The Manchester Titans Adult Contact Team lost 18-24 to the Peterborough Saxons in the Semi-Finals at AJ Bell Stadium, ending their bid for a perfect season.
The Titans (10-0 in the regular season) were favourites to beat the Saxons (7-3) and move onto the final, but the offense that had averaged 55 points per game, struggled to score points against a solid Peterborough defense.
Both teams were forced to punt on their opening possession and on Peterborough’s 2nd drive, they managed to get into field goal range but Titans DE Andrew Burridge blocked the attempt.
Manchester then drove 42 yards, sparked by a 14 yard catch by WR James Newnes and 16 & 19 yard runs by RB Ryan Newton before TE Ste Kimmins ran into the endzone untouched for a 3 yard score. The extra point was missed but the Titans had taken and early 6-0 lead.
The Saxons we held to a 3 and out on their next possession and punted the ball back to Manchester. Titans QB Alan Mead suffered an ankle injury on the scoring drive and had to be replaced by Chris Payne. He wasn’t able to generate anything and Manchester had to punt to end the first quarter.
Peterborough then went on a 10 play, 70 yard drive composed entirely of rushing attempts, ending in a 2 yard TD run. The extra point was kicked wide left, leaving the score tied at 6-6.
Payne then led the Titans on an 11 play drive, 46 yard drive, thanks to some powerful running from RB Adim Irozuru, that bogged down on the Saxons 24 yard line due to penalties. Payne’s 4th down pass fell incomplete and Manchester turned the ball over on downs.
The Saxons responded with another 10 play scoring drive, this one covering 66 yards and again ending in a rushing TD. The successful kick made the score 13-12.
A 40 yard kick return by Ainsley Battel, gave the Titans great starting field position, and with the help of a 15 yard face-mask penalty, they quickly drove 45 yards in 4 plays, culminating with Ryan Newton’s 4 yard TD run. TE Chris Heap was tackled just short on the 2PAT attempt leaving the Titans trailing 12-13.
Peterborough had time for just 2 plays before the 1st half expired with them clinging onto a 13-12 lead.
Manchester received the 2nd half kick-off and Newnes returned it 53 yards into Saxons territory. With a hobbling Mead returning, the Titans scored on their 2nd straight possession, with Newton strolling in from 8 yards out behind 3 blockers. The XP hit the post leaving the score 18-13 to the Titans.
The Saxons answered back immediately with a huge return on the ensuing kick off to the Titans 18 yard line, and 5 plays later they added their 3 rushing TD from 5 yards out. Their 2 point attempt was good, extending their lead to 21-18.
Another good return by Newnes put the ball at the midfield stripe, and despite a 20 yard run by Newton, penalties forced the Titans Offense backwards and on 4th down from the Saxons 13, Mead’s pass sailed inches away from Newnes in the endzone.
Manchester’s defense held firm though and forced Peterborough to punt. However on the next series Mead’s pass to TE Ste Kimmins was intercepted, despite a claim for pass interference, and the Saxons took over.
However, strong tackling from Titans DB James Dean and a 10 yard penalty, led the Saxons to attempt a rare pass attempt which was incomplete. The resulting punt flew out of bounds, again giving the Titans good field position.
But Manchester’s offense failed to pick up a first down and on 4th & 4 Punter Matt Kinsey attempted to pick up the necessary yards but was held short, turning the ball over on downs.
At the start of the 4th quarter, Peterborough were driving into Manchester’s red zone when a 10 yard sack by DE Burridge, forced a field goal attempt that was missed.
Again the Titans offense moved the ball downfield, but again they failed to get into the endzone, this time on 4th down, Mead’s pass to Newnes was just tipped away at the last second.
The Saxons managed to gain enough yards to allow them to attempt another field goal, this time from 37 yards which was successful, extending their lead to 24-18.
Manchester drove down to the Saxons 23 yard line but 2 penalties left them facing 1st & 35. Following a 10 yard run by RB Jon Gago, Mead found Newnes with a short pass but the Saxons defense forced a fumble and they recovered.
The Titans defense again forced a punt but with only 2 minutes remaining it was do or die for Manchester. Starting from their own 12, Mead found Kimmins for a 23 yard game. Dropped passes on the next 2 plays, didn’t help the cause but on 3rd Down a face-mask penalty gave them a first down. After a sack and 2 more incomplete passes, Manchester’s offense was left facing 4th & 11. Mead was hit as he threw towards Newton, who appeared to be interfered with, but the referees ruled the hit was after the incompletion giving the ball back to Peterborough who ran out the clock.
The Saxons who had upset the West Coast Trojans away 2 weeks earlier had now upset the unbeaten Titans and would go on to face the Sandwell Steelers in the final. The Titans were left to lick their wounds and reflect on what could have been. For the third time in their short history, the team had managed to go 10-0 in the regular season but not win the league. All at the club were bitterly disappointed, but will look towards next season to improve and move forward.