Raiders Home In Nail Biter.
Wolves Make History.
The CHAMPIONSHIP VII contestants have been decided. Let’s take a look at last weekend’s games to see how they got there.
NORTHERN RAIDERS – 7 Defeated MONASH BARBARIANS – 6
That scoreline is right, so no need to adjust your glasses or get your eyes tested. In what most thought would have been a comfortable victory for the 1st placed Raiders was definitely far from it.
The 1st half did not produce much offense from either side with both defenses playing solid against the run game. The Barbarian defensive line was the surprise, playing out of their skins, giving the Raiders Running Backs hardly anywhere to run. Raiders RB #10 Jesse Spiropoulos had flashes of brilliance but was very well held by the Barbarians. The Raiders did lose prolific scoring threat RB/WR #24 Ben Norton very early in the game after a catch and run. He failed to return to the field and will be hoping he will be good to go come Saturday.
Barbarians QB #17 (Normally #29) Richard Truong had some of us confused as to whether it was him or someone that the Barbs had secretly hidden for all 14 rounds of the regular season. Looking much thicker in the legs it was revealed it was in fact him. He was asked about his bigger look to which he replied “It’s all that KFC I’ve been eating”. The way Truong plays no one would dare say “You are what you eat” as he was his usual elusive scrambling self. One play in particular he dropped back to pass, was confronted by Raiders DL #77 AJ Nonoa who had a hand on his shoulders, Truong escaped, ran outside and completed a pass for 13yds. Unfortunately the next play he was sacked and they were forced to punt it away.
The Barbarians defense had only been scored on heavily once during the year, by their semi final opponents and with the score still 0-0 in the 2nd quarter they were showing signs of a defense wanting to win this game badly. They made a huge stop on a 4th and 2 by completely stuffing a run up the middle and handing the ball back to the offense.
The wind was playing havoc with the passing and kicking games with the Barbs attempting a number of deep passes that didn’t connect. The Raiders didn’t pass much trying to establish the running game that has proved to be their winning formula but didn’t seem to be working as well as it has before. The Barbs gave themselves a chance to score just before half time after a 3 and out, Punting the ball away and it hung in the wind. The Raiders were set to return it when a player decided to block a Barbs player, pancaking him, the ball then bouncing on the Raiders players back and recovered by the Barbs. Luckily for the Raiders the Barbs could not find the end zone and half time arrived with the score still 0-0.
The Barbarians tried to get the outside run game going in the 3rd quarter with runs by RB #22 Johnny Chen but it was continually shut down for minimal gains and losses. They were hoping just one run play might break the game open in their favour. After failing to move the ball the Raiders were given possession which saw a QB change with QB #5 Jack Pattison being replaced by QB #12 Jamie Di Cicco in his first action since breaking his hand earlier in the season. He didn’t require the use of his hand as he continually ran the ball up the middle gaining huge chunks of yardage, including a 30yd scamper that was ended by tripping over his own feet. He was on the way to the end zone when gravity took over. The Raiders got to the 18yd line, facing a 4th and 10 and setting up for a Field Goal attempt they were flagged for a delay of game pushing them back 5 yds turning it into about a 40yd attempt, in that wind it was very, dare I say, brave. The kick was low, touched by a few hands and returned by the Barbs to the 18yd line.
The Barbarians got back on track against the run with DL #95 Matt Curtis delivering a huge hit on Di Cicco trying to run up the middle again. He took a little bit longer to get to his feet after the hit. Neither team were able to convert on 4th down after decidng against punting which was made very difficult in the blustery conditions. With no score in the 3rd quarter it was looking like extra time might be needed to decide a winner. Neither side wanted to be the one to make a mistake that led to a score.
The Raiders had the ball early in the 4th quarter with a 1st and 10 when Di Cicco ran up the middle again, this time he was stripped of the ball and it was recovered by the Barbarians. A 15yd Unsportsmanlike penalty was called against the Raiders, the Barbs took over at the Raider 18yd line with a perfect opportunity to take the lead.
Facing 2nd and 10 the Barbs RB #16 Jack Hulley ran up the middle pushing the pile of players 12yd’s for a 1st down. Before the next play the Barbs were penalised 5yd’s for too many players on the field but this just meant that Hulley had to run 11yd’s to finally put the Barbarians up 6-0. The 2 point conversion was no good and we had an upset brewing at DR Atkinson Reserve with 10 minutes still to play.
The ensuing kick off was kicked out of bounds so the Raiders took over from their own 35yd line. The Raiders placed LB #7 Victor Utumapu in at running back hoping to create a spark that they needed to level the scores. With Di Cicco continuing to run the ball well up the middle the Raiders continued the formula with good gains and 1st downs, until Barbs LB #84 Jonathan Keusgen stripped him again giving the ball back to Monash at their own 30yd line. After yet another 3 and out the Barbarians punted the ball away, using the wind to assist the ball to go out at the 9yd line.
The Barbarian defense stepped up again not allowing the Raiders any rushing yards continually shutting it down. They forced the Raiders to punt again. The punt was a shocker that only travelled to the 30yd line giving the Barbarians a chance to close out the game. The story of the day was 3 and out so this possession was no different for Monash, forced to punt again with the wind grabbing onto it, to the 20 of the Raiders, taking over with 3:40 on the clock and 80yd’s to score.
The Raiders made another move on offense bringing Pattison back as QB while Di Cicco lined up as a 2nd slot/wing back. Pattison didn’t take much time to hit WR #80 Nicholas Faure who evaded tacklers to get to the Barbarian 30yd line. Barbarians Keusgen had a 5yd sack on Pattison. The Raiders passing game was beginning to click with quick passes and players getting out of bounds to conserve the clock. On a 3rd and 13 , what would have been a significant loss of yards saw a 15yd defensive penalty and automatic 1st down to the Raiders, spotting the ball at the 15yd line. Nerves were getting the better of some players with missed tackles and 2 consecutive false starts on the offense, pushing them back to the 25yd line. Incomplete passes were thrown by Pattison bringing up 4th and 20. All the Barbs needed was a defensive stop and to play man on man. Pattison’s eyes lit up when he spotted a wide open Nicholas Faure down the middle, he connected with him in the end zone to tie the game at 6-6. Despite the windy conditions a simple chip shot XP was enough to put the Raiders in front 7-6 with only 1:26 left in the game.
The Barbs had a modest Kick Return and on the very first play Truong was intercepted giving the Raiders the ball at the Barbs 45yd line. As they had all day the Barbs defense didn’t allow the Raiders any yards on the ground but using up their time outs to conserve the clock. Faced with a 4th and 3 Pattison was forced out of bounds short of a 1st down and Monash took over for one last drive. 1st play of the possession Truong threw his 2nd Interception of the day and the Raiders were victors.
MELTON WOLVES – 20 Defeated WESTERN CRUSADERS II – 0
The wind had picked up and the temperature had dropped a little by the time Semi Final number 2 came around. The Wolves and Crusaders were getting ready to do battle to find out who was the best team in the west in Division 2.
The opening kickoff took a little longer than expected as WR #88 Daniel Mansueto had trouble keeping the ball in bounds having to re-kick after the Crusaders took the penalty. His 2nd attempt didn’t fair much better and went out of bounds again. His 3rd and final attempt was hooked and slammed straight into a Crusader who had a short return to the Wolves half of the field as the kick failed to go past the 50yd line. Was this a sign of what was to come for Melton? the 1st quarter didn’t contain much movement of the chains but plenty of good defense by both sides. Passing was going to be difficult so a lot of run plays were used. Both teams were scoreless at the end of the 1st. The Cru had contained the influence of Wolves QB #7 Matthew Krul so far and were looking to continue that trend. Wolves RB #46 Sikaleti Mataafa was not available for this game so RB #17 Thomas Shutt and RB #44 Jamie Spiteri would have to shoulder the load. The Crusaders had 43yo veteran RB #36 Nol Arabit to carry most of the workload with QB #12 Edward James under centre, not #13 Nathan Tang as he was playing at Wide Receiver with his speed as a deep threat. Late in the 2nd quarter the Crusaders were forced to punt in their own territory. What looked to be a punt quickly turned into a fake but with so much pressure from the Wolves defense the Cru punter was forced to try a kick on the run, he was unsuccessful as he was tackled as he kicked and the Wolves pounced on the loose ball, recovering it at the 34yd line. Melton started a drive for the first points. On a key 4th and 5 Krul scrambled for a 1st down at the 15yd line. They struggled to get the ball in the end zone and faced another 4th down and Goal to go from the 5yd line. Krul looked to drop back to pass, saw an opening in the middle and ran it in for the TD by reaching the ball over the line with 22 seconds left in the half. The XP was good and the Wolves had the lead 7-0. On the kick return FS/SS #31 Christian Cinel took the ball in the end zone and made an impressive run to the 30yd line before he was upended. James tried a number of deep balls to Tang but the Wolves were ready for it as half time arrived. The Wolves received the ball to start the 2nd half and on the 1st possession, the O line opened up a massive hole for Shutt to run through, he scampered down the sideline only just stepping out after a gain of 30yd’s. He was headed for the end zone on that play. After a number of borderline taunting actions by Crusader LB #30 Harry Jalland, he was finally flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct and seemed a little rattled as he was jeered by some members of the crowd. The Wolves just ignored his actions as Krul was able to convert yet another 4th down play to get to the 3yd line. A fumble at the hand off by Krul went for a loss of 10yd’s and they were unable to convert on 4th down turning the ball back to the Crusaders. A scoring opportunity missed and a chance, albeit 87yd’s away, for the Crusaders to tie the game. At the end of 3, the score was still 7-0 in favour of Melton. The Crusaders were forced once again to a 3 and out as the Wolves defense looked to step it up another notch. Wolves SS #21 Markus Spiteri was playing the game of his life, sniffing out running plays before the runner got through a lane. The Crusaders punted and the snap sailed over the punters head and was recovered once again by the Wolves at the 5yd line. J Spiteri runs it in for a TD to put the Wolves further in front. The XP try was botched and the attempted 2 point play stopped short. The Wolves now lead 13-0 just 30 seconds into the 4th quarter. The Crusaders finally got some yardage on the ground through Arabit up the middle including a 1st down. On 4th and 2 Edwards was stopped on a QB keep by M Spiteri turning the ball back to the Wolves once again. On a 1st and 15 from the Cru 45yd line, J Spiteri rumbles through tacklers to the 19yd line. Shutt finishes off the drive with a 24yd TD run, the XP is good again and the game is seemingly out of reach of the Crusaders at 20-0. The Crusaders needed to do something and fast so they began to air it out. A couple of quick drop backs and passes saw them get to the Wolves 23yd line before a catch then forced fumble that was recovered by the Wolves. With just 2:30 left in the game it was just a matter of could the Wolves hold the game to a shutout. Melton went 3 and out and punted. Once again Mansueto struggled and kicked the ball just 10yd’s to their own 32 where the Cru took over. Another 3 and out after a sack on James by DE #52 Nathan Fankhauser gave the ball back to Melton to run out the clock. With just 3 seconds remaining after the Wolves were forced to punt again the Crusaders had one last play to put some points on the board. The snap was fumbled and recovered by DE #57 Michael Lucchiari ending the game with the Wolves advancing to the Championship game.