A massive run to the end zone from Newcastle’s Jono Coombes sealed their victory in the opening Stan Calvert fixture of 2018 on a blustery Sunday afternoon at Druid Park.
The Raiders followed a somewhat turgid first half with a series of skilled touchdowns to dominate the Northumbria Mustangs to the tune of 26-8. The win set Team Newcastle off to a strong start to Stan Calvert ahead of the main run of fixtures in late February.
2016-17 was a difficult season for the Raiders, with a 52-0 defeat at Stan Calvert followed by relegation from the first BUCS division. The second division, however, has proved much more hospitable, and Newcastle went in to the Stan Calvert fixture as the unbeaten league leaders and with momentum firmly on their side. The match was almost a distraction for the Raiders ahead of their crucial battle with Teesside the following week.
Northumbria, meanwhile, were struggling in their BUCS league and faced a string of tough fixtures throughout February in their fight to avoid relegation.
The first quarter saw stutters of brilliance from both sides, with an early touchdown by Newcastle almost matched by a race to the 10 yard line by Northumbria. Several Northumbria fumbles could have given the Raiders the opportunity to progress, but they were unable to capitalise on the mistakes of their rivals and lost possession long before the end zone.
Harsh tackles masked the lack of real aggression from either side in the opening stages of the game. A long run from Northumbria’s No.15 at the end of the first quarter failed to get past the 10 yard line, but the Mustangs came back stronger after the break and powered straight to the end zone to level the score. They followed this with a successful run in to earn the two-point conversion and take an 8-6 lead.
“Newcastle supporters, subdued until this point, began to celebrate tackles on the Mustangs and were rewarded with a clinical touchdown from Raiyyan Aftab”
The closeness of points was mirrored on the pitch, with neither side able to gain a significant advantage and the line of scrimmage sticking resolutely in midfield. A late attempt by Northumbria saw them attempt a field goal on their final down, but the ball was just wide and the score remained 8-6 into half time.
The stifled first half saw both teams leave the field frustrated, but the Raiders took the knee in their team talk which seemed to give them an advantage as the game restarted. An early run by Matthew Gough faltered at the 30 yard line, but Tom Harwood and Matt Wilson successfully fought off the Northumbria defenders to progress forward to the 10 yard line. A ruckus on the ground almost gave possession to the Mustangs, before Dira Ejibe carried the ball over the goal line to put Newcastle back in the lead. Their attempt at taking a two-point conversion was unsuccessful, keeping the score at 12-8.
From here the two teams started to diverge as the Raiders successfully fought off a series of Northumbria offensives. Their supporters, subdued until this point, began to celebrate tackles on the Mustangs, and were rewarded with a clinical touchdown from Wilson. Northumbria’s defense watched on in horror as Wilson ran unobstructed from the 30 yard line to give Newcastle another six points.
Almost immediately the ball was back at the 20 yard line, where a Newcastle fumble just inches from the end zone prevented another touchdown in the first down. Northumbria’s defense, now wary of Wilson, compensated for their earlier mistake by taking him down as soon as he gained the ball in the second down, and an incomplete pass in their final attempt saw Newcastle deprived of their fourth touchdown of the match.
The Raiders continued their assault into the final quarter, with the injuries of several players not enough to stop their solid progress. Northumbria were allowed no farther than the 20 yard point, and on their third down here Jono Coombes intercepted before running all the way up the pitch for another Newcastle touchdown, giving his team a 24-8 lead. Newcastle missed the conversion after again trying for the two points, but earned a safety just minutes later to take the score to 26-8.
The Mustangs were pinned into their own half as the clock ran down, unable to make any serious gains against a solid Newcastle line.
The final 26-8 result gave Newcastle solace after their heavy defeat last year and stands them in good stead for their BUCS fixture against Teesside this Sunday, where a win would put them within touching distance of guaranteed promotion back up to the first division.