Jacksonville Axemen Rugby League

Axemen Withstand the Test

By Brian Lowe      Photos: Allene Rachal

The 121 Financial Jacksonville Axemen had to come back from a halftime deficit against the Tampa Mayhem before clinching their fourth straight win of the 2018 USARL regular season.

In the end, the Axemen ran out 54-28 winners Saturday at the UNF soccer fields, although the final score doesn’t necessarily reflect the true test faced by Jacksonville.

The Mayhem scored first early when winger Jon St John evaded some would-be tacklers to dot down out wide. His try was converted by Will Monnery for a 6-0 Tampa lead.

A few minutes later, Jacksonville hit back when fullback Will Fletcher scored in the corner off a cross kick by halfback Montana Northcroft. Goalkicker Lachlan Bristow, playing hooker, converted to level the scores at 6-6.

The home team took the lead not long after that when second-rower Jed Pearce broke through Tampa’s defense to run 40 yards and score beside the posts. A Bristow conversion made it 12-6 to Jacksonville.

However, that lead was short-lived as the Mayhem replied with three tries of their own by Cody Blackwell, Mike Stoeling and Vert Stephens to shoot out to a 22-12 lead midway through the second quarter.

Right before halftime, and with Tampa in the driver’s seat, the Axemen narrowed the gap when Kevin Wathen finished off a movement to score out wide. Bristow added the extras to make it a 22-18 scoreline, the first time this season that Jacksonville had trailed at the half.

The second forty opened with the Axemen regaining the ascendancy and Pearce cashed in by crashing over for his second try of the game. The successful Bristow conversion saw the home team retake the lead at 24-22.

But again, the visitors immediately struck back when Justin Branca dotted down and Monnery booted the conversion to put Tampa in front 28-24.

As the game moved into the closing stages of the third quarter, Bristow put his stamp on things as he scored a try either side of the water break, converting both, to give his side a 36-28 lead.

Handling errors and a couple of penalties conceded by Tampa resulted in mounting pressure by the Axemen and they capitalized on it with outside backs David Thomas and Tyler McClain scoring converted tries to make it a 48-28 ballgame.

Having all but wrapped things up late in the match, Jacksonville wasn’t quite done, and that man Bristow put a final exclamation point on proceedings when he bulled his way over the line for his third try of the day. He converted his own score to make the final scoreline 54-28.

“We knew it was going to be a tough fight all the way,” said Jacksonville head coach Sean Rutgerson.

“Our goal was to stick to our game plan and especially coming off a couple of big wins it was good to see our guys able to stay in the fight when they put it to us.”

Rutgerson added that while the win sets up the team for home playoff games, it also keeps their home record intact so far in 2018.

It was the second time Jacksonville has beaten the Mayhem this season and the result means Tampa hasn’t secured a home game in the postseason.

“That first half was probably our best first half of the year,” said Tampa’s player/coach David Ulch.

“In the second half it wasn’t the physical part that let us down, it was our mental mistakes.

“Next week against Atlanta is a must-win for us because we want home field advantage, we don’t want to go back up there again in the playoffs.”

In the other Week 4 SOUTH Conference game, the Atlanta Rhinos blanked the Southwest Florida Copperheads 74-0.

The Axemen will travel next Saturday to South Florida to play the Copperheads RLFC at 6pm, Lehigh High School.