Axemen Make a Statement With Win Over Tampa
The Jacksonville Axemen had their sights set on playing in their 8th National Championship game last season, only to be knocked out in the semi-final by a close defeat from the Tampa Mayhem. The Mayhem went on to reign as the 2021 USARL Champions.
Understandably, the Axemen have been focused on getting back on top of the standings this year, with both Jacksonville and Tampa 2-0 going in to this game. Meeting the Mayhem on their home turf in Tampa put extra pressure on the Axemen to prove they could defeat them on the road.
Very much as expected, the game was a battle of big hits and both teams showed a sold effort. The Mayhem capitalized off a penalty and scored first with a kick between the uprights for a 2-0 score. Keeping up the intensity, the Axemen spent a good amount of time close to the Mayhem try line. Solid defense and an unfortunate knock on prevented Jacksonville from scoring. Then, with seven minutes left in the first half, a big run from Tampa’s Merrick Fuchs got the Mayhem into Axemen territory. Some quick play led to the Mayhem scoring the first try of the game, and with the good conversion kick the score widened to 8-0. The score remained going into half time.
Unable to score in the first half, the Axemen turned things around quickly when the whistle blew for the final 40 minutes. Receiving the ball at kick off, the Axemen drove down the field onto the Mayhem try line. A penalty on the line led to a 20 meter restart and a big team effort led to Mason McCrory scoring an Axemen try right under the goal posts. A good conversion kick by Luke Findlay closed the score to 8-6 with Tampa leading by 2.
The game was already chippy, but after a pass to Tampa’s Joe Eichner was intercepted by the Axemen’s Vashon Marrs, the game had to be stopped momentarily to separate the two players after the whistle was blown. With tensions still high, the game restarted with the Axemen on the 35 meter line and the Axemen drove down the field on the far sideline. Alex Eberle offloaded the ball to David Washington who ran in in to score again under the goal posts. Luke Findlay’s conversion was good and the Axemen led with a score of 8-12.
During the final 20 minutes the majority of the game was played in Mayhem territory, but solid defense held the Axemen from scoring. Tampa finally pushed past the Axemen 10 meter line but a fumble recovered by Axemen James Williams led to a massive 80 meter run to score out wide. The conversion kick was no good with an 16-8 score. Time ran out and the Axemen came out victorious and move to the top of the standings undefeated.
Coach Sean Rutgerson was happy with the effort from the team. “The men grounded out a good win,” said Rutgerson. “We made too many errors in the first half, but hung in there and worked hard as a team to get the result in the end.
The Jacksonville and Tampa women’s rugby league teams also played a rematch from 2 weeks ago. The Jax Axe Women came out with a convincing win against the Tampa Mischief at home, but the score wasn’t in their favor this time around. Final score from the game was 42-10. With both teams just in their second season playing rugby league, Coach Rutgerson was happy with the progress being made. “The women tried hard but made too many basic errors. They are still learning the game but we saw some really good performances.”
The Axemen return home to Jacksonville for next week’s July 16th game against the Copperheads RLFC. Kick off is 6:30pm at the University of North Florida. This game is also the annual “Crazy Socks” game, where both teams will battle it out wearing their silliest socks to advocate for an inclusive community for individuals with Down syndrome. Get your tickets here!