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Spartans secure their spot in the AFW Finals

posted Dec 5, 2011, 5:01 PM by hutt valley Spartans   [ updated Mar 6, 2012, 1:51 AM by ian vena ]
Week five of the AFW season was the second match up of the season between the Hutt Valley Spartans and the Wellington Wolves. The Spartans won in week two by twenty points to nil and the Wolves were looking to gain a bit of momentum as well as revenge after they had beaten the Porirua Giants the week before to get their first win of the year. Their first meeting was a wet rainy affair but for this game it was a beautifully fine, scorching hot day and the scene was set for an afternoon of exciting football.

The Wolves won the toss and chose to receive and from the outset it was plain to see that they were going to give the home team a real run for their money. They came out firing and with a good mix of running and passing they put the Spartan defence under a lot of pressure. They were eventually stopped but not before putting a scare in the defending champions. The Spartan offence came out looking to impress, but they were held to a three and out so they punted it away to give the Wolves fairly good field position. They took over and continued on how they had started but this time they finished the drive off with a short touchdown run and after a failed two point conversion they were up six points to nil and had put the Spartans behind on the scoreboard for the first time all season. 

The offence started with a short field as the Wolves kick off only made it as far as the half way line. Rookie Joe Oloapu was making his first start at Fullback and he started out a little shaky as he fumbled the ball on the first play of the drive but luckily managed to fall on it to keep possession. He soon made up for this though with a fantastic 18 yard run for a first down, which seemed to kick-start the offence. Daniel Kendall came in for a few runs and gained 30 quick yards as the Offensive line started to dominate in the middle of the field. He capped off the drive by running in untouched for a 6-yard touchdown to tie the scores up at 6. A great kickoff by Bevan Wood forced the Wolves deep in their own territory and after the defence stepped up to force a three and out, Linebacker Henry Tauti had the ball bounce his way on the ensuing punt. He made an amazing return down the left sideline before being tripped up inside the Wolves red zone. A couple of penalties forced them back out to the 35 yard line, but Bevan who was filling in for a few plays at Wide Receiver made a great catch down the right sideline on a perfectly thrown pass by Jonny Connor. This gave the Spartans a first and goal from the 4-yard line. After Oloapu was stuffed for no gain on a run up the middle, Connor found Slot Back Jed Peniata wide open and he strolled in for the touchdown. A second failed two point try left the score at 12 – 6 with the momentum back in the hands of the Spartans.

The Wolves came out firing on offence and looked to have gotten back in the rhythm that they had to start the game, but just as they got past halfway, an errant snap was dived upon by rookie defensive lineman Steve Aigaga for the first turnover of the game. The next drive was riddled with penalties and the Spartans ended up turning the ball over on downs near halfway. Then the Wolves did exactly the same thing as Kendall knocked down a fourth down pass. With halftime almost upon them, Connor took a shot down the left sideline to Colin Leilua-Toilolo who was in double coverage but rose up between the defenders to pull down the pass before spinning out of their attempted tackles and running into the end zone. The Spartan sideline erupted as he came down with the amazing catch and then went up again as he crossed the goal line, but the sideline official saw him step out at the 1 yard line so Connor threw the ball to his other Slot Back Scott Thomson on the very next play for his second touchdown pass of the half. Yet another failed two point conversion and a couple of incomplete passes by the Wolves later and it was half time with the Spartans leading by 18 – 6.

The Hutt Valley team hadn’t scored a second half point all season and this was the main topic of discussion during the interval. It was incredibly important for the team to come out aggressive in the third quarter and take the Wellington men out of the game early. The Spartans were missing four of their usual starting offensive linemen for this game and were fielding a much smaller line than they had in the first two games. This hadn’t had any negative effect on the offensive production however and the opening drive of the second half was arguably their best work of the day. Oloapu and Kendall shared the load with the highlight being a 30-yard sidestepping run from Oloapu that showed shades of Barry Sanders as he was shaking defenders out of their boots before being bought down just over 20 yards out from the goal line. Kendall got his second touchdown of the day as he bounced out to the left and snuck the ball inside the goal line pylon before being pushed into touch on a 12-yard dash. Connor finally hooked up with Colin on the extra point try after two previous incomplete passes to the young wide out to extend the lead to 20 points. The following two Wolves drives were where the Spartans really grabbed the game by the throat and dashed any hopes that were left of the visitors getting a much needed victory. Alex Wood made a big play on the first drive when he tipped a low pass straight into the hands of Peniata who went on a patient, searching run before finding some open pasture and sprinting in for his second touchdown. The following drive it was Middle Linebacker Joe Heredia who played provider when he tipped another errant throw and Safety Chris Toms swooped on the pick and returned it 47 yards behind a convoy of blockers for the third Spartan touchdown in about four minutes. Both extra point conversions came up short but the Spartans had now scored 38 unanswered points and taken a commanding lead.

The fourth quarter was a very messy affair highlighted by penalties and a spirited comeback by the Wolves. Being down by a big margin on the scoreboard would have seen a lot of teams lay down and give up, but the Wolves continued to play with intensity and aggression and their attitude paid off when a short Connor pass was picked off and returned 10 yards for the third pick six of the day. The Spartans were getting frustrated with their own play and some of the officiating calls and dug themselves into a couple of silly field position holes with some ill discipline on and off the field. They were driving themselves backwards and the Wolves took full advantage of their poor discipline when Bevan was backed up at the back of end zone trying to punt. They got through and blocked the punt that bounced around to the front of the end zone before being dived on for the second straight touchdown by the defence.

The score was now 38 – 20 and the momentum had all shifted towards the Wellington team. Their offence decided they wanted to get in on the act and spread things out a bit for their new quarterback. They made a few nice completions to keep the chains moving before a roll out to the left found a receiver out running the defence in the back corner of the end zone. They scored again and with another conversion to follow were within 10 points and had some people on the Spartan sideline starting to worry. The Spartans regrouped on their next drive though and got back to the disciplined football that had got them in front to begin with. With a perfect display of power running the Offensive line was opening up huge holes and Oloapu was running as hard as he was in the first quarter. Taking the majority of the carries on the drive, he ran with speed and agility and put the final nail in the coffin with a well deserved 7-yard touchdown on another run that left defenders wondering where his fast feet were taking him. Connor finished things off with a pinpoint pass to Thomson for the extra point conversion to give the final score of 46 – 28.

In one of the highest scoring games ever seen in Wellington, the Hutt Valley Spartans came out on top and kept their perfect record intact at 3-0. With this win they moved two games ahead of the Wolves and with the Wolves only having two games left on their schedule and the Spartans owning the tie breaker, they have guaranteed themselves a spot in the Capital Bowl. Congratulations to offensive player of the day Joe Oloapu who ran with poise and purpose on his way to 123 yards and 1 touchdown. It was a fantastic display from Joe in his first game at running back and he has set the bar very high for himself. On Defence the award went to Inside Linebacker Henry Tauti, who made several crucial stops to end Wolves drives and was a force around the field. He even managed to fit in time for a punt return and a kickoff return to show just what a balanced player he is becoming.

Next up for the Spartans is a Porirua Giants team who are playing to get ahead of the Wolves on the ladder. Their last match up was a 14 nil win to the Spartans and they will be looking to cement their dominance of the league so far this season.