Warwick Wolves vs Derby Braves – 01/12/19
The Wolves came into this matchup undefeated at 3-0 after an historic start to the season. However, they were about to face their stiffest test in the high-flying Derby Braves who were also undefeated. Having only just come down from the premiership and bolstered by a number of high-profile recruits from America this was undoubtedly the toughest matchup so far for the Wolves.
The Wolves started with the ball on offense and got off to a terrible start as a big sack on the second play from scrimmage compounded poor starting field position to put them at their own 1-yard line. With attempts to provide more breathing room falling incomplete the punt team had to come out with P James Norris standing virtually on the backline. Doing an admirable job under considerable pressure he was able to push Derby out towards the Warwick 40-yard line. The defence was now faced with the task of keeping out the high-powered Derby offence with good field position. Strong play from the D line on the first two plays quickly forced a 3rd down but the Wolves could not get off the field as the Derby QB completed a lovely back shoulder throw for 20 yards to extend the drive, the first of many great plays he would make. Following 2 incomplete passes it seemed that the defence may be able to hold them to only a FG attempt but Derby turned to their other playmaking American recruit who lined up at running back for two straight plays and managed to churn out the first down on the ground. Sensing the Wolves were struggling to tackle the large power back they again went back to the ground to punch in a 1-yard touchdown. The ensuing PAT was successful making it a quick 7-0 score.
It was now up to the offence to atone for their poor start and they were helped straight away by an electric 62-yard kick return from rookie return ace Will Roberts which set them up at Derby’s 16-yard line. The offence duly scored the much-needed touchdown on a textbook endzone fade with WR Sean Brandt plucking the ball from the grasp of the DB for a 12-yard touchdown catch. Following a botched hold on the PAT the score stood at 7-6. Now afforded better field position, with Derby starting in their own half, it was time for the defence to see if they could stifle the Derby offence. The Derby QB again was able to connect deep early on the drive on a stop-and-go which beat CB Charlie Coleman like a drum for a gain of 23. However, revenge was to be on the cards for ‘Scrappy’ showing the trademark fighting spirit of the game-winning hero from the Wolves most recent victory. The Wolves were again able to get Derby to 4th down but an unfortunate offsides penalty prolonged the drive negating a nice pass deflection from FS James Norris. A false start and a sack from CB Coleman, on a great open field tackle, did eventually force Derby into a 4th and long. In a surprising call Derby brought out their kicking unit for what would be a 47-yard attempt, obviously backing the leg of their accomplished American kicker, however the kick did come up just short but was an impressive knock nonetheless.
A speedy burst from the aforementioned playmaking rookie RB Roberts got the drive off to a good start and a scramble up the middle from QB Matt Oosthuizen saw the chains move. However, the offence was again to stall following an intentional grounding penalty forced by overwhelming pressure from the Derby D line. The ball was punted back to Derby inside their own half but the defence were able to force a quick 3-and-out with a nice chase down tackle from relentless LB Mo Jung. In an even better turn of events the Derby long snap was too high and the punter could not corral it meaning the Wolves would get the ball on the Derby 25. However, a 15-yard penalty on the play meant the ball was spotted at the 40 instead, good field position nevertheless. The offence could not capitalise the drive derailed before it had even begun by a holding call on the first play. So far behind the chains, the Wolves elected to play the field position battle and the punt team pinned Derby inside their own 10. It was now on the defence to see if they could make it count.
The Derby QB was able to beat the blitz for a first down on the first play but 2 plays later threw a lofted pass which was intercepted by SS David Carnegy down the field. Once again, the Wolves offence had the ball in the Derby half with a chance to take the lead. After only short gains on the ground the Wolves elected to go for it on 4th and 8 but QB Oosthuizen came up just short on a scramble up the middle. Following an incomplete pass on first down the defence came up with a second interception in the space of 3 plays, CB Coleman back for revenge, picking off a lazy pass to the flat. The endzone seemed to be his for the taking after he eluded the desperate attempt of the Derby QB but the fabled turf monster once again reared its ugly head as Coleman inexplicably stumbled and fell at the 2-yard line, so near yet so far. Nevertheless, the offence was now set up in incredible field position and they duly despatched the opportunity with QB Oosthuizen plunging up the middle for a TD on the very next play. The offence went for 2 to make it a 7-point game but could not convert following a bobbled exchange with the score now reading 12-7.
On what could’ve been a game-changing play the Wolves were able to force a fumble on the following kick-off, LB Jung once again laying a massive hit, but Derby were able to fortuitously recover. In a change to their offensive gameplan, with the Wolves managing to stymie their passing game, Derby gave their QB more licence to scramble, firstly a 20-yard effort and then a couple of plays later for 52 yards and a touchdown on a blistering run down the sideline which showcased his elite speed and just like that Derby were back in front. They could not convert the 2-point attempt making it 12-13. The Wolves next offensive drive was helped out early by a roughing the passer call which put them in Derby territory. Some hard-fought gains on the ground from RB Obi Ojji and a clutch 3rd down scramble by QB Oosthuizen put them on the cusp of the redzone. Again on 3rd down Oosthuizen was able to run up the middle to gain the first down and the defence parted like the red sea allowing him to race into the endzone untouched for a 22-yard touchdown. Looking to extend the lead to 7 the 2-point attempt was unsuccessful once more. The first half had become something of a shootout already and there was still time for both teams to put more points on the board.
The Derby offence were set up in decent field position after a good return but the defence were able to stop them once again, intercepting the QB for a 3rd time. This time it was LB Jung coming up with the athletic play in coverage to continue his impactful performance. The offence could not take advantage though, going 3 and out. With not long before the half, the defence took to the field hoping to maintain the Wolves’ 18-12 lead. Whilst giving up some short scrambles and completions they were able to keep Derby out of scoring range with a combination of strong pressure from the D line and yet more playmaking from Mo ‘the Missile’ who finished the first half with 7 tackles, a forced fumble and an interception for good measure. Going in ahead at half time the chance for an historic victory was in the Wolves’ hands but would require another mammoth effort in the second half with the defence needing to continue holding the prolific Derby offence in check whilst the offence needed to keep the scoreboard ticking over. 2 quarters lay between the Wolves and the most historic win in team history.
The defence were the first to step up in the second half to see if they could keep their great performance going. However, following some obvious halftime adjustments from Derby the Wolves succumbed to a backbreaking 16 play drive which included only 3 passes and multiple 4th and long conversions. The Braves’ had come out with the intention of keeping the ball in their best playmakers’ hands; using their QB’s speed to the edges and their RB’s destructive power between the tackles. The Wolves had no answer on this drive which culminated in a 5-yard touchdown run from their QB. The only positive for the Wolves was that they managed to repel the 2-point conversion attempt making the score 18-19. The Wolves lost multiple defensive starters on this grinding which meant the depth and determination of the unit was going to be tested for the rest of the game.
It was now for the offence to try and muster a response to Derby’s impressive fast start but it was not to be, instead a 3-and-out capped with a 4-yard loss on 3rd down following instant penetration from the Derby defence. The Wolves defence had to come back out and try to regroup after the previous energy-sapping drive and in a continuation of a theme, Derby kept the ball almost exclusively on the ground moving towards midfield. Eventually, they managed to pop a big one with their running back breaking free up the middle for a 52-yard touchdown run, showing impressive speed for a man of his size. To make matters worse, they converted the 2-point attempt with the QB having too much speed to the edge making it a 2-score game at 27-18. The prolonged, physical touchdown drive followed by a quick 3-and-out by the Wolves’ own offence and another quickfire touchdown for Derby had truly swung the game in their favour and any hope of a turnaround would require a monumental effort from every man on the team.
With seconds remaining in the 3rd quarter time was not catastrophically tight but the offence needed to come up with a strong reply to try and shift the balance of the game once again and cut it to a one-score lead. This hope seemed to be fulfilled as Oosthuizen connected with WR Hamood Rana for a deep 59-yard bomb on the second play of the drive to set the offence up firmly in scoring position just outside the 10. However, this momentum was quashed as the next play went for a 4-yard loss, the Derby D line again wreaking havoc in the backfield. To only make matters worse, the FG attempt that ensued was blocked following a muffed hold, a real gut punch to any momentum and pressure that the Wolves had hoped to build. The defence had to pick themselves up and try and keep it to a 2-score game still but once again, the 4.3 speed of the Derby QB came to the fore as he broke off another explosive gain this time for 49 yards, and 80+ yard touchdown only saved by a great chase-down tackle by LB Koorosh Fatemian after the QB was slowed by CB Coleman. Some more punishing runs from their bruising running back pushed the ball inside the 30 and despite a tackle for loss by DE Archie Goodman on 3rd down, Derby elected to go for it and the QB ripped off another long run, this time a 30-yard touchdown. Despite stopping the 2-point attempt to keep it to a 2-score game, barring a remarkable turnaround this appeared to be the final nail in the coffin with the score standing at 33-18 with less than half of the 4th remaining.
The next offensive series started well for the Wolves with a nice 20-yard scramble from Oosthuizen but it was to go no further as he threw an unfortunate pick trying to push the ball downfield in an attempt to get back in the game. The defence took to the field once again, this time fighting for pride more than anything. Despite giving up more chunk plays on the ground; the defence made a stop by forcing a turnover. Veteran LB Koorosh Fatemian both tackling and wrestling the ball away from their power back, a play which exemplifies the leadership and grit he brings to the table as a defensive captain. The ball was gratefully recovered by DT Will Carroll. This gave the offence a final chance to put another score on the board but alas it was not to be and the Wolves elected to punt to pin the Braves deep and prevent another scoring opportunity. Punter James Norris came up with a booming 49-yard punt to put them deep in their own half and after a final first down run, Derby were able to kneel the game away.
What started out very promisingly, with the defence coming up with 3 takeaways in the first half and the offence with 3 scores of their own, the Wolves were able to go into halftime leading. After the break was a different story though as Derby elected to keep the ball in their playmakers hands and let their superior athleticism do the talking. In the end, a valiant effort from both sides of the ball was in vain but there were still positive moments in the game. The Wolves now head into the Christmas break to rest and regroup before playing DMU as the first game back after the break. No doubt the Wolves will have the return fixture against Derby, the final game of the season, circled for revenge.