Sussex Thunder 41-31 Kent Exiles
Report by Sussex Thunder
The Sussex Thunder opened their 2004 BSL campaign with a hugely impressive display by claiming the prized scalp of division rivals the Kent Exiles. An all-round team performance was headlined by Andy Smythe, who set a career high with 239 yards rushing and 4 TDs from 34 carries.
Thunder started quickly, marching 65 yards in 7 plays to open the scoring. Will Graystone, starting his first game at QB in the BSL, set the tone with an 18-yard completion to Paul Robinson on the 3rd play from scrimmage, shortly to be followed by Smythe’s first TD of the day from 4 yards out. The PAT from Robinson had Sussex up 7-0, but the shootout was immediately on the cards as Simon Mackerill threw the first of his 4 long TD passes on the next possession to bring the scores level.
The momentum seemed to be shifting as Sussex were forced to punt on their next possession, however the Sussex defense also stepped up to force an exchange of kicks. J-P Flanagan fielded the resulting punt, reversed his field and – aided by a crunching block from Rich Lawrence – scampered 54 yards down the home sideline to paydirt and a 13-7 lead. Sussex drove home their advantage on the next possession with Smythe’s 2nd TD of the day, this time from 22 yards out. J-P Flanagan collected the 2-point conversion from Graystone to give Sussex a 21-7 advantage. Mackerill answered right back with his 2nd pass TD of the day to reduce arrears to 21-13, however as the half wound down Graystone found Mike Ashby in the corner of the endzone from 10 yards out for his first BSL TD pass. Robinson’s conversion gave the Thunder a 28-13 halftime lead.
Sussex expected a strong riposte from the Exiles and so it proved as Mackerill tossed his 3rd TD pass to reduce the deficit to 28-19. Halftime defensive adjustments from the Exiles seemed initially to have stemmed the tide of Sussex rushing yards, however the offense instead took to the air. Completions from Graystone to Flanagan and Ashby moved Sussex into scoring territory once again, from where Smythe refused to be denied and added his 3rd TD of the afternoon from 1 yard out and a 34-19 lead. Once again, the Exiles refused to give in and replied almost immediately. The tireless running of Stewart Muir was rewarded as he took an option pitch, broke two tackles and raced ¾ the length of the field for the TD. With the score at 34-25, the Sussex offense didn’t let up and once more marched efficiently down the field. On 2nd and goal from the 1, Smythe went around left end untouched for his 4th TD. Robinson tacked on the PAT and Sussex led 41-25.
After so much action, things went relatively quiet as both defenses finally began to make an impression. The Sussex sideline erupted as it was confirmed that Smythe had broken the 200-yard barrier, however a 5th score was not to be. Crunching tackles from Eber Kington and Paul McIntosh helped keep the lid on the Exiles comeback ambitions although they could not prevent Kent from scoring once more on another long TD connection. Kent’s next possession was ended when Rich Lawrence recovered an errant option pitch, allowing Sussex to take the ball and grind the clock for the win.
A great start to the season for Sussex, with the standard set for the season by the offensive line, which they will look to emulate week-on-week. Yesterday’s group of Ian McLean, James Ayery, Danny Minter, Dave Floate, Tom Palmer and fullback Glen Boyle produced a stellar performance in opening the holes for Andy Smythe to make his moves.
Next week Sussex will travel to Maidstone to take on a much-improve Pumas team, before heading to Orpington for the rematch with the Exiles the following Sunday. Both games should prove to be excellent spectacles.