The Merseyside Nighthawks played their last game of the 2018 season this past weekend as they took on the Sheffield Giants in what turned out to be an exciting and close fought contest, which was ended prematurely by the inclement weather.
The Nighthawks didn’t get off to the best of starts, as they conceded a touchdown on the Giants first possession of the game. However, the Merseyside offence came out and put together a very long drive on their first possession that took them all the way down the field to tie the game up. Running back Martin Murphy capped off the drive with a short touchdown run which made it 7-7. The ‘Hawks defence fared much better on their second outing, as they forced Sheffield to punt and Merseyside moved the ball well again. A missed field goal attempt meant they came away without any points as the game stayed tied into the quarter.
As the second quarter progressed, the teams seemed to be evenly matched and it took a moment of brilliance from wide receiver Alex Eager to break the deadlock. Quarterback Ben Robinson tossed the ball deep left and Eager showed strong hands to make the grab over a defender, before running away for the score. The Nighthawks went for two and Liam Holebrook caught the pass from Robinson to make it 15-7 to Merseyside. With time running out in the first half, Sheffield moved the ball as quickly as they could into Nighthawks territory to give themselves a shot at the end zone with the last play of the half. The ‘Hawks D stood strong though, as the deep pass was deflected away by outside linebacker Stu Taggart to ensure Merseyside went into the break with the lead.
Receiving the ball to start the third quarter, the Nighthawks offence demonstrated again that they can put together long drives, as they successfully moved the ball down the field through the air with Holebrook and on the ground with running back Jimmy Sutherland. RB Murphy finished things off with his second touchdown run of the day to make it 22-7 to the ‘Hawks. Sheffield’s offence responded by moving the ball towards the Nighthawks end zone and they opted to go for it on fourth down as they sought to get more points on the board. A pass intended for a target over the middle was intercepted by defensive back Vijay Masaun who returned it to the Hawks 20 yard line before Eager made another big play on the ensuing possession. The Great Britain Lions WR came up with a big catch for a huge gain to take the ball deep into Giants territory but the ‘Hawks were unable to get any further following a holding penalty. Sheffield then took advantage of some more penalties and poor tackling from Merseyside’s defence to get their second touchdown of the game as they closed the gap, making it 22-14.
The Giants forced their only turnover of the day, as they intercepted a deep pass from Robinson intended for Eager but it didn’t take long for the Nighthawks to get their hands on the ball again as a poor snap from Sheffield led to the ball being mishandled before middle linebacker Mark Houghton crashed through the middle of the line to snatch the ball himself. About to go down under pressure from a Giants player attempting to recover the ball for his side, Houghton risked a lateral pass to Masaun who gratefully caught the ball over his head and headed to the end zone for a huge defensive score as Merseyside restored their two possession lead at 28-14.
As the game entered the fourth quarter, Sheffield managed to reduce the deficit once more through a long touchdown pass to give themselves some hope late in the game as they made it 28-21. Robinson and the Nighthawks offence took some time off the clock and Eager converted a short field goal which gave the home side some breathing space at 31-21 but it was to be shorted lived. The Giants returned the Merseyside kick off for a touchdown to take Sheffield within one score of turning things around at 31-28.
While the game was intensifying late on, so was the rain that had started at the beginning of the fourth quarter. As Merseyside’s offence took to the field once again, the deluge really took hold. The ‘Hawks needed no further invitation to stick to the ground game as they took time off the clock and gradually churned their way towards the Giants end zone with Sutherland and fellow running back Jace Cascoe moving them to within sight of re-establishing their two possession lead. With the ball within 8 yards of the end zone on fourth down and 3 yards to go, the Nighthawks looked set to go for it knowing that a touchdown would likely be enough with little time remaining in the game for a response from Sheffield. The weather was not on anyone’s side however, as thunder and lightning caused the game to be stopped for safety reasons and while both sides waited for a respite to try to finish the game, further lightning strikes meant that the officials had no choice but to call the game, giving the leading Nighthawks the win, 31-28.
Whilst it wasn’t how Merseyside expected to close the game out, it does mean that they end the season on a 4 game winning streak with a 5-5 record, a great improvement on their mid season record of 1-5. Whilst some of the other teams in the Premier North have a game left to play their 5-5 record could very well see the Nighthawks finish the season in third position in the Premier North.