Axemen Take Tough Loss in USARL Championship Game
The Philadelphia Fight and Jacksonville Axemen played out a thrilling USARL Grand Final in Conshohocken on August 24th. Both teams were the pace setters in the season and played out two close games with each team winning one. Both teams were coming in having won a championship each in the USARL. The Fight in 2011 were the inaugural USARL champions winning while hurricane Irene was baring down on the East Coast. Last year the Jacksonville team traveled to Boston to take the Championship. A glorious day, perfect for Rugby League was put on by the sporting God’s. A large crowd close to 1,000 turned up to take in what would become one of the USARL classic matches, one that will be spoken of by many in the future.
Both teams were ready for the big occasion. But from the kick off it was clear that the Fight had come out ready, well for a fight! Usually the Fight are a slow starting team that finish strong, while the Axemen Come out strong. But the match flipped with The Fight bursting from the blocks. They opened the scoring 4 minutes in through winger Jared Frymoyer who latched onto a cut out pass and went over in the corner. Then 4 minutes later, hooker Cesare Coscia, spun through a couple tacklers to crash over the line and give the Fight a quick 10 point buffer. This sparked the Axemen from their lull and attacking play down the center with captain and coach Brent Shorten leading the way with a busting run. Trying to hit Akarika Dawn out wide it looked like a sure try, the Fights Joel Beasley with great anticipation intercepted the ball and stole back 20 meters to relieve the pressure.
But it was only a matter of time that Jacksonville was going to flex its muscle. The Axe was swung by Apple Pope who had a powerful pushover try through the middle. The conversion from Rich Allegar brought the Axemen to within 4 points. The Fight then seemed to break out of their little slump with Rich Henson having a busting run through the middle of the Jacksonville defence. Masking life easier for Timpano to convert the score went to 16-6. This took the teams to the quarter time break.
The second quarter the Axemen made life very difficult for the Fight and themselves. The Fight could not break through the Jax defence but when ever the Axemen got to the Fight try line mistakes could cost them potential points. 31 minutes saw a break out run down the wing John Lyons feeding the ball to Frymoyer once more and went over but was called back for a forward pass. It was not long will the Fight did score again through centre Ben Russel to take the fight to the half time break 22-6.
The large, predominantly Philadelphia-centric, crowd was very vocal, but many who have experience with these big games knew that the Jacksonville team were not out of it. Many felt 22 points was not enough and it seemed the Fight agreed. The second half became a real war of attrition, both teams launching raids on their respective opponents line and the defences repelling what was thrown at then. A big mistake from the Axemen, failing to clear a penalty kick gave the Fight a chance to have the ball at prime position once more and Casey Clark was able to take advantage of this with a busting run to get rare points right before the third quarter break. The crowd went wild but potentially it was short lived.
The match certainly was one of two halves. The first lasted 3/4 of the match and did belong to the Philadelphia team. But true to form the last quarter belonged to the Axemen. They came out swinging, almost straight away from the break, fullback Jay Mombu, scored sending the 50 or so Jacksonville crowd that had traveled into raptures. The Fight fans clearly knew what was coming and it was felt in the stands. With 28-12 the momentum pendulum was swinging and only 3 minutes later they were over again through Rich Allegar scoring and converting his own try. It was now 28-18 and still 15 minutes left. The Axemen were throwing everything into the attack and the Fight was absorbing it, but something had to give and it took Apple Pope again to go over the line and bring the Axemen to within 6 points of tying it up and going to extra time.
With 5 minutes left everyone were on their feet, not a sitting soul was in the stadium. This was the Grandstand finish all were expecting. Shorten was launching raid after raid and the Fight were absorbing all of it. The last play of the game saw the Fight diffuse another Jacksonville attack and wrap up the game to win their second title in three years.
Speaking with Brent Shorten after the game “It’s disappointing obviously, it’s hard when your battling the opposition and we seemed to battle ourselves most times. Unfortunately we turned up and played 60 mins of poor football and the last 20 was fantastic. If we could reverse it around it would be a different result. At the end of the day Philly played really well, out enthused us and full credit to them.”
Talking to man of the match Matt Webster “That is a tough gig, it’s always tough against Jacksonville especially in a Championship Final you expect a war and that’s what it was.”
“We usually start of slow, but today came out of the blocks strong, and we knew they were going top come out with everything in that last quarter. Full credit to them and luckily enough we held on and now we’re national champions which is great.”
Man of the Match: Matt Webster (Philadelphia Fight)
Philadelphia 1. Patrick Quirk, 2. Jared Frymoyer, 3. Ben Russel, 4. Joel Beasley, 5. Mike Timpano, 6. Rich Henson, 7. Joel Weeks, 8. James Coleman, 9. Cesare Coscia, 10. Matt Webster, 11. Larry Madden, 12. Casey Clark, 13. Kevin Wiggins, 14. Matt Clark, 15. John Lyons, 16. Ian Ferguson, 17. Andrew Tully, 18. Thomas Madden, 19. Matt Scherr, Coach: Peter Illfield
Jacksonville Axemen 1. Jay Mombu, 2. Matt Thornton, 14. Taylor Alley, 4. Akarika Dawn, 5. Nick Shea, 6. Brent Shorten, 7. Rich Allegar, 13. Brenden Beadle, 9. Apple Pope, 10. Bart Longchamp, 19. Jay Defau, 12. Josh Cock, 17. Gaz Walker, 3. Mao Lamoli, 8. Craig Howitt, 11. Jamie Utteywassi, 15. Taylor Youngling, 16. Kevin Wathen, 18. Stephen Hill Coach: Brent Shorten
Referees Main: Bruce Wedderburn Sideline: Bill Weeks, Ryan McHugh