This weekend’s games were all about one thing, second place. Exeter, Plymouth, Hereford and Merthyr all went into the weekend with a chance to claim both a playoff berth and entry to next year’s Premiership. Exeter, already having finished their season on 8-8 were relying on results going their way to hold onto the runners-up spot.
Plymouth were the first team eliminated from the race, losing the opening two games of the day 44-13 against the Thunderducks and 39-12 versus the Stampede. A one point win for the Stampede over the Thunderducks was then enough for Hereford equal Exeter’s 8-8 record, the Stampede making it to the playoffs with a superior division record….I think.
Six Sack Stevens Stills the Stampede
In what has become the biggest rivalry in the SWC South, the Hereford Stampede came out of the blocks fast against the Hurricanes, scoring touchdowns on their first two drives courtesy of Jay Jay Spencer.
The Cardiff offence did well to keep pace with this early onslaught, Matt Thomas matching the Stampede drive for drive, finding Joe Cotterill for two touchdowns with a David Ponting extra point giving the ‘Canes a one point lead. It was then that the game began to turn. Blitzer Chad Stevens had a career game, putting consistent heavy pressure on the Hereford Quarterback. Along with 5 first half sacks (six overall) he was responsible for two wayward throws, both of which were picked off by Joe Cotterill. Matt took advantage, finding Joe for a first-half hat-trick of touchdown catches, giving Cardiff a 19-12 lead at the half.
During the second period, the Hurricane defence took control of the contest behind the relentless blitz. Andrew Krag produced a superb tackling performance and was rewarded with an interception, whilst Jon Cordy completely shut down Spencer for the remainder of the game. With their primary target blanketed in coverage the Hereford offence stalled completely, and they were unable to score another point.
All that was left was for the Hurricane offence to put this one away. Josh Cranton provided the primary outlet, his ten catches, taking him over 100 on the season. A David Ponting touchdown was then followed by two Chris Jones scores, the first a trademark diving catch in the corner of the endzone, the second requiring him to shake an overly physical Hereford defender off his back, and then, after the realization that he hadn’t actually been flagged, sprint for the touchdown. Chris joins Josh as the second Hurricane receiver over 1000yds this year.
Offensive MVP: Hurricane Offence – 6TDs, 360 yds, 0 INTs
Defensive MVP: Chad Stevens – 7 tackles, 7 TFLs, 6 Sacks, 1 PDEF
Oh Ducking Hell
It transpired that this game was irrelevant in terms of playoff seeding, as the Hurricanes secured the second spot in the SWC with their win over Hereford. However Welsh pride was on the line, and this derby is usually a tough contest in league play. This game did not disappoint (well, at least not for the neutral…)
Huw Davies and Victor Requena showed fantastic team spirit, graciously giving up their reps in an attempt to allow the offence to get into some sort of rhythm. David Ponting provided the main threat in the Cardiff attack, netting almost half of the team’s yards. His touchdown was added to with scores from Sam Kimish, Josh Cranton and Chris Jones.
On defence the Hurricanes found it difficult to contain the Duck’s athletic #81, Richard Harris, the elusive receiver consistently finding space deep. Drew Smith’s 7.5 tackles ensured the defensive captain finished with the most tackles of any Hurricane this season, whilst David Ponting grabbed an interception.
With seconds left on the clock, Merthyr scored bringing them to within one point of the Hurricanes (27-26). The Ducks boldly selected to go for two and the win. Showing fantastic patience in the pocket Alex Thomas floated a perfect pass over the Hurricane defenders to the back of the endzone giving his team the lead with eight seconds on the clock.
Two plays later the regular season was over, with a ludicrous Hail Mary pass from Ponting (offensive co-ordinator unimpressed, partly due to the play call, partly due to the fact that he could throw a better Hail Mary) and Merthyr earning a well-deserved win.
It’s a shame that if it had not been for some early season forfeits, Merthyr may have made the playoffs along with the ‘Canes. As it is Cardiff will begin their playoff campaign on the 5th August against the West Essex Showboats. Hereford will play the Chichester Sharks.
Offensive MVP: David Ponting – 9 catches, 110yds, 1TD, 1XP
Defensive MVP: Drew Smith – 7.5 tackles, 2 PDEFs