Sharks move step closer to playoffs

In yet another wet day in the Flag ‘Summer‘ league, the Chichester Sharks secured an important victory and came very close to nabbing another.

Chichester started the day at 4-2 and realistically in the race for one of the two wildcard spots within the Southern Conference. Having lost to Basingstoke twice, it would require a number of unexpected losses by the Horde for the Sharks to claim the top spot.

That meant that games against the other wildcard contending teams – currently the Steel City Knights and the Essex Showboats – would be crucial. The first of those – against the Knights – came on a very wet day in Coventry on Saturday.

It was an unusual day, in that for the first time in many, many years, Neil Henderson was not at QB for the Sharks. Unavailable on the day, he was replaced in the line up by Justin Handley.

First up was a game against Woodham Warriors. The conditions were poor, with a consistent heavy rain impacting the play of both teams. The Offenses struggled the most, with both teams struggling to complete drives. To compound it, the Sharks first score on the board was wiped out by penalty.

The Warriors short, efficient passing game eventually broke the deadlock, putting up a score before the half. The Sharks O hit a TD in reply (Handley to Mike Thompson), but sloppy receiving play ended any chance of  building a lead.

The Sharks came out strong after the break, snatching the lead from the Warriors on a 2nd TD pass to Thompson. The D was playing extremely well – Toby Chopra had 3 sacks in the game and Tomele Geciauskas 2 – but eventually Woodham found the endzone for a 13-12 lead.

With little time left in the game, the Sharks were unable to string together a final winning drive. The Warriors closed out the game with a late score to seal the 20-12 victory.

Despite the loss it was a very strong performance by the Sharks, coming close to upsetting the favourites with a make-shift offense.

Next up was the important game against the Steel City Knights. Chichester had never played against the Knights nor seen them in action. Their results to date in the league spoke for themselves, however, and it was clear that being ‘new’ did not mean they were uncompetitive.

This was to be no score-fest, as the rain made play very difficult. The teams exchanged several unsuccessful drives, before the stalemate was broken on an unusual play. On a hook to the left of the field, the slippery ball bounced off the hands of Chichester’s Pete Busson and into the arms of Center Gary Robinson who took it in for the score.

The Knights were struggling to move the ball against the rain and Sharks defense, but managed to break the goal line on a strong drive before the half, setting the score at 6-6 at the half.

As the second half progressed, the players could have been forgiven to be happy with a draw (and to find somewhere warm and dry). Little was working offensively. With time ticking away, Handley went back to a play designed to attack a weakness identified in the first half (which despite repeated attempts couldn’t be capitalised on). Sending the Center on a slant and go up the left, Handley lofted a perfectly timed pass over the head of the defender and into the hands (okay, technically it was the ear) of Robinson. Chichester couldn’t convert the extra point and so led 12-6 inside the 2 minute warning and the ball now in the Knights’ hands.

All day the Knights had been targeting their athletic #1 receiver and it was clear where the ball was going on this final drive. Each play sent him medium or long and each time Mike Thompson, playing Man, stuck to him like glue and batted the ball away. 4 downs later, the Sharks had their victory and a crucial tiebreaker in the playoff race.

Well done to all players who competed on Saturday – it was a great team effort. A special nod, however, to Jut for stepping up and playing QB and also to Mike, who played both ways and made so many plays to keep us in games and secure the victory.

Next up on Sunday: Coventry Jets, Leicester Eagles and Aylesbury Spartans

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