Jacksonville Axemen Rugby League

Axemen Grind Out a Tough Win to Remain Undefeated

Fans of the 121 Financial Jacksonville Axemen found themselves holding their breath last weekend during a gritty game of two halves against the Tampa Mayhem. This was the most anticipated game so far of the season, as the Mayhem always bring a team of size and strength. Due to a few injuries throughout the season, the Axemen relied on several rookies to fill in the roster.

However thick the tension between two teams looking to claim a home playoff game, they came together for a good cause and participated in the “Crazy” Socks game benefiting the Down Syndrome Association of Jacksonville. Players from both teams wore silly or mismatched socks for Down syndrome awareness, and fans were delighted by the DSAJ Starz dance team performance during half time.

Half time was just what the Axemen needed after a brutal first 40 minutes of play. The game started off with very much a back and forth battle between the two teams, but penalties and dropped balls became a reoccurring problem. The Mayhem were finally able to capitalize off the Axemen mistakes and scored first after with a unconverted kick and a 0-4 score.

The Axemen still couldn’t seem to gather any momentum, and although both teams fought hard for possession, it was another error deep in Jacksonville’s end that led to another try by Tampa and a 0-10 score going into half time.

Photo by Allene Rachal

After the half time break the Axemen seemed to have gathered themselves as a team and came back to dominate the next 20 minutes of the game. David Washington scored first for the Axemen and the with Luke Findlay’s conversion kick Jacksonville held a grip on the game with a 6-10 score. This try was the push the team needed and the Axemen were able to score two more times in quick succession to regain the lead, first by Malcom Webb under and a second try by David Washington both under the posts. The kicks were good for an 18-10 lead.

Just after the second half 20 min water break James Williams scored quickly in the first set. Findlay remained on point with his kick for a 24-10 lead. A frustrated Tampa Mayhem weren’t out just yet, however, and found a gap on the right side for a try. At 24-16 Tampa seemed to have things going back their way, especially after Khalial Harris was sent off with a red card and the Axemen were set to play with 12 on the field for the remainder of the game.

Tampa managed to scored again in the corner, and tightened the score to one try at 24-20. In the final 10 minutes with fatigue setting in for both sides, Axemen Kevin Wathen made a fantastic kick far into Tampa’s territory which was recovered by Josh Snead in the air and ran in for a try. This was the icing on the cake for the Axemen who remained in control for as final minutes counted down and the whistle was blown. Final score was 30-20 and Jacksonville remains undefeated.

Photo by Karl Schweinfurth

Although it wasn’t pretty, this was a big win for the Axemen who have secured themselves as hosting the Southern Conference Championship on August 14th. Tampa Coach Billy Neilson was disappointed in the loss but is hoping for another chance at the Axemen in the final. “We made too many mistakes with the ball in hand,” said Neilson. “It killed our momentum in the second half. It was a great game and congrats to the Axemen. Hopefully we can get another crack at them in the South Final.”

Axemen Coach Sean Rutgerson was happy with the result. “I am happy we were able to win over a good Tampa side. We had some great special efforts and I really hope it was enjoyable for the fans.”

“It was great that we got the win, but even better that we were able to support the Down Syndrome Association of Jacksonville,” said Drew Slover, co-owner and GM of the Axemen. “We hope we earned some new fans! Special thanks to the DSAJ families, both teams, Jacksonville Women’s Rugby League, and the fans for making it a great event celebrating individuals with Down syndrome and promoting an inclusive community.”

The Jacksonville Axemen hit the road next week for the final game of the regular season against the South Florida Speed. Follow the Axemen on social media for score updates throughout the game. Kick off is 5pm at Miami Gardens Optimist Park.

The team returns home on August 7th for a match up against the Atlanta Rhinos before the South Conference final on August 14th. Follow the Axemen on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for updates.