Colchester Gladiators        50
Essex Blades                    8

The greater experience of the Colchester Gladiators was always likely to be a telling factor in this game against the plucky Blades of Essex University, and so it proved in this memorable and highly entertaining match celebrating 20 years since the formation of the Gladiators, and sponsored by HR Owen, Jaguar.

In front of TV cameras from Sky Sports and Anglia TV, and cameras from Heat magazine and the Evening Gazette, the Gladiators dominated the game from start to finish, highlighting the impossible task of the Blades coaches of preparing a team of relative novices for their biggest game in only three weeks.

A crowd estimated at 800, comprising die hard Gladiator fans, enthusiastic students, interested locals, and young fans of TV presenter Dermot O’Leary who had taken time out from his busy schedule to first help promote the game, and then participate in it, helped create a vibrant atmosphere, and raised a sizeable amount for the children’s charity Barnado’s.

Months of preparation came to an end as founder member Jay Hope kicked off with the wind at 2pm, and the Blades lined up for their first possession of the game. After a gain of four yards on first down, QB AJ Fenwick was sacked on second down by linebacker Paul Ainsworth fumbling the ball, which was recovered by Gladiators’ Jim Bromley. Fenwick suffered a fractured finger in the tackle, although he did return to the game.

The Gladiators had the ball for the first time in good field position, on the Blades 34 yard line and wasted no time in stamping their authority on the game. On first down runningback Stuart Brereton ran 24 yards to the ten, before Nick Foxley took the ball the final ten yards into the endzone for the first score of the day. Jay Hope kicked the extra point to establish an early 7-0 lead.

The ensuing kickoff was fumbled but recovered by the Blades but the delay enabled the Gladiators kickoff team time to get downfield, John Foxley making the tackle on the one yard line. The Gladiators defence were not going to let the Blades escape, and Bromley burst through the line to tackle the Blades QB in the endzone for a two point safety and a 9-0 advantage.

The team conceding the safety then has to kick off from its own 20 yard line, and the Gladiators took advantage of the resulting good field position, running in their third score of the quarter through Brereton again, this time from 13 yards out. The extra point attempt failed leaving the score at 15-0.

The Blades struggled to make any impression on the bigger and stronger defence of the Gladiators, regularly being tackled for losses, with Nick Darling and Simon Wilkinson trapping the runners in the backfield, and Shaun Rapley bursting through to make the tackle for an eight yard loss. With their offence unable to sustain any sort of drive, the punter was having a lot of practice, but punt returners Dermot O’Leary and Steve Tatum were consistently returning the ball back into Blades territory.

The Gladiators notched up their third touchdown just before the end of the first quarter after 11 yard gains by Brereton and O’Leary set up Paul Borstel for his first of two touchdowns on the day from six yards out. Hope again slotted the point after for a commanding 22-0 lead.

The second quarter followed the pattern of the first, with the Blades struggling to move the ball offensively and the Gladiators enjoying considerable success with Andy Cowling and Steve Lyons getting in on the act, running for good yards. The Blades managed to sack Gladiators QB Rob Turner for a nine yard loss to give them hope, but Turner managed to connect with Nick Foxley for a 21 yard pass completion to keep the drive alive. Brereton finished it off with a 14 yard scoring run, and with the extra point, the score was increased to 29-0.

The Blades never gave up though and sprung a surprise late in the second period by registering the most spectacular score of the day. The Blades defence managed to stop a Gladiator drive after good work by John Bragaglia and Rob Seal, forcing Hope to punt. Mike Thompson fielded the ball, weaved his way through a number of would be tacklers, and sprinted 70 yards for the six points. The snap on the extra point was mishandled, but kicker Gareth Waterhouse picked up the ball, sprinted around the left end, and managed to reach the endzone to add an extra two points, making the score 29-8.

There was still enough time in the half for the Gladiators to reply though. Brereton returned the ball 49 yards into the Blades half before QB Keith Rogers connected with Tight End Duncan Gardner for a short gain, and Borstel burst through for a 28 yard score. Hope’s fourth extra point closed the first half scoring at 36-8.

With the game seemingly decided, the intensity level of the first half was not quite reached as both teams tried to get all players involved. The Blades defence enjoying much more success registering a total of three interceptions of the Gladiators’ QBs by defensive backs Mark Batchelder and Ben Lloyd (twice).

The Gladiators added one score in each of the final two quarters, both converted by Hope, with Brereton completing a hat-trick of touchdowns, and Will Melton, scoring his first touchdown as a Gladiator since 1986. Melton also gained more than the required 26 yards to take him over 1,000 career yards for the team. A number of career milestones were reached during the game with Brereton going past 4,000 yards, Nick Foxley becoming the only receiver in Gladiators history to catch 100 passes, Turner became only the second quarterback to register 3,000 yards passing, and fellow QB Rogers inched up to 1,000 yards passing.

The Blades continued to try hard to make an impression offensively, but the welcome return after an absence of 11 years of American Rick Rotondo, the force of Tony Norton, and the speed of Paul Mellor and Malcolm Jay, it was always going to be an uphill struggle.

For the Blades though, it was a worthwhile exercise in preparation for only their third season in BCAFL, the University league. Head Coach Kevin Sharman expects his players to have learnt a lot from the experience and will be concentrating on the positives from the game, in readiness for their opening league fixture on November 2nd, at home to UKC Falcons.

For the Gladiators, the chance to once again play alongside some former team-mates, while helping out former colleague Sharman and raising money for a good cause made the whole experience very worthwhile. The Gladiators would like to take this opportunity of thanking their hosts Wivenhoe Town FC for their hospitality and huge amount of help on the day, the match sponsor, HR Owen Jaguar, and the secondary sponsors, Sir Charles Lucas Centre for Sport and Art (advertising and training), SportSafe UK (match balls), The Sign Factory (scoreboard), Cougar Athletic (shirts), and the Wig and Pen for the post-match party. After such a successful event, talk is already starting on next year’s game.....