Warwick Wolves @ Derby Braves – 23/02/20
This matchup was the Wolves’ final game of the regular season and a chance to take second place in the division and a better playoff seed. Standing in their way were the undefeated Derby Braves and their star-studded line-up of multiple American scholars. In the defining game of their season the Wolves knew if they lost that they would be facing the very same team next week in the playoffs.
The Wolves started with the ball and after a decent return, the offence came out near midfield looking to make an early statement. A solid run and a penalty put the offence in second and short at midfield but a big sack made it third & long, a theme that would continue throughout the game. The Wolves defence would now get their first look at the Braves’ high-powered offence. Two quick passes got the drive rolling but after a big tackle for loss from DT Ben Porter, Derby faced a 3rd and long. However, this was to be no problem with the QB looking straight to his go-to man No.1, so much so that the Wolves’ were doubling him all game. His outrageous athleticism saw him get open downfield for a big gain, absolutely roasting SS David Carnegy. Derby were inside the 20 and despite facing another 3rd and long, they were able to score on a broken play with the QB scrambling for what seemed like an eternity until a receiver broke wide open in the endzone for a touchdown. This was to be the defence’s biggest challenge throughout the game, to get the QB to the ground and keep No. 1 locked up.
The offence came back out looking for a methodical drive to keep Derby off the field but this was quickly derailed by another of Derby’s star Americans as No.88 was through the line in an instant for a big 3rddown sack to force another punt. The defence did much better next time out with a big TFL from new DE Cosmo Vanderkar and LB Koorosh Fatemian pushing Derby back on first down, followed by tight coverage on the next two plays to force a 3-and-out in a promising series for the defence. With the score still 7-0 the offence was looking to tie the game up but No.88 had other ideas once again wreaking havoc in the backfield with a sack to force a punt once again. The defence were back on the field with the game now into the 2nd quarter. Tight coverage once again led to 4th down for the Braves who elected to go for it in plus territory. They went to their big running back to try and pick up the yards on the ground but size means nothing to CB Scrappy Coleman, who felled him like a tree and forced the ball out at the same time, which was gratefully covered up by DT Porter. The clutch turnover from the D kept the game in touching distance.
Looking for new impetus following the turnover the offence came back out but once again to no avail with Derby’s D-line stuffing all running lanes leading to another 3-and-out. A good punt from P James Norris put Derby inside their own 20 but they were able to string together some short passes and consistent gains on the ground to move the ball past midfield. Good pressure from the D-line and blanketing coverage forced another 4th down with Derby again going for it. The QB was flushed out of the pocket once again, but with no one open downfield had to try and pick up the yards with his legs but he was tracked down by LB Mo Jung to turn the ball over once again. It was the offence’s turn to see if they could reverse the trends of the first few drives but to no avail with strong pressure causing incompletions and no running lanes leading to yet another 3-and-out. Derby got the ball on their own 20 following a touchback and stout run defence up the middle and holding penalty led to 3rdand 20. The Wolves dialled up some pressure and finally got home with LB Fatemian coming up with the sack to push them back to their 2-yard line. On the ensuing punt, rather than risking a block the Braves took an intentional safety, making the score 7-2.
With a good return from the safety kick, the Wolves offence were set up inside Derby territory in prime position to put some points on the board and perhaps take the lead. Another sack from 88 on 3rd down, his 3rd of the half, quickly halted the drive and to make matters worse starting QB Alex James had to leave the game with concussion after being taken down hard. Derby now had the chance to extend their lead before half and started on their own 20. A big outside run was an ideal start for them and to make matters worse on another broken play one of their receivers broke open down the sideline for a big 37-yard gain to put them in scoring position. The next play however, the Wolves thought they had come up clutch once again with LB Fatemian stuffing the QB and ripping the ball out with SS Carnegy pouncing on the loose ball. In an outrageous call, the refs called the runner down, leaving the Wolves incredulous, and leading to a penalty for some perfectly warranted expletive-laden protestations. With this perhaps still in their minds, on the very next play Derby ran it in for an easy TD.
A truly game-changing turn of events for the Wolves wiped away but the offence still had a little time to try and put some points on the board before the half. RB turned QB Obi Ojji was able to complete two nice passes to WR Sean Brandt but there was not enough time left in the half, leaving the score at 14-2. The defence had a good first half, virtually silencing No.1 their biggest threat, and forcing a safety but big plays were once again their undoing leading to the 2 scores. It was incredibly tough sledding for the offence against this talented Braves front, but hopefully half-time could lead to some adjustments and renewed vigour after the half.
Derby’s offence started the second half with the ball and came out with a big kick return to set them up past halfway. Following one decent run, the QB again scrambled from the pocket buying enough time for a receiver to break free and stroll into the endzone, almost a carbon copy of the first touchdown in the game. An absolute dagger to start the half from the Braves, it was now time to see if the Wolves offence could wrest momentum back in their favour. An offsides penalty got the drive moving in the right direction and a strong run from QB Ojji gave the offence a much needed first down past midfield. Once again, however, no. 88 made his presence felt and collected his 4th sack of the day and led to the offence punting again. The Braves caught a break when they were luckily able to corral a fumble on the punt return which could’ve put the Wolves inside the 10.
The first play of the drive went for big yards as a short catch and run turned into a long gain down the sideline. 2 plays later, the QB went back to No.1 who had burned the Wolves over the top with his elite speed and he waltzed into the endzone untouched and put the game almost beyond reach at 27-2 after the PAT was botched. The Wolves offence went 3-and-out again with the stifling Derby defence yielding no ground. P James Norris boomed a 50-yard kick to put Derby at the 2 and give the defence the upper hand. No.1 gave them immediate breathing room on a shifty whip route which was followed by a run up the middle to their bruising back but LB Fatemian was able to rip the ball free and recover as well. The refs couldn’t take this one away from him. The offence was now in great position to score but in a killer blow that iced the game, QB Ojji didn’t see the underneath defender who picked off his pass and raced 70 yards to the endzone for a pick six. With the game now at 34-2 entering the 4th quarter, the lead was essentially insurmountable. It was now time for the Wolves to show some pride and finish the game strong leading into the repeat matchup next week.
RB Charles Duah reeled off a nice 10-yard burst to convert a 3rd down at the start of the drive but back to back big losses, courtesy of no.88 and a low snap pushed the offence into 3rd and long. Chasing the game and forced to throw deep the Derby defence sat back and picked off another pass after multiple tips. The defence stood firm though forcing a 4-and-out with some resolute tackling and good coverage. With the offence again stymied for a 3-and-out the ball was punted back to Derby. Having seen the QB scramble multiple times the defence knew their roles and blanketing coverage downfield from the secondary led a PBU for CB Henry Faulkner-Ellis and multiple incomplete passes to force a punt. Some decent gains on the ground from QB Ojji and RB Duah saw the Wolves moving the ball well but at this point the game was up and time ran out.
A chastening defeat for the Wolves with the score finishing at 34-2. The defence played well for the majority of the game with the exception of some big plays due to mental lapses and once the scramble drill had been figured out yards were harder to come by for Derby. These lessons can be taken into preparation for the next meeting. On offence, it was a torrid day with no room to run and no time to pass, a large amount of which can be attribute to No.88 who single-handedly wrecked the game for Derby. The week until the next can hopefully give a chance to go back to the drawing board and figure a way to neutralise the threat and manufacture some consistent offence. The Wolves are into the postseason where anything can happen and hopefully lessons can be learned so that the result can be reserved and Warwick can march on the next round.