Kicking off at the same time as the SA vs NSW game, was the Queensland Sun Devils hosting the Victorian Eagles at home in Coparoo, QLD. The Sun Devils opened their AGL campaign against a white hot Victorian team, who were coming off a 46-0 thrashing of SA last week.
The opening few went back and forth between both heavyweights but neither could break the tie. The first scoring play came with about 5 minutes to play in the first quarter. Victoria were moving the ball down the field but were struggling against the strong QLD front 7. Victoria weren’t able to get their star RB Luke Jackson moving like he was against the Sharks but were lucky to receive 2 flags go against their opponents for dead ball fouls.
This set up the Eagles for 1st and goal on the QLD 8-yard line. The Sun Devils were able to stop Jackson and Eagles QB Andrew Healy from running the ball into their end zone, after a great touchdown saving tackle by QLD Safety Francois Passamani, and this brought up a 3rd and goal on QLD’s 1-yard line. On the very next snap, it looked like QLD had blown up the play as Healy was meant to hand off the ball to Jackson who was lined up in the Pistol formation. Healy turned to hand off the ball and slipped but, in the chaos, ended up getting the ball off to Jackson who ran it outside of the Left Tackle and in for the opening TD of the game.
As I watched replays of the TD, I think this may have been a play designed specifically to fake out the Defense. Regardless, Jackson picked up his 5th TD of the 2018 AGL, and with the missed 2-point conversion, the Eagles led this one 6-0.
For the rest of the first quarter, the score remained the same and QLD began to threaten the Victorian end zone mid-way through the second half. The Eagles D Line did well to disrupt the movement of the ball on the ground from RB Darius Holliday-Miller and through the air by QB Thomas Corwin. This brought up a 3rd and 15 just on the edge of the Victorian end zone. The ball was snapped to Corwin who found Holliday-Miller on a bubble screen. Holliday-Miller then used his incredible footwork to step and juke his way through to the end zone and put QLD on the board for the first time in the 2018 AGL championships. A lot of credit needs to be given not only to Holliday-Miller, but also to WR Warwick Russell who provided a crucial cut block to Eagles DB Harrison De Lai to open the lane for Holliday-Miller. QLD then attempted a 2-point conversion with a run to Ben Gough, who plowed his way through the Victorian D Line to bring the score to 8-6.
The first half ended with fireworks as Victoria were threatening the QLD end zone for the final 3 minutes of the half. QLD stayed strong to hold them out, highlighted by QLD LB Damien Molloy making a huge tackle on 4th down to stop Andrew Healy running the ball in for a score.
Early in the 3rd, QLD were threatening again but were held out by that strong Victorian D. QLD Head Coach John “Hollywood” Roe was forced into an early decision on 4th and 10 on the Victorian 12-yard line, on whether to kick the field goal or go for it. Hollywood chose to go for it and this proved to be a great decision as Victoria jumped offside and closed the distance for the Sun Devils. The ball was now placed on the 7-yard line, 4th and 5 and the offense came back on to go for it. Ben Stokes came in at QB for the Sun Devils, showing his dual threat credibility, and on the snap ran the ball on the speed option into the end zone for a TD. Reece Perkins came in and slotted the PAT to put the score at 15-6.
Stokes would be called on again early in the 4th as QLD threatened again in the Victorian red zone. The Sun Devils lined up in the shotgun with trips receivers on the right side. On the snap, Stokes ran the speed option to the right side again, with Holliday-Miller trailing on his outside. As he was wrapped up, Stokes was able to flick a rugby league-like offload pass Holliday-Miller who ran in his second for the day. Perkins kicked another PAT and early in the 4th, QLD were leading 22-6.
The Eagles replied almost instantly, as Jacob Kerin returned the ensuing kickoff to put Victoria into decent field position. The Eagles tried to move the ball on the ground again on first down through new RB Oyntin Muller but were not able to pick up many yards. On second down, Healy decided to test the QLD secondary and air it out. And this worked perfectly as he found Prince Coleman in the midst of both a safety and corner covering him. Coleman was able to get out of both tacklers grips and ran the ball into the end zone for a 49- yard passing TD. Again, the Eagles attempted a 2-point conversion but Healy could not find Kerin in the end zone and this kept the score at 22-12, early in the 4th quarter.
The thing I loved about this game, is that both teams replied almost instantly when they gave up a TD. On the next series after Coleman’s 49-yard TD, QLD moved the ball well both on the ground and through the air before setting themselves up for a 1st and 10 on the Victorian 20-yard line. Stokes was back in at QB and instead of showcasing his speed and footwork, he looked to pass deep. And what a pass it was. On the snap, he pump faked the ball before rolling left out of the pocket and looked for WR Kyle Bowpitt on a fade route. Bowpitt was able to shake his DB and took the catch easily in the corner of the end zone. Stokes and his O stayed on the field to attempt a 2-point conversion but Holliday-Miller was stopped short, keeping the score at 28-12.
Midway through the 4th, the game was stopped for an extended period of time due to an injury. The QLD D Line were able to put pressure on the Eagles O Line and rushed heavily. This caused a pileup and a player was pushed into Eagles Centre Hayden Brown, who’s knee looked to buckle at an awkward angle. Once an ambulance arrived and took Brown away, the players had been waiting for at least 30 minutes. Due to the format of the AGL tournament (fly in, fly out), the QLD and Victorian Coaching staff, as well as the referee’s agreed that the game needed to finish at 4pm for the Eagles to make their flight home. This left around 15 minutes to play 7 and a half minutes of game time. On a quick side note, everyone here at GDU wants to send their best wishes to Hayden Brown and hope your recovery is quick mate!
When gameplay resumed, Victoria went straight for the jugular. On the first play back from the break, Healy stepped back and fired a bomb to WR Aris Hua who took a deep fly route. He was able to beat his DB and ran the ball in for another huge TD, 45-yards. But again, the Eagles did not kick a PAT and attempted a 2-pt conversion, which again failed against the tough QLD D.
Late in the 4th, QLD benefited from a long offensive drive which kept the Victorian D on the field. With just over 2 minutes left in the contest, Hollywood again had a tough decision for his team; go for it on the Victorian 3-yard line or kick the FG and make it a 3-possession game. Hollywood again decided to go for it but changed it up at QB. Starting QB Thomas Corwin came back in and ran the ball in off a QB Draw to put this one just out of reach for the Eagles. With the game clock still sitting with just over 1 minute to play, the actual clock ticked over to 4pm and white hat Jamie Owers called the game.
I said this would be the game of the round but unfortunately, SA and NSW put on a clinic. But this was a very technical game and a great war of attrition so both teams should be proud of the work they put in. Next week, the Sun Devils will host the Sharks who will be looking to get their first win of the campaign; whilst the Eagles will travel to Perth to take on the Raiders who are well rested after their bye last week
FINAL SCORE: QLD 34 – 18 VIC