The Nighthawks began their 2019 campaign on the road again this year, and came away from Leicester with a 23-18 win over the Falcons.
The ‘Hawks started fast, with Safety Jonny Weekes intercepting the Leicester QB on just the second play of the day. The away side couldn’t capitalise on good field position, even going for it on 4th down deep in the Leicester half of the field, and turned the ball over on downs. The Hawks defence then came out and stood strong to force Leicester to punt after a quick 3 and out. A lucky bounce off a Leicester player on the ensuing punt gave the Hawks good field position, and this would lead to the first score of the game. A strong, barrelling run down the middle of the field by Martin Murphy gave QB Routledge an easy job from 3 yards out, and the Nighthawks QB ran the ball into the end zone for 6. The XP was added by Eager, and the Hawks were up 7-0.
The Falcons came back strong, and were driving up field well when a second turnover of the day gave the ball back to Merseyside. The Leicester RB fumbled the ball, and it popped straight into LB Eddie Webster’s hands, despite the Falcons protests. Once again, the away team were able to capitalise from the turnover, with RB Tshimanga taking a screen for 22 yards, before running the ball into the end zone from 33 yards out. Eager nailed the XP, and before the end of the first quarter, the ‘Hawks led 14-0.
Leicester were making mistakes when they had the ball, and their offence stalled via a number of penalties, forcing them to punt the ball away deep into the Nighthawks half. Routledge took over, leading the ‘Hawks to a 4 play, 69 yard series, before running the ball into the end zone untouched from the 2 yard line. The XP was good, and seconds into the 2nd quarter, the score was Leicester 0-21 Merseyside.
Leicester made a change at QB, with recently returned Brad Thompson taking the reigns of the Falcons offence. Thompson managed to drive the Falcons down to the edge of the Nighthawks red zone, but couldn’t convert, with Weekes batting a pass into the end zone down to turn the ball over on downs. It was Leicester’s turn to force a turnover, with Tshimanga putting the ball on the ground after a strong run up the right hand side of the field. The Falcons #55 was on hand to scoop up the ball and Leicester had the ball in great field position. The running back, Lewis Hyde, was able to scorch the Nighthawks defence around the right edge to run the ball in. The 2pt conversion failed and the Nighthawks were up 21-6.
An attempted onside kick from the ensuing kick off by Leicester went straight out of bounds, and Merseyside had the ball in good starting field position, just inside their own half. An onslaught of penalties put the Nighthawks in 3rd and very long, and forced the Hawks to punt the ball away. RB Hyde once again nearly broke away before a TD saving tackle by Weekes. Hyde was most definitely the focus on this drive, catching two more passes from Thompson, before Thompson found Hyde in the end zone on 4th and 9 to put up their second TD of the day. They went for 2 yet again, but failed once more, leaving the score at 21-12 just before half time.
The Falcons came out and surprised the Nighthawks with an onside kick to start the 2nd half, and managed to secure the ball after it was knocked down by the front line of the Hawks. Despite this, a scrappy 3rd quarter saw no scores and a number of fumbles by both teams. First a fumble by Danny Burton gave the Nighthawks the ball back in their own half, before Tshimanga repaid the Falcons with a fumble of his own, right as the Hawks were driving close to the Leicester red zone. A number of penalty flags also negated some big plays by both teams, the biggest of which was a swing pass from Thompson to Hyde down the Nighthawks touchline. Ben Rawthore also came out of the 3rd quarter with an interception after a deep pass down the left hand side landed in his hands after the WR fell down after contact with #6.
The 4th quarter started off much like the 3rd quarter had ended, with another fumble by the Hawks from Murphy. This would, however, lead to the next points of the game, via a safety. The Nighthawks defence forced the Falcons into a quick 3 and out and they brought the punt team on to kick the ball away. However, a botched snap went over the head of the punter, who could only fall on top of the ball in the end zone to give the Hawks 2 critical points. Pete Norbury was credited with the pressure for the safety.
The Falcons managed to punt the ball away right down to the Hawks 3 yard line, before Tshimanga carried the ball out close to the 20 yard line. A long run up the middle from Routledge put the visitors in great field position, which the Hawks weren’t able to turn into points. A good punt by Matt O’Connell pinned the Falcons deep into the own territory, starting the next drive on their own 4 yard line. The Falcons were able to convert on 4th and 4 from the Wildcat formation, before a sack on the next set of downs by Matt O’Connell forced the Falcons to kick the ball away.
As the Nighthawks tried to work the clock to their advantage, they exchanged punts with the home team, before a late score by Leicester gave them a sniff of a chance. Taking over on their own 31 yard line, Thompson drove the ball down field quickly, hitting the WR in the end zone with 20 seconds to go. A failed 2pt attempt left the Falcons 5 points behind, trailing 23-18.
The Falcons tried one last onside kick, but it sailed hopelessly out of bounds with a number of defenders converging on the ball. The Nighthawks then chose to kneel the game out, ending Leicester’s 30 game, regular season unbeaten streak.
The Nighthawks are back in action again next weekend, with another away fixture at Tamworth Phoenix, 4pm kick off – find out more details here https://www.facebook.com/events/642600349521091/