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Nighthawks fall from play-offs following damp draw in Sheffield

The Nighthawks season ended this past Sunday after they came up short against Sheffield Giants in a crucial ‘must-win’ game for both teams.

Facing a resurgent Giants team, who needed to avoid defeat to maintain their place in the Premier North for another year, the Nighthawks got off to the worst possible start as the Giants returned the kick off for an early Touchdown. The extra point was tacked on, and the ‘Hawks were straight up against it.

The Giants returned the kick to the Hawks, and Routledge, back in the line up after missing the defeat against Tamworth last week, got to work. A 9 play drive, with a run heavy look in the wet conditions, stalled in the Sheffield half of the field as the Giants defence swarmed to the ball. Routledge pooch punted the ball into the Giants 20, and Sheffield took over, looking to extend their lead.

Beginning on their own 16 yard line, the Giants put together a good looking drive, moving the ball well during a 13 play series, which put them deep into the Hawks half. Just as it looked like the Giants would convert on 3rd down, the WR dropped a pass that hit him in the numbers and fell incomplete. The Giants sent out the punt team, which executed expertly and pinned the Hawks deep in their own 5.

Trying to get the offence moving in these conditions was proving difficult for Merseyside. The Giants forced a quick 3 and out, and got the ball in the Nighthawks half again. The Giants struggled to move the ball with the run on the first two downs, and forced the Sheffield QB to pass in the wet conditions. This would prove to be a turning point, as LB Stu Taggart jumped over the top of the falling Sheffield WR to spectacularly intercept the ball whilst heading to the ground. Nighthawks ball on their own 40.

The Nighthawks started to put together a good drive, moving the ball efficiently through a 13 yard catch and run by WR Dom Woo, before a holding penalty put them in a 1st and 20 situation. The first two run plays were stuffed by a surging Sheffield defence, before an 18 yard pass to WR Liam Holebrook put the Hawks in 1st and 10 situation from the Giants 12. The very next play, Routledge again found Holebrook, who was in the end zone for 6. The XP was up and good, and the Hawks were tied at 7-7.

The Nighthawks tried to catch the Giants sleeping with a high onside kick to restart the game. The Sheffield second line were wise to this and called for a fair catch. giving them the ball on the 35 yard line in their own half. The next play from scrimmage seemingly turned the game on it’s head again, as the Giants RB found some gaps in the Hawks defence, taking the ball down to the 5 yard line before being pushed out of bounds. The Hawks did what they have done well all year, stiffening in their own 5 to force the Giants into a field goal. The kicker scuffed the ball, but it still sailed through the uprights for a 10-7 Giants lead.

The Nighthawks got the ball back, but once again, found moving the ball difficult, despite a 15 yard penalty for pass interference during the series. Sheffield then had similar problems, turning the ball over on downs quickly, before another Nighthawks series passed without score. As we moved closer to half time, the Giants tried a fake punt from just inside their own half, which was snuffed out after the punter had thrown the ball to their WR, who was tackled just short of the down marker.

Merseyside came out and were looking to take advantage of good field position quickly, looking to score before the half. RBs Murphy and Zvarayi ground out some hard yards before an offside penalty gave the Hawks a new set of downs deep in the Giants red zone. Just as the away team looked to be in a position to score, the ball came out of Routledge’s hand squiffy, and straight to a waiting Giants defender, who returned the ball 10 yards before being tackled by Zvarayi, Routledge and OL Rodriguez. The Giants then ran the clock out to half time, and led 10-7 going into the break.

Receiving the ball to start the second half, the Nighthawks put together a 7 play drive, which was ultimately stopped through a host of false start and holding penalties. They would get the ball back quickly though from the punt, as the Giants returner fumbled the kick, only for S Jonny Weekes to fall on top of it. Nighthawks ball in the Giants half, and they would quickly capitalise.

With Routledge directing plays at the line, the Hawks found yards easier to come by, and RB Murphy ground out some hard yards to put the Nighthawks deeper into the Sheffield half. Facing 4th and 13 from the Sheffield 23, the Hawks elected to go for it and were rewarded as Routledge found WR Eager in the corner of the end zone for a 24 yard TD. The XP was added on, and the Hawks were leading 14-10 early in the second half.

The Giants came out and moved the ball swiftly through a series of outside runs and short passes, and 10 plays later, found themselves deep in Nighthawks territory. Just as it looked they would add a touchdown of their own, the Hawks defence stiffened and forced the Giants to take the field goal, moving the score to 14-13 Hawks.

Looking to ensure that the Hawks got the win that they needed to continue their season, the Hawks came out looking to drive the ball, but were kept at bay by the swarming Sheffield defence, which forced a fumble in the Hawks half of the field. Sheffield got the ball back and wasted no time in driving down field, and running the ball in for a score of their own to move the score to 19-14. The Giants went for 2, looking to extend their lead to 7 points, but the conversion attempt failed.

Moving into the 4th quarter, the Hawks knew exactly what was required and started to show the high octane offence that has been so successful so far this year. With RBs Murphy and Zvarayi moving the ball quickly, and Routledge escaping the pocket on more than one occasion, the Hawks were in great field position to score, and that they did. Routledge found WR Woo over the middle, and the Hawks took the lead once again, 20-19. Electing to go for 2, Routledge again found a receiver in the end zone, with Jordan Houghton snagging the pass as he slid into the end zone. 22-19 Hawks lead, with just under 10 minutes remaining.

The Giants were starting to run out of time, but came onto the field and moved the ball into the Nighthawks half quickly. Despite a couple of penalties stalling them on the way, they were able to move into the Hawks 20, where once again the away team’s defence stiffened up, forcing the Giants to attempt a field goal from about 33 yards out. The Giants kicker had no problems this time, and tied the game up at 22-22 with five and a half minutes left on the clock. A tie would keep the Giants in the Premier North, but wouldn’t be enough for the Hawks to progress to play offs.

Facing an uncertain 5 minutes, Routledge and co got to work with good field position following a good return. Again, Murphy and Zvarayi were able to move the ball efficiently and the Hawks were soon in the Giants half of the field, albeit with 40 yards to go to paydirt. As the game entered the 2 minute warning, disaster struck for the Hawks, as the ball was stripped from RB Zvarayi’s hands as he drove forward for some hard yards. The Giants fell graciously on the ball, and took over with 1:54 on the clock. Armed with 2 time outs, Merseyside could only watch as an injured player took one of those away, and the Giants pushed the ball forward for a first down. The Sheffield QB then lined up in victory formation, kneeling the game out and ending it at 22-22.

This result meant that, with Edinburgh and Leicester battling each other and both sat on two wins, Sheffield would deservedly remain in the Premier North for 2020 with effectively 2.5 wins. It also meant that despite controlling their own fate two games ago and improving on last year’s standings, the Nighthawks would yet again finish in 3rd place, narrowly missing out on playoffs to Division Champions Tamworth Phoenix and second place Manchester Titans. The two play off bound teams had fought out a game at the same time as the Giants-Nighthawks game, with Tamworth coming out on top 21-17.

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