45 seconds remained. The Colts called timeout. A chance for the field goal team to collect themselves. Josh Brown braced himself for the biggest snap of his season. Equally braced was Alex Hodson, knowing that his pressure kick would either send the Colts crashing out of the playoffs or through to the Northern Finals. Brown’s snap was good. The hold was good. The protecting line held firm. And Alex Hodson booted through the uprights a 21 yard field goal that sent Colts players and fans alike into euphoric celebration.
The jubilation that greeted the late, late field goal was part of a rollercoaster of emotions that punctuated this playoff encounter. After winning the coin toss and electing to receive, Jake Hodgkinson weaved his way past midfield on a return that provided the Colts offence with excellent field position. Given an immediate cause for optimism the offence set up inside the Tamworth Phoenix half. However, the Phoenix defence, which proved tough all day, forced a swift punt from the home team.
The home defence soon returned the favour and when the visitor’s offence ceded possession to Colts, they scored their solitary touchdown. After a few running attempts yielded little success, quarterback Lawrence Quinn fizzed a pass to Seb Kerridge who made a tidy cut before outsprinting the last defender for a 66 yard touchdown. The Colts failed to add the two extra points which for a large part of the game looked to have been costly.
With the Colts holding a slender 6-0 advantage, both defences forced the frequent trading of possession that ensued from the end of the first quarter until about halfway through the second quarter. Andrew Newby, the Colts defensive MVP, along with Craig Oliphant and Jon Varney generated pressure in the backfield that disrupted Tamworth’s offensive efforts. On a later Tamworth offensive series, a trademark hit by Jonathan “the Frayne train” ensured a dropped pass that prevented a first down. The misery of that particular drive for the visitors was compounded when Jake Hodgkinson’s fumble recovery forced a turnover.
Approaching half-time, Tamworth found some rhythm and began to grind out some rushing yards that propelled them forward. In the red-zone, they probed through the air but Great Britain cornerback Ste Czarnecki intercepted a fluttering pass towards the end-zone from the Phoenix quarterback. Despite the turnover, the Colts offence found where languishing dangerously close to their own end-zone. An untimely fumble was pounced upon by the Tamworth defence.
Their offence gratuitously accepted the ball on the 2-yard line. The visitors took the golden opportunity to tie the game up when their running-back powered through over the goal-line for a touchdown. The Phoenix then came back with another powerful run to successfully convert for two points. This left the half-time score at 8-6 in favour of the men from Staffordshire.
It could perhaps be argued that the third quarter was more notable for the emotions that accompanied the play on the field than the actual play itself. For the Colts defence, the dejection of conceding before the half was soon replaced once more by their earlier confidence and swagger. They remained impregnable in the second half. Knowing that the defence was holding firm, the Colts offence whilst certainly frustrated, continued to be patient and smart in their approach, avoiding any inane turnovers that could potentially deepen the hole. However, the third quarter played out as a stalemate between the two teams as neither team added to the score.
And so came the fourth quarter. With the tremendous support of the home crowd, rallying the Colts with chants of “D-FENCE” the home “D” continued to force the visitor’s offence off the field. The fourth quarter continued to tick away furiously but the Colts offence were afforded one more opportunity to write an epic fourth quarter comeback. Quarterback Lawrence Quinn led the way. His excellent pass found Seb Kerridge for a huge 40-yard completion. Hurrying downfield, the next play resulted in a pass interference call which moved the Colts into field goal range. Looking to grab six points a throw to the end-zone fell incomplete. Instead the Colts picked up yards on the ground putting trust in the boot of Alex Hodson and a fourth down field goal. With 45 seconds remaining Blackburn Rugby Club came to a standstill and held its collective breath. Meanwhile, the field goal team composed themselves for the kick. Josh Brown snapped the ball perfectly and Alex Hodson sent the ball sailing inside the left hand side of the post. Exhilarated celebration broke the complete silence in understanding of the 9-8 score-line. With a one point lead the Colts had 30 seconds to withstand four Tamworth throws towards the endzone. The last of which was intercepted by Jamie Horsley, sealing an incredible win.
Though the 9-8 win may have been narrow, the score-line couldn’t be more disproportionate to its importance. By seeing off an impressive and spirited Tamworth Phoenix, the Colts secured their opportunity to defend their Northern Championship. To steal an expression, “opportunities multiply as they are seized” and for these Colts, the stakes keep getting bigger. The northern final pits the Colts up against the Sheffield Tomahawks next Sunday at Sheffield. The resistance and toughness the Colts showed against Tamworth now has to be harnessed and parlayed into another strong performance against the Tomahawks next Sunday.
Article By Chris Ollett