It was more Super Cold than Super Bowl, but Harcourt Hill bore witness on Sunday to a heated encounter between the Oxford Lancers and the visiting Brighton Tsunami. The burgeoning Oxford team, in only its second year of existence and rookies on the University football scene, is growing in stature with every match, but having to play well-established sides is tough. Sunday proved no different, as a battling Oxford outfit fought hard but ultimately came up short.
A quick glance at the opposing sidelines gave the first indication of the scale of the task the Lancers faced. Arrayed in imposing formation on the Brighton sidelines was a veritable army of about fifty pumped-looking players, accompanied by a coterie of coaches and hangers-on. They’d even brought some rather cold-looking cheerleaders, who did their best to look interested. In contrast, the Oxford contingent was a smaller bunch. Their only match for the glitz and dubious glamour of the cheerleaders was a gaggle of bemused-looking friends sitting on a bench, unable to compete with the sheer variety of ways the Brighton bench could roar ‘de-FENSE’ and whoop their rebel yells. The Oxford players, to their credit, looked completely unfazed, and countered with some whooping of their own. Amid the deafening, irritating roar, the first whistle sounded.
The Lancers began well, their defence fronting up well against the bigger Tsunami units and shutting up the Brighton bench for a period as the much-vaunted visiting attack went three and out. On offense, however, it was a different story. It was always going to be difficult for Oxford against a physical Brighton D, but the home attack got off to the worst possible start. The ball popped out of QB1 Zach Rotter’s paws after a mix-up in the first handoff, and the Tsunami players gleefully poured bodies onto it. The visitors promptly drove down the field and opened the scoring with a short touchdown run from their running back, the only consolation for the Lancers being the laughably poor PAT attempt from the Brighton kicker. The sensitive ears of the Oxford crowd winced as the whooping resumed with a vengeance.
The Lancers defense continued their solid start, charging at the Brighton players in a manner that recalled their Napoleonic counterparts of old. Only with more violence. The home offense could not charge through the opposition so easily, however, and only a superb last-ditch tackle from Jonny ‘Priest’ Brooks stopped a Brighton interception being taken to the house. Brooks, the former Southampton Stag, is arguably the shining light in this Oxford side, and he lived up to his holy name with a superb performance on gameday. Try as they might, though, the Lancers defense could not prevent the Tsunami from getting the touchdown, but again tenacious tackling prevented the extra point being scored.
The second quarter began badly for the Lancers, as Teddy Hall’s Rotter was sacked and suffered a dislocated shoulder. The loss of such an important player was a major blow, and, with the squad stretched to its limit, Lancers heads would have been forgiven for dropping. But they never did, and after the Tsunami managed another touchdown, the Lancers offense started to make some big gains. A deceptive fake punt brought them some good field position, and then it fell on that man Brooks again to smash his way up the sideline and bring the Lancers into field goal range with just one second left on the clock. The near-capacity crowd fell into a hushed silence as the field goal unit took the snap, but unfortunately the kick could not be set and the chance went begging. The Lancers had shown their teeth, though, and one could really sense the fear flitting around the enormous Brighton huddle.
Halftime, and disaster for the home support. Their numbers were halved by the fact that the officials needed some assistants, total lack of knowledge of the game seemingly no barrier to ball-boy duties. The second half began much like the first, with an unfortunate error from the frozen hands of the home team gifting field position to the Tsunami, who took full advantage but had the PAT kick tipped. The resulting kick-off bounced off a few hands and led to an immediate safety, to the dismay of the home bench, but as the half wore on, the Lancers improved. Priest continued to rampage through the Tsunami defense, but the Lancers were unable to capitalise, and after another injury, it fell to club President and Lincoln stalwart Guy Edwards to assume quarterback duties. He stepped up to the plate manfully, and led some impressive drives as time began to run out. Ultimately, he could not do enough, and the Lancers slipped to their third defeat of the season.
The small Oxford squad has been stretched to the limit by injuries, but they have continued to fight hard all season and Sunday was no exception. Injured wide receiver Jamie Papasavvas ruefully observed that ‘if we had the same numbers as others I’m sure we’d be such a high standard’. Judging by the heart, quality and determination shown by the twenty hardy souls who turned out for the Lancers at the weekend, he may just be right.
PHOTO/ GEORGE COLENUTT