ground game on their drive and they were moving the chains with ease, a highlight of the drive being the lowest hurdle in history over MLB McNamara, who is famed for his ankle-high tackles. Coventry then diverted from the run-heavy tactics once they entered the Wolves 30-yard line, but this was a grave error to make. The Jets QB targeted his outside receiver running a fly down the field but he simply forgot to account for the cornerback covering him. Known for his scrappiness in coverage, CB Charlie Coleman dominated his receiver and adjusted marvellously to the ball and whilst laying out for it, watched it straight into the breadbasket, this was the first pick of what is surely many to come for the imposing cornerback.
The introduction of impressive rookie RB Tiane Nyashanu was a positive for the offense, with his workmanlike rushing gaining a first down, but that was all the positive gains that were to be had with the drive petering out. WR Higham took in another catch on a screen pass but a severe lack of blocking meant he was put on his backside as soon the ball was caught. The Jets then on offence continued to run the ball, and the Wolves continued to shut it down with some great tackling by the linebackers. On the one attempted pass, a screen pass to the wide receiver, DE Araan Dass read it perfectly and jumped in front of the pass, but the former Tight End seemed to forget how to catch an American football and the ball fell to the ground.
With only a couple of minutes’ left Offence didn’t have much time to move the ball but some good runs from QB Oosthuizen and RB Nyashanu and an excellent high-point catch by rookie WR Sam Taylor moved the chains. On the final play of the game, as a rather poetic culmination of the offensive performance, QB Oosthuizen lobbed a pass down the middle and it was picked off by a Jets Safety.
With the game ending 28-0, it was obvious more was needed on offence for the Wolves, there were flashes of brilliance at times, but in general the inability to put up continuous positive plays stopped any chances of scoring points. On defence, without three big plays it would have been an excellent afternoon of football for this unit, which is a few lapses of concentration away from being an elite unit. The Wolves now focus on a home matchup against Leicester which has huge ramifications for relegation and is a must-win match.