Warwick Wolves @ NTU Renegades – 24/11/19
The Wolves entered their second matchup of the season against NTU with a 2-0 record and buoyed by the close win in the previous matchup between the two. Though confident, history would suggest that another tightly contested matchup would be likely, especially considering the Wolves’ away record against NTU.
The Wolves started with the ball on offence hoping to make a fast start. A sack on the first play quickly put them behind the chains but a lovely improvisational pass from QB Matt Oosthuizen to RB Obi Ojji gave the Wolves a conversion on 3rd and long. Unfortunately, they could not capitalise as good a good 3rd down stuff by the NTU defence forced a punt. A decent return from NTU gave them some solid field position from which to start their drive. However, this came to a nothing as they quickly went 3-and-out facilitated by a sack from DT Will Carroll and a pair of familiar chops from SS David Carnegy. After a cagey start the Wolves offence took the field to mount a more substantial drive which was achieved on only the third play when QB Oosthuizen connected on a 70-yard bomb to WR Sean Brandt for a long touchdown. The Wolves had started quickly handing them momentum early which was only slightly dampened by the subsequent blocked PAT.
It was now the turn of the NTU offense to try and respond. NTU mounted a sustained drive with several solid gains on the ground and a pair of catches from their playmaking WR, including one absolutely outrageous effort plucking the ball high above his head with one hand, most definitely a contender for catch of the year. The drive culminated in their offense being able to pound the ball in once they reached the redzone scoring on a 1-yard touchdown run. The Wolves were able to return the blocked PAT in kind with DT Carroll busting through to ensure the score remained tied at 6 apiece.
The Wolves next drive was almost a quick 3-and-out and but was prolonged by a 15-yard personal foul against NTU which gave the offence a second chance to march down the field. An 18-yard run by QB Oosthuizen followed by a strong 7-yard gain from RB Ojji put the Wolves inside the redzone however, a big tackle for loss left them in third and long with both attempts to convert falling incomplete and thus bringing the defence back onto the field. The defence made a promising start getting the NTU offence to 4th and 1 when they made a very gutsy call and went for a fake punt on their own 33-yard line which paid off as they just made the line to gain. NTU continued to progress into the Wolves’ half until more pressure up the middle from DT Carroll forced the QB into an errant pass which landed in the lap of roaming FS James Norris who added a decent return.
It was down to the offence to see if they could capitalise on this momentum shifting play but it was not to be as, after a false start, the ball went straight back to NTU following an interception. Not to be outdone, the NTU QB one-upped this by throwing a pass directly to defensive veteran and captain LB Koorosh Fatemian who duly returned it 60 yards for a touchdown to cap a crazy sequence of 3 interceptions in 6 plays from scrimmage. Wolves rookie kicker Thomas Chardin tacked on the extra point to make it a 13-6 game. With little time before the half and facing the whole field NTU delved into their bag of tricks with a HB pass going for 33 yards down the sideline, however they could not progress any further following a sack from DE Araan Dass with a textbook rush around the edge. The next two deep passes were batted away leaving the score 13-6 at the half.
With game finely poised it was key that the Wolves D got off to a fast start in the second half. They managed exactly that forcing a 3-and-out with FS Norris providing the pass deflection on 3rd down forcing the punt. After an inconsistent first half the offence was hoping to mount a scoring drive to extend the Wolves’ lead. Progress was made into the opposition half highlighted by a nice sideline catch from TE Rhys De Gruchy and a 22-yard catch and run from RB Obi Ojji to beat the blitz and set the Wolves up in enemy territory. However, this momentum was derailed by a fumbled exchange and a pair of incomplete passes leaving the Wolves no choice but to punt. A nice punt set NTU inside their own 15-yard line however some consistent gains on the ground saw them advance towards near midfield. On the ensuing play a nice catch and run from the NTU WR went for a big gain putting NTU just outside the redzone. The Wolves defence now had to dig in and not bend any further and an opportunity presented itself on the next play as the attempted toss was fumbled. When the ball was on the floor, LB Fatemian’s eyes lit up at the opportunity to hack the ball through to set up a lovely length of the field try, his rugby playing instincts from days past coming to the fore. However, upon consultation with the referees it does indeed turn out to be illegal to hack the ball through in American Football, perhaps a rule change that should be put before the competition committee. After all this, NTU had retained the ball in the redzone with the chance to tie the game up. A run right up the gut put them on the 5 in prime position to utilise their heavy formation. The next snap sailed past the head of the wildcat QB putting him 15 yards behind the line of scrimmage but in a remarkable improvisational play he spotted that a receiver had snuck behind the defence, who were pursuing the errant snap, and found him for a touchdown. NTU’s two playmaking receivers had put them within one point. To this point, it had been a back-breaking drive for the Wolves defence who had allowed them to march the length of the field and given up too many runs up the gut and the miraculous touchdown yet redemption could still be found on the following two point conversion attempt to maintain the narrowest of leads. NTU called up an outside run but the Wolves managed to stop it inches short of the goal line making the score 13-12.
It was now up to the offence to try and wrestle back the momentum from NTU, use some clock and try put another score on the board. The drive started very strongly with a successful run to the edges by QB Oosthuizen for 15 yards and a catch and run by WR Brandt for 32 yards to put him over 100 on the day. A couple of short catches put the offence in the redzone but facing a 4th and 4, one of the biggest plays of the game if the Wolves could extend the drive and take a two-score lead but the pass was just out of reach for the receiver Alex James. The defence had to take the field, again backed up by good field position and had no margin for error on the score board, it was time to take a stand. The NTU offence made some progress, aided by a questionable pass interference call on CB Charlie Coleman but on the next 3rd down the slant was defended superbly by the other CB Henry Faulkner-Ellis forcing NTU to punt.
The offence now had the opportunity to ice the game but they were backed up inside their own 10-yard line. However, a killer sack put them on the 1-yard line facing an improbable 3rd and 18 which duly fell incomplete which left the punt unit backed right up to the end line. Punter James Norris managed to get a good punt away but in a remarkable special teams gaffe the Wolves had only gunner on the field giving lots of space for the returner to exploit all the way to the 10-yard line. Crucially, at the end of the play the Wolves received a fortuitous flag which backed NTU up all the way to the 36. It was now crunch time with only a few minutes remaining on the game and it was time for the defence to front up and protect the lead.
A block in the back penalty meant NTU started off in the wrong direction but the next play was a dagger, a 26-yard gain across the middle to their go-to receiver putting them firmly in FG range. It was now for the defence to prevent a touchdown and keep the game within a field goal for their own offence. A strong gain on first down put NTU in a good position but rookie LB Matt Burgum stepped up with a huge tackle for loss on 2nd down to knock them back. It was now 3rd and 6 and the defence’s chance to force an FG attempt, then astoundingly the defence jumped offsides making it 3rd and 1 from the 4, essentially the defining play of the game. Instant penetration into the backfield from DE Araan Dass forced the run wide allowing the Wolves to swarm to the ball and gang tackle the back for no gain. The touchdown had been saved but NTU could still take the lead with an FG with barely a minute remaining in the game. This was the play to decide the game. In an astonishing turn of events the snap was too high for the holder going directly to the kicker who looked to throw but there were no receiving options even available and CB Charlie Coleman, who had come screaming off the edge, wrestled him to the ground on a game-saving tackle. It is still a mystery whether it was indeed a botched snap or a fake attempt which had not been communicated properly but for the Wolves it did not matter. The defence had fought to the last play and had preserved the slenderest of margins.
Now the offence had to ice the game with a first down winning it but backed up on their own 12. This was a position they had found themselves in the week prior against Loughborough which had they achieved successfully. The first play went backwards on a false start which was less than ideal when followed with only a 1-yard gain. However, on the next play RB Ojji showed outstanding vision to break the run to the outside and bust off a 24-yard gain which iced the game. The offence could now kneel for victory. The Wolves had won an absolutely remarkable game which was as close as they come with so many pivotal plays which could have swung the balance in either direction, a true nail biter. Both sides of the ball had done just enough with the offence struggling to maintain drives consistently and the defence giving up too many yards on the ground, in the end they bent as far as they could before finally not breaking on that final yard and final FG attempt. Whilst there is much to work on for both sides of the ball it was still a euphoric win which pushed the Wolves to 3-0 on the season and will live long in the memory.
The MVPs for this game were WR Sean Brandt on offence who had a massive day going over 100 yards including a 70-yard touchdown bomb. On defence it was DT Will Carroll who disrupted on the line of scrimmage all day with multiple QB pressures including forcing an interception and a sack for good measure. The special teams MVP was the hero of the day CB Charlie Coleman who made that fateful tackle on the final FG attempt to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. With the confidence of an historic 3-0 start behind them the Wolves now look ahead to the Derby Braves who will no doubt be the toughest test they will face all year. The Wolves have shown they can win in the closest of games which we can hope will put them in good stead for the rest of the season to come.