Jacksonville Axemen Win the South
The Jacksonville Axemen have won the USARL South Conference in a close and very exciting game against the Atlanta Rhinos.
The Rhinos came into the South Championship on a roll after defeating the Tampa Mayhem two games in a row on the road. After starting off the season with a tie and three losses, the 2015 South Champions have built momentum through the season and it showed against the Axemen last weekend.
The game started off in usual fashion for the Axemen and they took control of the game early with a pass from Ben Nicoll to Kevin Wathen for the first try of the game. This was followed by another try under the posts from Joe Eichner. Hayden Diggins was good for his conversion kicks giving Jacksonville a 12-0 lead before the 20 minute water break. Two unconverted tries from Ryan O’Hara and David Thomas out wide increased the lead to 20-0 before Atlanta would find their footing.
Atlanta started putting points on the board with a kick across the field to Dustin Syas, and Joe Cowley was good for the conversion. The score was 20-6 with the Axemen still in the lead going into the second half.
The Rhinos kept the momentum going as the second half continued, with another kick to the far right and Dustin Syas again scored the try. Joe Cowley again was good for the 2 point conversion kick and the Rhinos closed in on the Axemen 20-12. Shortly after, a breakaway run from the Rhinos offense led to another kick into the try zone which was tipped by the Axemen and recovered by Matt Fontana for another Atlanta Rhinos try. Joe Cowley made the kick and the Axemen only led by 2 points, 20-18.
Although the Axemen fought to score next and came very close to two tries, penalties brought the ball back into the Rhinos hands who were very eager to take the lead. Dustin Syas scored his third try of the game for the Rhinos but the conversion was no good to bring the Rhinos now ahead by two points (20-22). Justin Syas scored next under the posts for Atlanta trying to break away from the Axemen and with Cowley’s converted try the Rhinos led 28-20.
Some might have thought this was the beginning of the end of the Jacksonville Axemen’s season, however the team maintained their composure and got to work scoring tries with less than 20 minutes left in the game. Hayden Diggins scored under the posts and made the conversion to close the gap to 28-26. A huge run from Billy Rogers and some quick passing from the Axemen led to Ryan Peterson scoring under the posts to regain the lead to 32-28.
With the Atlanta Rhinos still one try away from tying the game, the Axemen fought to end the game with another try and seal the win. Josh Cock scored the final try of the game and Hayden Diggins was good for the two point conversion bringing the final score 38-28. The Jacksonville Axemen remain undefeated and will compete in the National Championship in Boston on August 27th.
“We came into the game expecting it to be a tough win,” said Axemen Coach Ben Nicoll. “We were our own worst enemy at times with too many mistakes and needless penalties. I was happy with the boys for not panicking when we were down and we just kept playing our game. It was good for the team to get a tough win and overcome some adversity and we are looking forward to competing for the National Championship.”