Warwick Wolves vs Loughborough – 08/02/20
This game against Loughborough was the defining match of the Wolves’ season with an automatic playoff berth and higher seeding on the line. The Wolves were coming off a 26-0 win against DMU but this Loughborough team was a completely different proposition, who were looking for revenge following the Wolves 16-9 win earlier in the year.
The Wolves received the ball first and on the first play Loughborough were called for roughing the passer giving up a free 15 yards. Two strong runs for 20 yards by workhorse RB Obi Ojji had the offence driving towards midfield in a promising start for the unit which was once again led by backup QB Alex James, who was coming off a 4 TD performance on debut vs DMU. However, he couldn’t replicate the magic on this play as his first pass attempt was picked off by a Loughborough DB. This gave the defence an early opportunity to see Loughborough’s flexbone rushing attack. They had great success against this scheme last time out with the exception of one big play which is their modus operandi and puts the onus on the defence to be at 100% every single play. Starting at midfield the defence had less field position to work with so needed to be at peak performance from the get-go but this was not the case with Loughborough gaining consistently both up the middle and to the edges, with the killer blow being 10 yards up the middle on a 4th and 9. The Wolves couldn’t find any momentum and steadily kept giving up yards till 2 QB sneaks saw Loughborough punch the ball in for an early TD and extra point. Perhaps the worst possible start for the Wolves on both sides of the ball meant they needed to regroup and show up quickly to keep their season on track.
The offence started the next drive with a first down from a 4-yard rush from QB James and a 7-yard catch and run from new starting TE Thaddee Chantry-Gellens. Momentum was to stall their however, with a negative rush and a big sack putting the Wolves far behind the chains causing a punt. Having seen the Loughborough offence and made the requisite adjustments, the Wolves defence came back out knowing exactly what to expect and straight away came up with a turnover as rookie LB Ollie Scorey, once again displaying his nose for the ball, came away with a fumble recovery on a botched toss. With the Wolves now gifted field position inside the Loughborough 30 this was exactly what was needed but the offence could not capitalise with the ground game struggling against Loughborough’s stout defensive front. To make matters worse, the ensuing field goal try was calamitous. A high snap and misplaced hold conspired against first time kicker Will Carroll who put all his power into holder Michael Higham’s leg instead of the ball leading to a broken ankle. A comical but ultimately costly mishap for the Wolves who were now deprived of their premier run stuffer in the middle, an area which Loughborough were sure to target.
Despite this loss, the defence forced a 3-and-out straight away with strong gang-tackling holding Loughborough short of the line to gain. The offence again started promisingly with decent gains from QB James and RB Ojji moving the chains inside the Loughborough 30 but once again penetration in the backfield by the Loughborough D-line saw the Wolves going backwards and the drive was ended by a sack on 4th down. With the game progressing quickly due to the run heavy play calling the defence knew they couldn’t concede any more points before the half. Now in the groove, the Wolves were shutting down everything Loughborough was throwing at them, so much so that on 4th down Loughborough delved deep into their playbook and came up with an unforeseen pass play to catch the defence unawares and keep the drive moving. Returning to their bread and butter the D once again shut them down leading to 4th down where Loughborough went to another trick play this time the reverse which was quickly sniffed out by CB Charlie Coleman who made a great open-field tackle to take the ball back for the Wolves.
A horse collar penalty gave the offence a chance to put some points on the board with little time remaining in the half, but more stops in the backfield led to 4th down which though converted by a clutch catch from WR Sean Brandt, was not enough to get into scoring range. A slow start from both sides of the ball had put the Wolves in a hole early but a strong recovery by the defence meant the game was still very much there for the taking with the score only 7-0. If the defence could continue strongly and the offence managed to find a rhythm, a playoff spot was right there.
Loughborough started the half with a good return to set them up near halfway. The defence once again seemed to start the half sleeping, giving up multiple chunk plays to find themselves on their own 2-yard line. Luckily, a pair of rookies stepped up to make a play as DE Cosmo Vanderkar, fresh from a switch from offence, knocked the ball out with CB Jacob Abekhon on hand to scoop up the loose ball and keep Loughborough out of the endzone. It did however put the offence in the unenviable position of being on their own 1-yard line. They advanced with a first down beyond the 10-yard line before a fumbled snap but them in another 3rd and long with yet more pressure forcing an errant throw ending in another interception, giving Loughborough the ball on the 15-yard line. The defence had made one goal line stand it was time to make another. A 9-yard gash up the middle left Loughborough at the 6. On the sneak, Loughborough got a good push rolling up to the 1-yard line where DT Ben Porter made a heroic play stacking up the pile and stealing the ball from the arms of the QB, like candy from a baby. Make that two goal line turnovers forced by the defence to keep it a one score game, showing the clutch toughness that has characterised this unit all season. Once again, the offence had the ball at their own 2 this time looking to at least flip the field position. It was not to be, a false start backing them up the 1-yard line leading to a safety on the next play.
With the score now 9-0 and seconds left in the 3rdquarter it was crunch time. The Loughborough returner broke the free kick for a touchdown but only due to holding so it was duly called back with Loughborough getting the ball at their own 30. Fatigue was starting to show for the Wolves defence as they gave up 4 straight 10+ yard gains allowing Loughborough to methodically move down the field but in a common occurrence the defence stiffened up in the redzone. A lovely tackle for a loss on the edge by CB Coleman and a penalty put Loughborough in 3rd and long. They elected to go for it on 4th which was stopped by the defence inside the 5, even with a holding call, but the Wolves elected to take the field position, no doubt wary of what happened the last two times the offence were backed up. This time facing 4th and 20 Loughborough kicked the field goal to make it 12-0.
It was now or never for the offence with the game deep into the 4th quarter. The offence made good progress with 2 big gains for first downs by rookie WR Luka Jojic including a conversion on 3rdand 18. Some small gains on the ground brought up 4th and short and the Wolves went with the wildcat formation but this was sniffed out by the D who came up with the stop and another turnover on downs. With the game essentially out of reach, the Loughborough offence came out with their backups who were quickly despatched by the Wolves D with a textbook chop for a loss by SS David Carnegy and a fumbled exchange leading to a 3 and out and a quick punt. The Wolves went for the block and came very close but Loughborough managed to get the ball away putting the Wolves in their own half. A touchdown would be enough to maintain a grip on second place due to point differential and it all came down to this drive. In a disastrous start, instant pressure up the middle led to an 11-yard sack. Two nice plays to breakout TE Thaddee saw the offence move into Loughborough territory but for one final time, more pressure forced an off platform throw which was intercepted and led to a kneel and that was that.
A thoroughly deflating day for the Wolves which saw them lose out on an automatic playoff spot. The defence started slow and allowed too many yards but did come up with some extremely clutch turnovers to keep the game in reach. The offence just could not get anything going with the pressure from Loughborough’s D-line too much to handle. There was the emergence of new options in the passing game in WR Jojic and TE Chantry-Gellens which can hopefully lead to more productive days in the push for a playoff spot as a best third place team. With two games to go in the season, at least one win should see the Wolves into the playoffs as a lower seed and once there who knows may happen.