A HISTORY of tight battles between the Gippsland Gladiators and Northern Raiders had spectators salivating ahead of Saturday’s Gridiron Victoria League match at the Reservoir.
With both teams renowned for their defensive pressure the outcome was sure to favour the cleaner offense, but with two days of rain preceding the clash, which returned for kickoff, there was little ‘clean’ football on show.
The Raiders offence had first crack at putting points on the scoreboard and settled quickly into a running offence, pounding the ball downfield. Despite some huge hits by defensive tackle Jesse Peters, strong safety from Scott Stuckey and returning line backer Chane Davidson, the Gladiators were unable to stop the Raiders’ drive which saw the home team take an early 6-0 lead.
With the point after touchdown successful the Raiders moved to 7-0.
The Gladiators offence took the field ready to respond.
After a couple of loose snaps, centre Matt Wells and quarterback AJ Hector settled in, while running back Chris Atwater took over moving the ball for the offence.
Atwater fought hard for his short gains but it was not enough to prevent the Gladiators being forced to punt.
With the defence making adjustments to the game plan, the Raiders found making yards on their next drive much harder.
The Northern Suburbs outfit worked its way slowly to the end zone only to be brought up short by the Gladiators, who forced a turnover on downs. The Gladiators’ next offensive drive found some traction when Hector completed a 15-yard pass to wide receiver Zac Gallatly, forcing the Raiders’ defence to step back and respect the Gladiators passing game.
This in turn opened up the running lanes for Atwater who made several strong gains before the Gladiators were again forced to punt.
A blocked punt by the Raiders saw their offence take the field in excellent position to start a drive.
The home team again pushed the run making solid yards before completing a pass into the end zone to bring up their second touchdown for the day.
Unable to complete the PAT the Raiders took a 13-0 lead into half-time.
With the rain still falling, and the field resembling a sty, the second half saw the Gladiators’ offence take the field first.
The Gippslanders were successful in moving the chains before being brought up short once again by the relentless Raiders defence.
The second half quickly became a defensive slog with wet and muddy conditions thwarting both passing games.
The only score for the half came late in the fourth quarter when the Raiders crossed into the end zone on the back of a strong drive to win 19-0.
This Saturday the Gladiators travel to Croydon to take on league newcomer the Bendigo Dragons.
A win this week would almost certainly secure the Gladiators a playoff berth.
For more information visit www.gippslandgladiators.com.au or www.facebook.com/GippslandGladiators