Axemen Win Streak Ends
After losing halfback Richie Alleger and winger Nick Shea for the remainder of the season, and powerhouse prop Jaime Uyttewaal, utility Randy Dewey and blockbusting winger Matt Thornton all being unavailable with injuries, the Axemen traveled to Philly with a modified team. The Fight had been preparing for this game all season and they showed up with nothing short of putting it all on the line.
The early battles saw some of the most aggressive running and tackling ever seen in USA Rugby League and it was the continued battle that finally go the Axemen in for the first points to take a 6 point lead. The emotion of the game however, soon took its toll however with Player/Coach Spinner Howland showing horrible discipline and was sent from the field for punching in a tackle. His opponent from the Philly team was also given 10 minutes to cool down as he was only too happy to oblige with retaliation before the scuffle ended.
Playing with 12 men on the field seemed to lift both teams but it was the fight who took advantage and cross out side to level the score at 6 all. The game battled into the half time whistle with neither side able to add to their tally.
The Axemen came out with calmer heads and it soon paid dividends when a clever play got them over for their 2nd score that gave them a 12 to 6 lead. It would be almost 30 minutes before the score moved again when Philly punched across the line and converted to level it all up at 12 points a piece.
The desperation of both teams again provided some heavy defense before another Philly player let his emotions spill over after taking a heavy tackle and punched Axemen fullback Kenny Britt before players from both teams scuffled their way to some sense. The with the Axemen up a man the injuries sustained took their toll and nullified any advantage. Prop Brett Swann was sidelined with a shoulder injury as well as Casey Clark, Luke Srama and Bob Knoepfel all needing time on the bench to shake off some heavy hits. Both teams tried everything to get the upper hand until another penalty for using knees to the head of a player gave the Fight some breathing room and then to make things worse the referee added 10 meters to the spot of the foul for abusive language from one of the Axemen players. With only 90 seconds left in the game, the Fight slotted over the penalty kick of take a 14 to 12 lead that was unable to be overcome before the final whistle sounded.
The Axemen will now take a week off over the July 4th holiday to prepare for the July 9th game in New Jersey against the Titans before returning to Hodges Stadium to face the Rhode Island Rebellion on July 16.
“I am looking forward to the bye”, said Coach Howland, “We need it to let our guys heal a bit. We have three starters out for the season and on top of that we have 4 more who are struggling with injuries. We need a week to let these guys get healthy again. I am happy for the Philly team, they work as hard as we do to make this game as professional as they can and this win is a credit to them and their efforts to assemble a very competitive team. They played their hearts our for their fans and they deserve congratulations for that.”
He also made comments about the rest of the season, “As much as this defeat stings, I am glad it’s finally over. The number of people and times that I have been asked are we going undefeated again was starting to get irritating to be honest. I could care less about an undefeated season, what matters is showing up in Philly on August 27 and leaving with the Trophy. Frankly I could care less if we do that from the 1st seed or the 4th seed, the championship is the thing we want to keep.” He went of to say, “If there is one streak of wins I am proud of, it is our home winning streak. Our fans show up every game and we owe them wins just as much as ourselves. They support us because we do everything in our power to win in front of them. They are the ones who get to sit in the stadium and feel great because their team wins. And let me be clear, this is as much their team as it is the player or coaches. We are all in this together and giving our fans wins at home is something that we as a team are proud of. I can tell you right now, the home games on July 16 and then when we face the Philly Fight here on July 30, are both going to be the best Rugby League this team has ever played.”