Exiles Reign on the Thunder's Parade
Sussex Thunder 6-7 Kent Exiles
The Exiles travelled to Sussex on a sweltering day to renew a rivalry which has provided great games ever since the Thunder re-joined the league in 2004, and this was to be no exception but unusually for these clashes it was both defences which dominated, and it was not the usual 70 point thriller.
|The Exiles Defence was in dominating form|
Both teams struggled to move the ball early on, and it soon became a game of field position. The Exiles became the first to break the deadlock in the 2nd quarter when following a Carl Cahoon interception; Mark Evans slotted a 33 yard field goal and a 3-0 lead.
This was to remain the score until half time, as both defences continued their domination, and frustration of the offence.
The second half started as the first had left off, both Head Coaches had obviously fired their teams up during the break, and the intensity rose as the game went on. The Thunder got the first big play though, following a huge punt Andre Clarke beat the Exiles blocking scheme to hold returner Ryan Kelly to a minimal gain, and back the Exiles up inside their 20 yard line. Quarterback Aaron Griffiths was then picked off as Receiver Richard McHugh bobbled the pass, and Sussex returned it to the Exiles 6 yard line.
Two plays later Lance Nutley rumbled in for the Touchdown but, in what would turn out to be a crucial play in the game; Aaron Alexis tore through to block the extra point attempt, meaning the Thunder led only 6-3.
The intensity levels now rocketing, both teams knew any mistakes could be costly, and defences held firm. The Exiles forced the first mistake though early in the fourth quarter, as they backed the Thunder up to their own five yard line, and trying to punt the ball away Chris Percival stepped out of his own endzone to concede a safety and two more points to the Exiles, making the score 6-5.
The Thunder defence continued to hold the Exiles offence though, and forced the Exiles to punt, the ball was downed inside the Thunder 20. Unable to move out of the shadow of their goalposts Percival once again came on to punt, this time just managing to get a squib kick off which was fielded by Exiles youth team graduate Marc Mulgrave, showing a great turn of speed he returned it to the Thunder 5 yard line, and an opportunity to win the game for the Exiles.
|Marc Mulgrave evades the Thunder|
Three plays later the Exiles faced 4th and inches at the goal line, as the stubborn Sussex defensive line knew the game was on the line and refused to give quarter. Electing to try and punch it for the touchdown the Exiles fumbled the snap, and seemingly with it their chances of victory.
Now just inside the two minute warning the Thunder needed to gain a first down to effectively win the game by running out the clock, but tackles by Ade Balogun, Dave Maisey and an incomplete pass bought Percival on to punt once again. A poor snap forced him to adjust his position, and this was all the time Aaron Alexis needed to get into the backfield and make the tackle for the second safety of the game, and the 7-6 lead the Exiles needed.
Rob Stewart fielded the attempted onside kick, and with only seconds left the Exiles took a knee to seal the victory.
Following the game Exiles Head Coach Norman Navarro commented “Coach Rowe and the defence really earned this victory for us today; they played continually hard and came up with some huge plays. This is the sort of game which may well go on to define our season, and we’ll continue to learn from our mistakes as we go on. We also proved the hard way that Special Teams can make the difference, something we won’t forget as the season draws on”.
The Exiles now have a week break before hosting the Oxford Saints at Crockenhill FC, another game guaranteed to be a hard hitting encounter. Kick off is at 2.30pm and admission is just £1.50. The game is preceded by the Exiles youth team taking on the London Blitz. Full details of the Exiles season can be found at www.kentexiles.co.uk.Tweet