On a hot Sunday afternoon last weekend, the Tamworth Phoenix came to town in a mouth-watering top of the table clash that would have huge playoff implications. A win for either side would have put them in a good position to host playoff football in the postseason, and ultimately it was the Phoenix who would leave JMO with smiles on their faces.
The Nighthawks took the ball from the off and started to build some pressure before the Tamworth defence had chance to tighten up. A series of short runs and scrambles from QB Ben Robinson set the Hawks up in Phoenix territory. However, the Phoenix started to turn the screw and forced the Nighthawks to punt the ball away. Tamworth had a good return, but would see a quick 3 and out of their own to give the home team the ball again.
Deep in their own territory after a good punt from the Phoenix kicker, we saw the first turnover the day as Robinson tried to find WR Holebrook in double coverage. Tamworth returned the ball deep into the Nighthawks 5 yard line, but a personal foul penalty set them up on the Hawks 20. Despite the good field position, the Phoenix would have to settle for a Field Goal as the Nighthawks defence showed their mettle. 3-0 to Tamworth.
The Hawks got the ball back, but couldn’t do much with it, with the Phoenix constantly pressurising Robinson and hitting a big sack on 3rd down. Matt O’Connell managed to punt the ball out to about halfway and despite another good return, the Phoenix were backed up by another penalty on the return. The Hawks defence once again tightened, forcing the Phoenix to attempt a Field Goal from 43 yards out. Despite the ball clearly sailing wide of the goal post, the back judge gave the kick as good, and Tamworth were out to a 6 point lead.
Tamworth then came out with a surprise onside kick attempt, which was quickly snuffed out by WR Holebrook and the Hawks had good field position at about halfway. Despite this, once again Tamworth stuffed all attempts to get the ball moving and forced the Hawks into a punting situation. HC Pennington dialled up a fake of his own, electing to attempt to convert the good field position using a hand off instead of a punt, which failed when the Phoenix defence got to the ball quickly, stopping the runner a few yards from the first down marker. Phoenix ball, with a 6-0 lead.
The two teams would then trade 3 and outs twice, as both defences showed why they were amongst the best in the country, with big stops by both teams.
The next set of Nighthawks downs changed the game. After a short run up the middle on a QB keeper, Ben Robinson stayed down injured, after rolling his ankle. With usual QB Routledge unavailable, this led to WR Alex Eager stepping in and assuming QB responsibilities for the rest of the game. A 4th down run from the halfway line was stuffed again and Tamworth took over.
Despite being able to move the ball efficiently, the Phoenix found themselves in a 4th and 44 yards to go after two unsportsmanlike penalties by an offensive lineman (which resulted in his ejection from the game). Tamworth punted back to the Nighthawks, and deep in their own territory, Eager handed the ball off to RB Laurent Tshimanga. LT had made some good yardage, and likely a first down, when the ball was knocked from his hands before he was ruled down. The Phoenix had the ball deep in the Nighthawks red zone, and were looking to capitalise quickly.
Facing 3rd and 3 after a scrappy passage of play from both teams, Tamworth extended their lead through the ever-dangerous RB Elliot Walters, who found a crease in the Hawks defence to take it in for 6. The Phoenix added on the XP, and were out to a 13-0 lead before half time.
Learn about how the second-half shaped up over at MerseysideNighthawks.co.uk