Exiles Fall to Second Defeat; Scrap for Second Place
Kent Exiles 18-34 Sussex Thunder
The Exiles fell to their second defeat of the season on Sunday, once again to the Thunder, who now top the divisional table and look to have a playoff place guaranteed already, leaving the Exiles to scrap it out for second place.
The Thunder took the advantage early on with a great special teams call as they onside kicked the opening kick off and recovered inside Exiles territory, a short drive culminated in Andy Smythe running in from the 4 yard line for a 6-0 lead.
Alex Campbell fielded the Thunders second kick off on the next play, and returned it to the 32 yard line. Then the Exiles hit straight back on their first play from scrimmage, as Quarterback Mat Duncan took off around the right end and weaved his way around what seemed like the entire Thunder defence for a 63 yard touchdown run, and the scores were level at 6 all.
Strong defence by the Exiles saw the Thunders next drive end with a punt to hand the ball back, a good drive ensued behind strong running from Stewart Muir once again before the prolific back had to leave the pitch with a rib injury which was to keep him out for the remainder of the game. This was not to deny the Exiles though as Grahame Warby collected his seventh touchdown of the season on an 18 yard pass from Duncan to give the Exiles a 12-6 lead.
The Thunder came straight back though after some poor defensive coverage by the Exiles handed them some great field position, and Glen Boyle ploughed in from the 2 yard line to tie the scores. Paul Robinson then converted the point after, and the Thunder had a 13-12 lead, and one they would not surrender again.
The second quarter saw both teams defences stiffen, and the half time score stood at 13-12 to the Thunder.
Defences also ruled the roost in the third period, with standouts for the Exiles including safety Mark Evans who notched 8 tackles in the game, before the Thunder rounded out the quarter by breaching the Exiles again on a 1 yard run from Boyle, Robinson converted the point after and 20-12 was the score.
The Exiles knew they had to score next, or run the risk of falling too far behind if the Thunder scored again, both teams traded punts on their next series with the Thunders pinning the Exiles back at their own 4 yard line, It was from here that the Exiles offence was to embark on their best drive of the season so far. Alan Hands ripped up the middle of the Thunder defence for two quick first downs, and then catches from Warby and Graham Deacon moved the ball to midfield. The Exiles then faced a massive third and ten, Lee Nash got the call and carved his way through the Thunder defence with a great second effort earning him the yards needed to continue the drive. Hands took the Exiles even closer before Martin Jefkins rounded off the drive with a 12 yard catch from Duncan for the
touchdown. Crucially the Exiles went for the two point conversion to tie the game, but Duncan's pass to Tim Palmer fell just short to preserve the Thunders lead.
With under four minutes left in the game the Thunder took the ball once more, and with the Exiles defence trying to make the big play and get the ball back they were able to drive in and score on a 6 yard pass from Will Greystone to Paul Robinson, Robinson kicked the point after to give the Thunder a 9 point lead and effectively seal the game.
The Exiles did not give up though, and on the next drive went for it on fourth down. Duncan's pass fell incomplete and the Thunder took the ball with under a minute remaining deep in the Exiles half, from where Greystone ran in from 2 yards out, Robinson kicked the point after again to leave the final score 34-18.
"The Thunder have managed to turn the tables on us this season" commented Exiles Head Coach Phil Wood after the game, "after last season where we ran out winners in two well fought games, this season it is the Thunders turn. We need to strengthen our game plans now to face the remainder of the season, and aim to turn the tide in our favour for the games against the Spartans, Cheetahs and
Pumas that we have left".
Thunder Head Coach Warren Smart said: "After our win two weeks ago, we knew the Exiles would come back at us stronger and harder and so it proved. Our players kept going when things got tough and the win was well deserved."