Axemen Finish Regular Season Unbeaten, Again
For the second straight year, the 121 Financial Credit Union Jacksonville Axemen have wrapped up the USA Rugby League (USARL) regular season undefeated in the South Conference and go into the postseason as the #1 seed.
The Axemen were genuinely tested for the first time in 2019 by the Tampa Mayhem before emerging victorious 32-18 Saturday night at UNF rugby fields.
“Tampa put up a real good fight and didn’t give up during the whole game,” said Axemen head coach Sean Rutgerson. “It was good to play a game that our guys haven’t really experienced this year at all. A team that had the ability to make breaks and score tries and really tested our defense.”
Left center Josh Jackson got the ball rolling right off the bat when he scored a try within the opening minutes of the game. Goal kicker Nathan Richter was good with the conversion and the home team went ahead 6-0.
It seemed like within the blink of an eye, winger David Washington crossed for Jacksonville’s second try which went unconverted and the Axemen were off and running up 10-0 in as many minutes. However, the Mayhem came to Jacksonville to play and they struck back immediately with their first try, which was converted, to close the gap to 10-6.
Stung into action, Jacksonville put two more quick fire tries on the board by forward Hunter Lawson and winger Washington, who bagged his brace, both converted by Richter, to push the score out to 22-6.
Just when the home crowd might have thought that their team was getting the upper hand, the visitors hit back with their second converted try to narrow the score to 22-12.
Then just minutes later, Tampa kept their momentum going with a third converted score to make it a 22-18 scoreline, the closest the Axemen have been pushed all season long. That’s how the teams went into halftime and Axemen head coach Sean Rutgerson used the intermission to rev up his players by asking them to step up their efforts in the second stanza.
And they responded in kind as fullback David Thomas wasted no time in extending the lead with a try to start the second half. Richter again was on target with his conversion to increase Jacksonville’s lead to 28-18.
Similar to what had transpired in the first forty, the Mayhem proved that they were gamers by testing Jacksonville’s defense time and time again. However, they couldn’t convert their pressure into any more points.
After a lot of back and forth for the remainder of the match, the Axemen had the final say when lock Khalial Harris pushed the scoreline out further with a final try that went unconverted for a full-time score of 32-18.
“As I said, they really tested us,” continued coach Rutgerson. “They have some good forwards, they ran hard, they tackled really well, and it put a bit of scare in some of our boys I think.”
The Axemen will host the first round of the playoffs next Saturday, August 3, when the Southwest Florida Copperheads make the trek to Jacksonville. It will be the Copperheads’ very first postseason appearance in just their second year in the competition.
The USARL has given them the #4 seed in the wake of the Atlanta Rhinos’ decision to pull out of the playoffs following their disrupted season. “They’re still a new team in the competition and a lot of their guys are still learning the game, but I’m expecting them to grow another leg when they’re playing in a semifinal,” added Rutgerson.
“I’m expecting them to come up with all their best players to put up a real fight. “We’re excited and we’re looking forward to the challenge. It’s the end of the regular season and now it’s time to start again.”