By Twm Owen
American Football BAFA Southern Conference Division Two West
South Wales Warriors 10 – Torbay Trojans 6
The South Wales Warriors claimed their second successive divisional title after surviving their toughest examination of the season by a Torbay Trojans team containing a Welsh international athlete.
The Warriors had taken the advantage in the British American Football Association Division Two South West title race with a convincing 48-14 victory over Torbay a fortnight ago. But the side which travelled to Llanharan, including Welsh hammer thrower Jonathan Edwards, were determined to restore some pride and not allow the Warriors to take the title without a fight.
All the scoring was completed in the first half and the Warriors defence all but secured the victory when they denied the Trojans from scoring when they were within four yards of the home end zone with just over two minutes to play.
Once the Trojans had turned the ball over two runs for first downs, inside the final two minutes, by running backs Christian Rees and Joshua Hughes meant the Warriors would keep possession as the clock ran out.
“Exhausted,” said Warriors head coach Geraint Roberts when asked how he felt at the final whistle.
“The Trojans played well. I’m hoping that’s our bad performance out of the way before the play-offs and we’ve still got Cornwall to play.
“We were tested today but I’m not happy with the performance but we’ve still won the division so we’ll celebrate but it will be just a bit of a muted celebration.”
There was no indication of what would be an error strewn performance when the Warriors offence took to the field for the first possession of the game.
Receiver CJ Caparas picked up 32 yards when he ran across the back field to collect the ball from quarterback Dean Jackson and head inside the Trojans 20-yard line for what would prove to be one of few productive trips inside the red zone.
After failing to score from three attempts the Warriors were unusually conservative and called on Mick Duncan whose 25-yard field goal sailed just inside the left up right for a 3-0 lead.
The Trojans run dominated offence struggled to make any headway early on and visiting quarterback Hugo Wigginton was sacked three times in his team’s first two possessions.
After Warriors punt returner Warren Coombes ran through a Trojan tackler to set up another red zone possession QB Jackson, on third and long, threw a 25-yard bomb to the far right corner of the end zone to hit receiver Michael Hiles in stride to touchdown. Duncan added the conversion.
But the Warriors would fail to score again despite repeated red zone possessions and a penalty for running into the kicker would prove costly in the second quarter.
The Trojans most promising possession of the game stalled early in the second quarter and punter Paul Romaniuk was forced to kick the ball away again. After Trojan defensive back James Martin grabbed the first of his two interceptions the visiting offence one again stalled.
But the five-yard penalty for running into the punter was enough to keep the drive alive. Wigginton kept the Trojans moving with passes to Jack Farr and James Driscoll while running back Guy Richardson took his team to the Warriors one-yard line.
Though Torbay failed to take advantage of a disorganised Warriors defence on second down Wigginton scrambled around on third down and stretched his arms out to hold the ball over the goal line.
The Warriors defence thought they had not only held up the QB but pushed him back and forced a fumble. However the sideline official was satisfied Wigginton’s stretch was enough to break the plane of the goal line and awarded the touchdown.
Torbay failed to add the extra point and the Warriors lead was cut to four points.
Late in the fourth quarter Martin’s second interception secured possession for the Trojans and when their drive once again stalled they were given another chance as a Warriors player gave away a 15 yard roughing the kicker penalty on a fourth down punt.
Wigginton hit Ben Jenkin for 19 yards across the middle and after Warriors DB Coombes dropped an interception on the following play the QB, who had been harried by the Warriors defensive front all day, showed good composure on third down to connect with big receiver Jamie Stockbridge at the Warriors four-yard line.
With time running out it appeared the Warriors failure to take advantage of some excellent field position, or to have just once more settled for a field goal to add three points to their total, could haunt them.
Defensive lineman Akeem Hallisey got the goal line stand off to the best start when he dumped Wigginton to the ground to add to his sack total and the Trojans never recovered and turned the ball over, on downs, with less than two minutes to play.
Welshman Jonathan Edwards, who was used at running back and on defence by the Trojans, was disappointed with defeat but pleased his side had shown more resilience than in their home loss. The Welsh international athlete felt the game could have gone either way.
The hammer thrower, who moved to England’s south west to study at Plymouth University, where he also played gridiron, said: “It reminded me a bit of ‘uni ball’ with how close the game was and we played as more of a team than we did a couple of weeks ago.
“It was kind of like ‘any given Sunday’, the sort of day anyone could have won it.”
Edwards, who competed at the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games for Wales, had a busy weekend as just 24 hours before meeting up with his Trojan teammates in Llanharan he had been competing for Cardiff Amateur Athletics Club in the British Athletics League Premiership meeting in Sheffield.
The 26-year-old hurled his hammer 57.96 meters in south Yorkshire which was good enough for second place in the B competition while he also took sixth place in the A competition discuss with a 43.29m effort.
“I grew up in Cambridge but I was born in Caerphilly which is how I’m able to compete for Wales,” said the HGV driver who first played gridiron at 16 with the Cambridge Cats.
Despite struggling with a shoulder injury Edwards, who boasts a personal best in the hammer of 66.28m, intends to turn his attention back towards athletics ready for next summer with the aim of selection for the 2022 Commonwealth Games in England.
“I’ll be doing athletics a bit more serious next year and the Birmingham Commonwealth Games are the next goal.”
The Warriors will complete their regular season schedule, at home, against the Cornish Sharks on Sunday, August 4 before hosting a first round play-off fixture.