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Back to back Capital Bowl Champions

posted Mar 8, 2012, 3:31 PM by hutt valley Spartans   [ updated Mar 8, 2012, 3:33 PM ]
The season finale had arrived and it was a repeat of last year’s Capital Bowl with the undefeated Hutt Valley Spartans taking on the Wellington Wolves. Last year it was the Wolves who came into the final as favourites with an unbeaten record, but the Spartans really turned it on that day and came away with a 34-8 victory and the second title in the clubs history. Two years ago the Spartans had made the final against the North City Knights after completing an unbeaten regular season. They lost by a large margin in that game and the players that were there that day had a point to prove, and a perfect season to finish off.

The home team Spartans won the toss and chose to receive, and after a solid return by rookie WR Chris Matsopoulos, the offence got straight to work. Veteran running back Ese Amosa got things started with a 20 yard run that would set the tone for the whole game. Amosa had four rushes that went for more than 15 yards on the day as well as almost ten first downs that kept the chains moving all day and the Wolves offence off the field. The opening drive was helped by a big pass interference penalty that got the Spartans deep into opposition territory, but a couple of costly penalties caused the drive to stall at the Wolves 18 yard line when Quarterback  Jonny Connor couldn’t connect with Jed Peniata on a fourth down pass.

The Spartans defence had four shutouts during the regular season and were a huge reason for their six straight wins, so they were looking to assert their dominance when they stepped on the field for the first time in the game. Alex wood led the way on the first play when he brought the Wolves running back down for a five yard loss. Vena Kalepo bested that a few plays later when he first tackled the running back for a loss and then got to the Quarterback after an errant snap. This forced the Wolves to punt and with the ball back in their possession just short of half way, the Spartans went back to Amosa to start off another drive and he came through with an 18 yard bruising run to get them into Wolves territory for the second drive in a row. Amosa was leaving Wolves defenders lying in his wake with every punishing run and when slot back Scott Thomson made his first reception of the game down the right sideline, the Spartans were five yards away from the first touchdown of the day when the refs blew the whistle for the end of a quick first quarter.

The small break in play gave the Spartans enough time to come up with the right play on the sidelines and it was Connor who ran it to the left on an option play before tucking it under his wing and driving over the goal line behind the offensive line that had been so crucial to the team’s success all year long. It was his second rushing touchdown in as many weeks and was his second Capital Bowl touchdown after scoring the game clinching touchdown in last year’s final when he returned an interception about 40 yards for the score. They failed on the two point conversion which was a trend that continued throughout the game as they wouldn’t get any extra points all day long.

The ball was kicked back to the Wolves and they started their next drive in nice fashion, completing a few passes and getting a couple of first downs to get near half way. They went to the well once too often with their pass plays though. As the quarterback dropped back, rookie defensive lineman Jaqob Meafou busted straight through the O line and hit him as he was throwing. The ball floated up and fell straight into the waiting arms of Wood who was close to getting a sack himself. With no one in front of him he took off towards the end zone and never looked back. The only footsteps thundering behind him were those of his team mates who ensured an easy sprint in for the touchdown to put the home team up 12-0.

When the Wolves got the ball back on the next kickoff, they mounted a fantastic drive to try and get themselves back into the game. They had a good balance of run and pass and their receivers in particular made some very good plays that got them all the way down to the Spartan 2 yard line with four downs left to get across the goal line. This would end up being a massive moment in the game as the defence would stand up and protect their line in dominant fashion. Three runs were all stuffed and the offence still had half a yard to go to get their first points on the board. On fourth and goal the Wolves quarterback rolled out to his right looking for an open receiver in the end zone but Spartans safety, Chris Toms chased him down from the backside for the sack and he fumbled the ball out of bounds for the turnover. The sideline went up together after such an impressive goal line stand as the offence went back out on the field. They were soon forced to punt and the Wolves had one last chance to get some points before half time. They ran a few plays and got a first down but with only seconds left on the clock, they tried a trick play with a toss to the running back on a sweep who then turned to throw the ball back to the quarterback who had leaked through the defence to the opposite side of the field. As the ball sailed through the air, it looked like they might get something positive out of the play. But just as the QB went up to make the catch, linebacker Jed Peniata who had read the play perfectly, leapt in front of him with perfect timing to make the intercept. With no one in front of him he strolled in for the touchdown all the way from the Wolves’ 46 yard line. As the defence celebrated their second defensive touchdown in the end zone, all the players slowly became aware of the yellow penalty flag lying on the ground way back down the field. The Spartans had made their first big mistake of the game during the return. At the start of the return one of the Wolves defenders was hit with a big block and was then taunted by one of the Spartans. That small disciplinary indiscretion was extremely costly as it happened before the touchdown had been scored. The penalty negated the touchdown but the Spartans did retain possession, but with no time left in the half, it was a big mistake that took some easy points off the board.

The Wolves would receive the opening second half kickoff and embarked on a long time consuming drive that would end fruitlessly with a shot downfield on a long fourth down conversion attempt. With the Spartans offences first chance in the second half they went straight back to what had worked in the first. Amosa got the drive started perfectly with three runs for 30 yards and had the ball out to mid field. A couple of penalties would then drive them back to their own 35 yard line before Connor, with all the time in the world, stepped up in the pocket and threw a long pass down the right sideline that dropped in perfectly between the cornerback and safety. Wide receiver Colin Leilua-Toilolo rose up between them to make the catch before quickly side stepping the safety and running in for the 65 yard touchdown to put the Hutt Valley team up 18 points to nil.

After a short kickoff the Wolves had great field position near half way, but down 18 points and with time running out in the third quarter, they were in a position where they needed to try and pass the ball to get a quick score. This gave the defence a strategic advantage and they used it to full effect when Wood dropped back and got his hand on a pass intended for the tight end and the ball bounced up and went straight to his fellow linebacker Daniel Kendall who returned the ball 20 yards before being pushed out of bounds at Wolves 40 yard line. The solid defence continued from both teams as two punts were forced to end the third quarter. The teams turned around and the Spartans were starting to lose the field position battle. They were in a bit of a hole and were forced to punt again with the ball on their own 10 yard line. With both teams starting to tire due to the intensity that only a finals game can provide, there was some lethargic blocking from the Spartans and the punt was blocked into the end zone and fallen on by the defence for their first points in the game. Their two point conversion was also unsuccessful so the score was 18-6 with about ten minutes to go.  

The offences for both teams were having differing fortunes with the Spartans starting to struggle with their execution and the Wolves moving the ball down the field very well as they tried desperately to get back into this game. That all came to a halt however when Spartan rookie Mark Tanu got some great pressure up the middle from his nose tackle position. The quarterback was in his grasp when he lofted a pass down the middle of the field. Once again it was tipped up in the air by a Spartan defender and this time it was Toms who was the benefactor and he would make the Wolves pay for their fourth turnover of the day by running the pick back 80 yards on a long weaving return from one side of the field to the other for the second pick six of the afternoon. The Wolves were forced to punt again on their next possession and Toms was back to field the kick. He had another fantastic 80 yard return similar to his first for his second consecutive touchdown, but back where he fielded the ball was yet another penalty flag. This time it was for an illegal block in the back and the Spartans let another score go begging due to poor discipline.

They would retain possession however and with the ball deep in their own red zone, running down the clock with running plays was the order of the day. During their attempt at this however, the Wolves snuck into the back field and got amongst the handoff to the running back and forced their first turnover on the day. Unfortunately they couldn’t do anything with it and the Spartans would get another chance to milk the clock and end the game. Once again though, to end a messy fourth quarter for the offence, they turned the ball over on an intercept and gave the Wolves a chance to finish the game on a high note with the win well out of reach at this point. It was the Spartan defence who quite fittingly finished off the game on the highest of notes as another rookie lineman William Oloapu recovered a fumble to get their fifth turnover of the day and end the game with a 24-6 victory.  This was their second consecutive title and was the first time in the clubs history that they had a perfect unbeaten season. Outstanding full back Ese Amosa was named the Capital Bowl MVP with 154 yards rushing. He kept the chains moving all day and made things easy for his offence to do what they needed to do to get the win. The entire defence was the other star of the show as the team failed to hold on to the shut out, but the defence did not allow an offensive score for the fifth time this season. What a fantastic end to a fantastic season for the Hutt Valley Spartans. Great to see a lot of new players making big contributions as well as the usual suspects doing what they do for yet another season. Congratulations to everyone involved with the club and we hope to see you all back again next season.