Warwick Wolves @ Loughborough – 17/11/19
The Wolves came into this matchup against 1-1 Loughborough fresh off a bye after their victorious start to the season against NTU. Though no doubt a tough matchup, the Wolves were looking to continue their winning momentum and set a solid foundation for the rest of the season. Grey skies and persistent drizzle added another factor meaning the ball was going to be slippy and the opportunities for turnovers would be rife.
The Wolves won the toss and elected to receive the ball first, hoping to make a statement on offence. The drive started well by drawing an offsides on Loughborough and some consistent gains on the ground from both QB Matt Oosthuizen and RB Obi Ojji. RB Ojji also contributed on a nice 16 yard pass play, however the drive was to stall as a sack left the offence behind the sticks and facing a long 4th down. Due to field position the Wolves elected to go for it on 4th down, and ended up going for it all but the pass to the endzone fell incomplete, leading to a turnover on downs. It was then on the defence to start fast and shutdown Loughborough’s flexbone ground and pound offence. Loughborough managed to make one first down before having to punt. The defence had won the first battle.
The offence were back on the field and this time looking to make good yardage and score points. A strong run on 3rd down from RB Ojji gave the Wolves a new set of downs. However, a great play on the ball by the Loughborough safety brought up 4th down and the Wolves looked set to punt. During the punt a running into the kicker flag gave the Wolves 5 yards and a short 4th and 2. Taking an early gamble, the Wolves ran a fake punt with RB Ojji. The gamble did not pay off as Loughborough came up with the stop giving their offence the ball near midfield. The game was proceeding apace due to the run heavy approach from both teams meaning the second quarter had already begun. The Wolves D forced a quick 3 and out to start the quarter with some strong tackling from CB Henry Faulkner-Ellis and LB Mo Jung. A false start penalty on 4th down pushed Loughborough back forcing them to punt. The Wolves were handed a huge slice of luck as the punter had trouble with a bad snap leading to him kneeling the ball for a 12 yard loss and setting the Wolves up on the Loughborough 24 yard line. The offence cashed in on this opportunity on the very next play. A key block from RT Max Holland springing RB Ojji for a 24 yard TD run. The PAT attempt was blocked leaving the score at 6-0 to the Wolves.
On the following kick-off, Loughborough fumbled and were lucky to recover at their own 22. They started with a first down run right up the gut, however the drive was quickly derailed by two tackles for loss in the space of 3 plays by Safety David Carnegy, attacking their outside runs, leading to a punt. The Wolves offence could not get anything going however, as 2 short runs and an incompletion led to a quick 3 and out. To make matters worse on the first play of the drive the Loughborough took the dive up the middle and gashed the Wolves for a 76 yard TD. A confluence of errors had led to a big play touchdown, something which has haunted this defence in the past also. Luckily, the holder had trouble with the snap on the PAT, meaning the score was tied at 6 apiece midway through the second quarter.
The Wolves offence did a better job on their next drive marching methodically down the field from their own 19 to the Loughborough 13. The drive was balanced between run and pass highlighted by a 14 yard scramble from QB Oosthuizen and a clutch 4th down run from RB Ojji. With little time remaining in the quarter the Wolves took a shot at the endzone and nearly ended up with a touchdown but the throw just eluded diving WR Hamood Rana. The Wolves settled for a field goal which was duly despatched by new rookie kicker Thomas Chardin. A clutch drive from the offence meant that the Wolves headed into halftime ahead on the scoreboard at 9-6. A mixed bag from both the offence and defence in the first half but the Wolves had the lead and with an improvement from both sides of the ball the win was there for the taking in the second half.
Loughborough’s offence started the second half with the ball, the returner again coughing up the ball but managing to retain possession. A series of successful runs both up the middle and to the edge drove Loughborough beyond midfield. Thinking they had lulled the Wolves to sleep, Loughborough dialled up a rare pass attempt but the secondary were not fooled with both CB Charlie Coleman and FS Alex Dipol in position to play the ball with Coleman knocking the ball away. On the very next play, the QB kept the ball and took off to his left. Safety Carnegy managed to get his helmet on the ball, dislodging it. Wily CB Henry Faulkner-Ellis came up with the recovery, using his veteran savvy to be in the right place at the right time. A key turnover and a chance for a big momentum swing in the game, if the offence could capitalise. However, the offence could not get going, a quick 3 and out forcing another punt.
The Loughborough drive started with some consistent gains on the ground. The biggest play of the game was about to occur however. Loughborough ran their tried and tested triple option play with the QB opting to pitch the ball to his wingback, he had not counted on the fact that, defensive captain and veteran stalwart, LB Koorosh Fatemian had read the play perfectly. He managed to disrupt the pitch, come away with the ball and beat the QB in a footrace to the endzone for a 54 yard fumble recovery TD. A huge game-changing play for the Wolves defence and following the successful extra point the score stood at 16-6 to Warwick.
The defence were straight back out on the field to see if they could really turn the screw against Loughborough’s offence and keep the game out of reach. Loughborough were afforded decent starting field position following their kick return. A series of consistent gains up the middle pushed them past midfield. An outside toss was tracked down by new Safety James Norris, showing his impressive range, however not until the back had reached the redzone. It was time for the Wolves D to tighten up and not let it become a one score game. Following another nice play from Safety Norris to disrupt the catch on a pass over the middle, some strong tackling in the trenches stopped Loughborough short and forced the field goal attempt. The FG try was successful, the score now 16-9 to the Wolves. The defence had bent but had not broken and had given the offence the chance to put the game out of reach. The game had now entered the fourth quarter and another tight finish was in store for the Wolves.
The Wolves’ drive started strongly with some dynamic running from QB Oosthuizen. A lovely toe-tapping catch from slot receiver Michael Higham had the offence knocking on the door of the redzone. However, a couple of nice plays in the backfield from Loughborough knocked them back. The Wolves now faced 4th and 16 from the 27; too far for a field goal but too close for a punt. Accordingly, the offence stayed out on the field, QB Oosthuizen lofted a deep pass over the middle hoping to connect with a receiver deep, however the pass was intercepted by Loughborough in what can only be described as a throwing punt, as they were now pinned inside their own 10. The Loughborough drive started with an incomplete pass forced by pressure up the middle from MLB Kieran Pope. The next play Loughborough again attempted to run to the outside but this was thwarted by Safety Carnegy with another lovely chop. Loughborough were now facing a 3rd and 13 and with some mind-numbing play calling decided to go straight back to the same play, this time a bad toss led to a fumble and following a scramble Loughborough were lucky to recover at their own 2-yard line. In a remarkable turn of events on the ensuing punt the Wolves very nearly gave possession straight back to Loughborough and with it a chance to tie the game but luckily, LB Fatemian was once again on hand to recover the loose ball and give the offence the chance to ice the game.
A score seemed highly promising following the first play, a 12-yard stretch run from RB Ojji, putting the Wolves inside the 15. However, as has been too often the case consecutive penalties pushed the Wolves back far behind the chains. Despite another strong run from QB Oosthuizen carrying would-be tacklers for a 20-yard gain, the Wolves could not gain a first down following a loss in the backfield on 3rd down. The opportunity to kick a field goal and restore a two-score cushion was still there however. Unfortunately, rookie kicker Chardin’s attempt was dragged slightly to the left, nevertheless still a promising debut from the young Frenchman. Loughborough had the ball with a chance to still tie the game despite being behind for the vast majority of the contest. However, their hope was short-lived as on the very first play of the drive, Safety Norris put an exclamation point on his outstanding first defensive performance by forcing a fumble with a lovely form tackle, essentially icing the game. CB Faulkner-Ellis was yet again on cue with the recovery, prompting a few ‘Henry the Hoover’ comparisons for his knack of hoovering up any loose balls that fall his way.
The offence now just had to hold the ball, exhaust Loughborough’s timeouts and win the game. This was duly accomplished with some strong runs from RB Ojji and following a final carry from QB Oosthuizen the game was over. The Wolves had triumphed in another closely fought battle, with a few key turnovers from the defence, and of course that TD as the crucial plays in the game. The offence again managed to string together some nice drives, most notably the TD drive, but others were derailed by penalties or stalled in the redzone, something which, no doubt, the team will be looking to improve on going forward. On the defensive side of the ball, it was again the momentary lapse leading to a big play that will be the concern going forward. If the Wolves can iron out these mistakes on either side of the ball, then the trajectory for the season going forward looks very promising.
MVPs in this game were RT Max Holland on offence for his road-grading run blocking, notably on the TD run when he delivered the key block to pave the way to the endzone. On defence, it was of course LB Koorosh Fatemian for his 50+ yard touchdown which proved to be the key play in the game. On special teams, it was punter James Norris for delivering the defence good field position even under considerable pressure from Loughborough’s blocking unit. The Wolves look to keep the winning streak rolling as they face off against NTU for the second time this year and look to go 3-0.