Warwick Wolves vs. Coventry Jets – 17/03/19
It was always going to be a monumentous occasion; a varsity matchup between the Wolves of Warwick and the Coventry University Jets, little did anyone know that it would blow all expectations out the water. The Jets made the extremely short journey to Warwick with strong playoff hopes, a win would put them in, whilst the Wolves knew that a win would secure their place in Division 1A Midlands for another year. However, this was more than a game for mere placement in a league table, this would be a game of passion, toughness and grit. The Jets had pushed aside Warwick easily in the previous fixture and so the Wolves were fuelled with extra desire to not allow Coventry to fly past them again.
The game started with two bigtime plays from both defences. After a sharp throw by QB Matt Oosthuizen was completed to WR Will Whitely on a slant, the cautious wide receiver fumbled the ball under heavy contact from a Jets LB and it was recovered by Coventry, it was not the start the president wanted in his final game for the Wolves. Then, on an attempted fake-reverse-pass to Coventry’s QB, FS Ed Roberts sniffed out the trickery and picked off the pass in classic fashion, the true ballers were here to play.
After a 3 and out for the Wolves, Coventry had possession on their own 30-yard line. Relying on the run game the Jets punched through the Wolves defence play after play, driving the ball down the whole length of the field in what turned out to be a successful drive. After running the ball in for a touchdown, the Jets failed on their 2point attempt with D-linemen Araan Dass and Balint Fernengel stuffing the run attempt. On the next Wolves drive, a holding call pushed the offence too far back to make any headway, even with a nice contested catch by Slot Receiver Lukas Anthuber for 10 yards, the Wolves had to punt the ball away.
In what was déjà vu for the Wolves, the Jets powered through the Wolves defence with their run game like a super red hot knife through butter. A large run to the outside pushed the Jets into the redzone and soon they punched another TD in, a converted pass for the 2-point attempt put the score at 14-0. The Wolves side-line was in disarray, complaints of d-linemen not hitting their gaps, players not looking at playcalls and mediocre effort being put in all-around rang apparent in the defensive huddle; offense weren’t looking good either with not even a first down gained yet. It was looking like another one of those days in the office for Warwick, the large crowds that had arrived were going to be disappointed by another sub-par performance by the Wolves.
But then something happened, something like never before. No one to this day can put a finger on what it was - but a spark seemed to alight amongst the Wolves. Maybe it was the factors at hand that forced the change; it being the last game for many Wolves stalwarts – including long standing DB Coach Simon Hill, or maybe it was some factor on the field of play: the way nittyful rookie WR Alex James fielded the kick return so fluidly, or the immergence of rookie OT Milan Reid, forced into starting and excelling at such a hard position after multiple injuries on the line. What was about to occur will be remembered in Wolves folklore for many years.
The drive was catalysed by the men asked of the most in the game; two-way lineman Will Carroll and Araan Dass were filling in as the Wolves offensive guards as well as
starting on the D-line, and they were crucial to creating the gaps for RB Obi Ojji to power through for two 8 yard gains to start the Wolves off. As the teams swapped sides to begin the 2nd quarter, the greatest quarter in Wolves history was about to begin. It kicked off with a scramble by QB Oosthuizen that looked to be going nowhere but suddenly turned into a first down after a darting run past 4 Jets defenders. Then facing a 3rd down with 8 yards to make. Impactful RB Ojji found a hole in the line and shot through it, he put his shoulder down and fought through contact as he managed to pick up a first down – the Wolves were driving. Another first down was then picked up by QB Oosthuizen with his legs, he shot through another well created gap by the O-line to keep those chains moving.
Yet another first down looked to be picked up when Oosthuizen dived past the down marker on the side-line on a 3rd and 1, but the official on that side-line seemed to have misplaced his glasses and called the QB short. However, this did not faze Oosthuizen and on the 4th and short attempt he again powered through tackles to pick up a 1st down inside the Jets 10-yard line. After a comedic early snap that hit Oosthuizen square in the face and a false start the Wolves faced a 4th down on the 8 yard-line, boldly Coach Gosling gave the call for the offense to stay on the field. In what was by far the play of the season for the Wolves, Oosthuizen found Slot Reciever Nile Painter with a perfect placed pass, when Warwick needed it most the playmakers on offense delivered – but this was only the start of something special. After Ed Roberts slotted the PAT over the sticks, the score stood at 14-7.
Spurred on by the score a gutsy call was called for the kick-off, urban legend speaks of two differing stories on who made the call, was it stand-in special teams coordinator Oli O’Neill who called it before the kick-off unit entered the field, or was it the kicker himself Ed Roberts? Regardless, Roberts placed his kick only 20 yards down the field into a patch of open field, the Jets returner raced 30 yards to try and recover the rolling ball but he did not account for RB Alvin Vyaporee running fullspeed into his face. With that man out stone-cold, fellow RB Obi Ojji dived on the loose ball and the Wolves had gained possession.
Starting in the wildcat formation it looked like Warwick had scored another TD with Ethan Mawhinney taking the ball on a reverse all the way into the endzone – but of all people QB Oosthuizen had made an illegal block downfield and the play was called back. A first down was quickly picked up with a nice throw on the run by Oosthuizen to TE Mawhinney who made strides after the catch to get the Wolves into the redzone. After small but substantial gains were made in the next three plays, the Wolves decided to go for it again, but when Warwick needed it most, WR Will Whitely wasn’t able to make a play and on a contested catch in the end zone and failed to come down with the ball or disrupt the Jets CB from making an interception. Thankfully for the mistake-prone receiver the Jets were ruled to have jumped the snap and Warwick had a new set of downs inside the 10. Soon after Oosthuizen rolled out on a bootleg and the defence, expecting another run to the outside, abandoned their coverage assignments. Oosthuizen was able to find WR Whiteley standing all on his own in the end zone in a play not even Will could messup, with another converted PAT the Wolves had levelled the game 14-all.
The Coventry offense had not been on the field for a long time and they were soon sent off it by the strong Wolves D. DE Sam Bateman added to his already impressive number of stops with a violent take-down of a Jets runner attempting an outside run,
and CB Henry Faulkner-Ellis positioned himself well enough to get a pat-down off his lid covering a deep vert to put the punt team on for Coventry. A snap that was higher than most of the Coventry students career aspirations wasn’t able to be fielded by the punter and after chasing the ball down, had to dive on it on the 1-yard line. The Wolves were now one yard away from going up in the game.
One yard was needed, and one play was all it took. QB Oosthuizen was clever in identifying the pressure and reading that there was no-one covering the flaring RB, Oosthuizen dumped the ball off to Ojji and the RB gracefully walked into the endzone, with another perfect PAT, the Wolves now were leading 21-14. Offense had completely turned this game on its head with help from both the defensive and special team units too. It was now on the Wolves strong defence to shutout the Jets to keep this margin into the second half. Coventry were able to move the ball downfield with the run game, with a large run by the QB almost going the distance if it wasn’t for a TD saving tackle from the birthday man Safety James Maurice. In the redzone it was a different story with on-fire DE Sam Bateman making back to back plays stopping a runner and then chasing down the athlete QB, and swinging him down for a massive sack. This strong redzone D set up a 4th and long for Coventry, the QB put the ball up for a jump ball for his receiver, but rangy FS Roberts flew across the field and got a hand to the ball, knocking it to the floor. The Wolves D had made a massive stop and soon after a negative run by Oosthuizen for a kneel the half was over.
The stakes had never been higher and you could see that both teams wanted the victory even more now that the game was set up to be a thriller. The Jets came out of the blocks fast to start the second half with a drive full of long runs. The Wolves tackling was not to be written home as runs broke off due to missed tackles. On a completed pass that looked all but covered, CB Charlie Coleman made a crunching hit to stop the free receiver from going to the house. Now into the Wolves 10-yard line, the Jets QB rolled to his right and found his slot receiver running an out, he then beat a would-be tackler to the edge and dived into the end zone; after another completed pass to an out-route on the 2-point attempt, the Jets were up 22-21.
The Wolves drive started and it looked like lady luck was on Warwick’s side after former QB turned TE turned OT Josh Murphy managed to catch a deflected pass off a Jets DE’s hand. But fortunes quickly changed after an underthrown ball to Mawhinney running an out route was easily picked off by Coventry. The Jets again were able to drive the ball into the redzone with relative ease but with another hard TFL by impressive DE Bateman, Coventry were facing a 3rd and 12. Heart-breakingly for the Wolves a man coverage assignment was blown on the wingback running a corner route and the Jets QB waited patiently until the man was open in the end zone and fired a strike to further Coventry’s lead. CB Faulkner-Ellis was able to punch the ball out of the receiver’s grip on a screen pass to limit the Jets on the 2-point conversion, Jets lead was now 28-21.
The Wolves next drive started strong again with a great catch by TE Mawhinney to set up a short 3rd down conversion attempt, Oosthuizen hit the TE again but after another good catch, Mawhinney was hit hard stopping him short by a yard. With the game so finely poised the Wolves couldn’t risk giving up good field position and the ball was punted. The Wolves D were then successful for the first time in stopping the Jets O and forced them to punt too.
Then two plays then occurred that really showed the difference in the teams when things came down to it. QB Oosthuizen made the untimely error to attempt to pitch the ball on an option to his RB when he really was too far away to do so, the pitch was off-target and the Jets were able to recover the ball. Instantly, Coventry made the Wolves pay for such a mistake, they went back to the wingback corner route play and in man coverage the receiver had run free, he then managed to break a tackle to go for a 30-yard touchdown. After an unsuccessful 2-point conversion, the score was now at a hefty 34-21.
With a score needed quickly, again the Wolves came out of the blocks fast starting their drive with a trick play pass by Mawhinney to QB Oosthuizen for 21 yards. After two good runs by Vyapooree and Oosthuizen the Wolves were at a 3rd and 1 situation. Surprisingly, a reverse run by WR Whiteley was called and after some poor blocking and negative running by the receiver, the play lost 17, yes 17 yards. After this, Coventry were able to get the ball back and were still determined to score; they brought out their own trick play pass to their QB which was successful in gaining 30 yards. But the Jets were stopped by the Wolves, MLB Ed McNamara was able to recover a fumble from the Jets QB to give possession back to Warwick.
But in what happened to be the last play for offense in the match, QB Oosthuizen tried to force a deep throw downfield and was picked off easily by a Coventry Safety. The Jets came out wanting to drive the ball to finish the match but the strong Wolves D put a stop to it forcing the Jets to kneel out the game.
The game may not be remembered by the Wolves for its scoreline or big time plays; but the true spirit, heart and teamwork shown in that 2nd quarter to put up 3 scores so quickly on the strong Jets defense. Performances on defense were strong all around but an uber-dominant performance from DE Sam Bateman must be mentioned as the standout with 6 tackles for loss and 12 in total. With this being the last game of the season, the Wolves say goodbye to a strong cohort of players but with some strong upcoming talent developing, the Wolves are in set in good stead to continue performing at a high level in Division 1A Midlands.