Glasgow Tigers 0-14 Newcastle Raiders
With perfection and a conference championship on the line, the Newcastle Raiders visited the Glasgow Tigers for the first time in years. Before the season even began, this game was earmarked as a decider, as the clash of the Border Conference. Last year, Glasgow wrangled victory away from the Raiders in Newcastle, as the fiercest rivalry in the conference went to triple overtime.
Welcoming their auld enemy back for seconds, Glasgow knew this was no ordinary contest. Averaging over 40 points a game, and possessing a stingy defence, the Raiders posed the greatest challenge to the Tigers to date. Beating Stirling in the fashion that they did gave Glasgow hope that when it came to elite offenses, they could handle themselves better than most.
To win this game however they would have to stunt the power of a double wing t offense, one that carved up the Glasgow defence for 40 points in the epic encounter last year. Not having the high powered offense that they used to possess, Glasgow knew that if Newcastle scored early and often, the game could get out of reach.
On an cold but mainly dry day except for the conditions underfoot on the fast Garscube pitch, the Raiders kicked off to the hosts and immediately forced a punt repelling rookie runners James Crymble and Michael Sinclair and pressurizing quarterback Andrew Armes into throwing an errant pass that was a diving catch away from being intercepted. Newcastle went straight to work utilizing their so far ultra-efficient double wing t set that places emphasis on an ugly yet extremely hard to slow down style of running football.
Starting on their 20 yard line, the Raiders advanced 16 yards in two plays. However their next two plays were not as successful, as the Tigers forced a third and five situation on Newcastle’s 41. Undaunted, the Raiders stuck to their game plan and converted the down by galloping all the way to within the Glasgow five yard line. Stunned, the Tigers were too dazed to stop the touchdown as Newcastle scored on their first drive. The Tigers recovered however to keep the score to just six as they successfully defended the two point conversion.
Safety Nick Halfpenny sparked Glasgow to life as his return set the Glasgow offense up in Raiders’ territory. Crymble could not get the ten yards needed to kick start Glasgow’s response, yet Newcastle’s ambitious defence was drawn into a false start gifting the Tigers a new set of downs. The result was the same however as after a failed Crymble run and an incomplete pass to wideout David Teenan, Armes was caught behind the line and sacked to force Glasgow’s second punt.
Newcastle, backed up at their 15, continued to pound the ball and gain yards and would have had another long run on third down, this time for a touchdown, if not for an excellent one-on-one tackle by Halfpenny. The Raiders then mixed it up with a pass off the run fake which allowed the receiver to get behind the Glasgow secondary and again potentially go unhindered to the endzone, but the pass was overthrown. Newcastle were stopped twice after that and on fourth down rookie Kenny McCulloch forced the turnover tackling the ball carrier behind the line of scrimmage.
The good work done by the Tigers’ defence went unrewarded however as Newcastle immediately forced a three and out. The Raiders still couldn’t into any rhythm themselves as they only managed one first down before punting back to Glasgow. Pinned down on their own 32, Glasgow went to the air to find some yards but both their second and third down passes fell incomplete. Their punt however was muffed by Newcastle under pressure from the ever present Halfpenny, and guard Ali Ritchie gladly fell on it for the Tigers.
Buoyed by their turn of fortune, rookie Stu Donaldson was next to test the Raiders, and he made a first, before Glasgow were unsuccessful on two passing attempts, the first a near catch by Ewan Beesley, then a third down shot down the field to Teenan who seemed to be impeded on the play, yet no pass interference penalty was called.
Newcastle started their drive after the punt in an unfamiliar fashion. Two fumbles, on the snap and running back exchange, both of which were recovered by the visitors, ended the Raiders’ drive before it began, giving Glasgow the chance to score points before the end of the first half. Glasgow’s need to score created their most successful and fluent drive of the game so far, exciting the sideline as they marched. A wide receiver reverse by Matteo Crawford was followed by four consecutive pass completions to Sinclair, Tommy Gorman (who managed to maintain possession after a nasty hit), Beesley and Sinclair once more. Glasgow ran out time however in Newcastle’s territory but went into the break spirited by their excellent defensive performance.
Newcastle however came out swinging in the second half, ruthlessly advancing (after a great kick-off return) to the Glasgow five yard line where they found the endzone once again, deflating any momentum Glasgow had built up. Once again their two point attempt went unsuccessful, but only through the immense efforts of Halfpenny who again stepped up to win a one-on-one encounter close to the line.
Halfpenny continued to show the Raiders his talents as on the resulting kick off the safety shredded the cover unit and with one stationary defender left to beat, Halfpenny unluckily slipped on the wet pitch which cruelly wasted Glasgow’s best scoring opportunity. The Tigers started to become hungry again and set off on another deep drive. Starting just inside the Raiders’ half, Donaldson and Sinclair got the first down with a run and catch respectively. Newcastle then forced a fourth down after successfully defending Donaldson, but needing to stay in the game Glasgow gambled and on what seemed a broken play, Armes flipped the ball to running back Winston Ojei who forced his way past the first down marker. Ojei, who was already playing on both sides of the ball, had to try and convert another fourth down after the Tigers were only able to advance seven yards. His attempt forced the referees to call for a measurement, but the spot of the ball denied the Tigers a conversion.
With the ball at their 9 and after a series of flags thrown against both teams, the Raiders on their first play ran 35 yards yet again being deprived of a long touchdown run by Halfpenny. Newcastle managed one more first down before rookie Dave Ellen ended their drive on a fourth down attempt and ended the third quarter.
Needing to get points on the board and fast, Glasgow came up disappointedly flat as an incomplete pass to Crymble, an Ojei run and a Beesley reverse failed to make the first down. A stubborn Newcastle continued to take their chances as their offensive philosophy converted two first downs. However, the Raiders deviated from their game plan once more to try and throw the ball on the unsuspecting Tigers. Figuring they were a perfect pass away from another six points, the Raiders threw the ball on first down only for Halfpenny to break up the play and cornerback Connor McSharry to stab the ball out of the air. Suffice to say, Newcastle did not throw again.
Glasgow however were still struggling to regain their previous rhythm as three downs evaporated as the Raiders forced an incomplete pass to Gorman, a sack of Armes as he looked downfield to throw and on third down intercepted a pass intended for Teenan. On the return the referees let a vicious helmet to helmet hit on rookie receiver Robbie Huxtable go unpunished, an act that only infuriated Glasgow’s sideline.
Newcastle, with the ball just outside Glasgow’s half, preceded to systematically work their way down the field running over Tigers as they went. On a first down on Glasgow’s 29, the Raiders stormed to within the ten yard line only to be denied yet another touchdown by the imperial Nick Halfpenny. A flag on Glasgow gave the Raiders the ball on the 4, but then the referees let another ambiguous decision slide with lineman Jeff Pawlikowski apparently forcing a fumble in the pile but to no avail.
Glasgow were undeterred however and forced (with the help of a Newcastle penalty) the Raiders into a fourth down situation. With less than 30 seconds to go, the Raiders refused to run out the clock and strived to score a third touchdown. But on the fourth down attempt, a pass by the Newcastle quarterback was tipped by Ellen and recovered by Glasgow leading to a last gasp chance for the Tigers to end their touchdown drought.
Armes’ Hail Mary pass fell into Raider hands however which brought the enthralling game to a close. Newcastle’s offensive superiority proved to be the difference, if only for the first two drives of each half. Glasgow, unable to play spoiler to Newcastle’s perfect season, must take solace in the fact that they were able to slow down Britain’s third highest scoring offense. They have supplied the blueprint for the bigger teams down south on how to face the Raiders in the championship playoffs; a fact the Tigers will be able to take great pride in. Curing their fumbling problem from a week ago aided the Tigers’ cause in what was thought to be an inevitable outcome. And on “any given Sunday” it turned out the Newcastle Raiders were better than the Glasgow Tigers.