After several weeks off, the Manchester Titans Juniors looked to get their season back on track with the visit of the struggling Bobcats. The Bobcats were also looking for their first win of the season and had never previously lost to the Titans.
The Titans received the opening kick-off and promptly went on a 9 play, 61 yards drive, highlighted by 2 catches by WR Nate Farrell, the latter a 29 yard catch and run from QB Tom Hargreaves for the Titans first TD. A high snap on the extra point was picked up by Kicker James Newnes who ran in for 2 points and an 8-0 lead.
Manchester’s defense stepped up on the Bobcats first drive with LB Mike Sanusi recovering a fumble on only the 2nd play, giving the Titans great field position. However the Titans offense failed to convert a 4th & 3 on the Leeds 16 yard line turning the ball back over to the Bobcats.
Leeds then drove down to Manchester’s 36 yard line but Patryk Tomaszewski and Jack Brymer combined on a crucial 4th down tackle to hold the Bobcats short of the First Down. The Titans took over but were soon facing a tricky 2nd & 20 after a couple of penalties. But 2 passes from Hargreaves to WR Dan Johnson of 16 and 22 yards moved the ball into Leeds territory. On the next play Hargreaves hit WR Sam Pollard with a 22 yard catch setting up a 1st & Goal from the Leeds 4. 2 plays later Newnes ran the ball up the middle for his first rushing TD. Another high snap meant the there was no chance at the extra point, leaving the score at 14-0.
That was the score at the end of the 1st quarter as Leeds looked to get back on track. However, Manchester’s defense forced another punt which Dan Johnson looked to have returned for a long gain, but a block in the back penalty brought it back. The Titans were unable to move the ball and were forced to punt.
A short kick gave the Bobcats good field position and they drove the ball down to the Titans 2 yard line and looked like they were about to score when Sanusi forced a fumble that Adam Carter recovered. However Manchester failed to capitalise as Hargreaves fumbled a handoff which gifted the ball right back to Leeds. The Bobcats weren’t going to make the same mistake twice and ran the ball in to score on the next play. The 2PAT attempt failed making the score 14-6.
The Titans then had a 10 play, 53 yard drive with featured a 14 yard Sanusi run, a 26 yard Pollard catch, a 11 yard Newnes run and 2 runs by Hargreaves. But the drive ended when Johnson couldn’t hang onto a 4th down pass, turning the ball over on downs to Leeds on their 18 yard line.
With less than 2 minutes to play, the Bobcats moved the ball downfield quickly until they were facing a 4th down at Manchester’s 16 yard line. But Brody Holland intercepted the Leeds QB to end the first half with a 14-6 lead.
The Bobcats made the best possible start to the 3rd quarter with a good kickoff return to the Titans 40 yard line and from there, it took them one pass to score. The 2PAT was successful, tying the scores at 14-14.
From here the Titans could have easily rolled over and given up but they showed great spirit with a 10 play, 64 yard drive, featuring the strong running of Newnes and 3 catches by Johnson. The final play was a 26 yard TD pass from Hargreaves to Johnson on 4th & 11 to give the Titans a 20-14 lead. Newnes kicked the extra point making the score 21-14.
Leeds tried immediately to hit back but tackles by Will Weston and Sanusi on the Leeds QB forced another punt. Manchester were unable to move the ball though and also had to punt and with the Bobcats driving the 3rd quarter came to an end.
Leeds were facing a 3rd & 5th at the Titans 32 when Hargreaves sacked the opposing QB for a 2 yard loss. And then on 4th & 7 it looked like the Bobcats would pick up the first down after a 7 yard run but Hargreaves forced another fumble which ball-magnet Sanusi recovered.
However the Titans failed to make to most out of the turnover as a Hargreaves pass intended for Pollard was tipped and intercepted by Leeds and returned to Manchester 39 yard line. But once again the Titans defense forced another fumble – this time Weston recovering. Manchester attempted to put the game out of reach but failed to convert on 4th down from the Leeds 32 giving the ball back to the Bobcats.
Titans DL Bruce Sibanda sacked the Bobcats QB on the next drive and on the next play Sanusi tackled him short of the first down marker forcing another punt. However despite a 15 yard Hargreaves run, the Titans QB was sacked twice making the Titans punt the ball.
With just 3 minutes left to play, the Bobcats got the ball on their 30 yard line needing a TD and 2PAT to win the game. In 6 plays, they had driven to the Titans 10 yard line and had a 1st & Goal with a minute to play. Titans DB Jack Brymer batted down a sure TD pass on the first play, and then Sanusi and LB Joe Moura Da Luz tackled the QB after a 7 yard gain. On 3rd & Goal from the 3, Weston and Sibanda stopped the QB’s attempted run up the middle.
4th & Goal from the Manchester 3 yard line – this was the ball game. The Leeds QB dropped back and fired a pass to his slot receiver who grabbed the ball in the endzone but Tomaszewski & Farrell combined to knock the ball loose before he could complete the catch. Incomplete pass, Titans ball. Hargreaves took a knee to run off the remaining seconds and the Titans had a dramatic win against the Bobcats.
Titans’ standout players were Dan Johnson with 6 catches for 92 yards, Tom Hargreaves with 181 yards passing and 39 yards rushing, Mike Sanusi with 12 tackles and 2 fumble recoveries, but team captain James Newnes was named MVP by the coaching staff because of his contribution and leadership.
Manchester’s next game is home to Gateshead Senators on Sunday 29th July.