In what is always a critical game of the Nighthawks season, the Merseyside outfit were able to sweep past Sheffield this past Sunday, but it was far from easy.
Notoriously difficult as a defensive unit, Sheffield arrived for the Father’s Day clash at JMO Sports Park looking to upset a Nighthawks team that could draw level at the top of the Premiership North, after Tamworth’s first defeat in 3 and a half years the previous night. Fortunately for the home team, another shock was not on the cards today.
Winning the toss and electing to receive the ball, Sheffield started slow, and went 3 and out quickly. This gave Merseyside the perfect opportunity to start fast, and that they did. As has become a signature of this Nighthawks offence, a methodical 13 play drive saw them put their first points on the board. Facing 4th and goal from the Sheffield 3, QB Routledge threw a pinpoint throw to the back shoulder of WR Alex Eager, who brought the ball down in bounds for 6. The XP was blocked by a strong Sheffield defensive line, and the Hawks led 6-0.
Sheffield came out visibly hurt by the score, and put together a good drive of their own, finding themselves in the Nighthawks red zone quickly. However, a strong defensive stand gave the ball back to Routledge and co. This time, the Sheffield defence stood tall and stuffed the Nighthawks deep in their own half. This would prove to be the tale of most of the first half, as both offences struggled to get things going.
It was clear to see in the first half why Sheffield’s defence has been well vaunted this year, as they created 3 turnovers – 2 fumbles and an interception. They failed to take advantage of any of these though, as the Nighthawks defence continued to play hard and fast in the trenches.
The Hawks defence continued to stand tall, and just when it looked like the Giants were about to score, captain and LB Mark Houghton intercepted the ball on his own goal line, returning the ball to the Merseyside 30 yard line before stepping out of bounds on the Sheffield sideline.
There appeared to be a change in momentum towards the Nighthawks after a big special teams play. After the Hawks went 3 and out in their own 20, Matt O’Connell hit a line drive up field into the Sheffield half. The Giants returner fumbled it slightly, and Brandon Parker-Stone was on hand to hit the returner hard enough to dislodge the ball. LB and Long Snapper Eddie Webster was on hand to fall onto the ball, and the Nighthawks had it in Sheffield territory.
Once again though, the Giants defence stood tall, and forced the Hawks to go for it on 4th and ultimately fail. This would bring the half to a close, and the Hawks took a slender 6-0 lead into half time.
Keen to ensure that the Giants had no way back, Merseyside came out fast in the second half. After a good return to near halfway by returner Eager, Routledge kept the ball on an option play and ran the ball in from 47 yards out, taking advantage of some good blocking from the offensive line. Eager tacked on the XP, and the score was quickly 13-0.
The two teams then exchanged punts a few times, before LB Mike Bassey intercepted the Giants QB just inside the Nighthawks side of the field. This led to another one of the long, sustained drives that the Nighthawks love, which ended when WR Jordan Houghton caught the ball and walked into the end zone untouched after some blown coverage from his corner. Eager once again added on the XP, and the Hawks led 20-0.
This would be the end of the scoring for the day, and time expired as the Hawks punted back to Sheffield once again. The Nighthawks move to 5-1 for the year, and are now only second to Tamworth on the head to head mechanic.
The Nighthawks now hold the fate of their season in their own hands and face a tricky trip to Manchester this Sunday, knowing that a victory will take them closer to play off football at the end of the year.