12th August 2018
Farnham Rugby Club
1430 Kick Off
Written by Jonathan Griffiths

On an overcast and drizzly day the Bristol Aztecs travelled to Surrey to face the Farnham Knights, who having won their previous game against the Bury Saints were looking to make it back-to-back home victories.  The last time these teams met was at Bristol’s home ground, the SGS WISE Campus in Filton, where the home team went away with the spoils after a 62-14 win. Having made personnel changes following that defeat, the Knights were confident they could beat the Aztecs on home soil, and despite the play-offs being an impossibility the energy and motivation for a win was still high.

Farnham head coach Pete “Too Tall” Fields named offensive lineman Dave Carpenter (#57), tight end Harry Alexander (#88), linebacker Andy Gillard (#23) and quarterback Frano Annandale (#84) as his captains for the match. Speaking before kick-off Coach Fields said “I’ve been incredibly impressed by the commitment we’ve shown in preparing for this game. Bristol is always a great contest and the team has risen to the challenge I’ve set them to go out there and get another win.”

As the clouds grew darker and the rain began to fall, Farnham lost the toss and started the match defending. The first drive of the game saw the Farnham defence stand their ground and remain resilient against a well-coached Bristol team, but after a holding penalty against the Knights moved the away side into the red zone the Aztecs punched through to score their first touchdown. Making their intentions known early, Bristol went for two extra points but were thwarted by the Farnham special teams unit and the score remained 6-0 to Bristol.

Farnham’s first attempt to score didn’t start well with a sack by Bristol and then the Aztecs got a turnover on downs as Farnham went for it on fourth down. However, the Farnham defence made sure they gave the offence another chance with an interception by Michael Peacock (#99). Sadly Bristol’s #32 suffered a season-ending arm injury meaning the match was delayed by 15-minutes as he received medical attention. With both teams having to wait on the sidelines during this delay, the players all re-warmed up and took to the field once more. With Farnham on fourth and four they decided to punt, and on the next Bristol drive Nick Roope (#10), who was playing safety, got the Knights’ second interception keeping the score at 6-0, where it would remain until the end of the first quarter. 

As the second quarter began the Farnham offence couldn’t get firing and their drive resulted in another punt. Bristol this time didn’t make any mistake and scored a second touchdown. Farnham once again held strong on the extra points attempt making the score 12-0.

Another Bristol touchdown and extra point (19-0) gave the impression this could be another big defeat for the home side, but Farnham’s offence finally came alive with two receptions to tight end and captain Harry Alexander (#88), which led to Freddy Wiehe (#27) scoring the first Farnham touchdown of the afternoon. The ‘point after touchdown’ (PAT) attempt was successful meaning the score was 19-7. The Aztecs didn’t seem fazed though and came straight out with another touchdown of their own, plus the extra point (26-7). Another turnover on downs and an Aztec punt was all that was left in the half, and at half-time the visitors led 26-7.

Coach Fields and the team captains rallied the troops during the 15-minute break and following the restart the Farnham offence came onto the field fired up. Coach Fields had told them at half time to score on the opening drive and they clearly listened as Freddy Wiehe (#27) did just that making the score 26-13. 

Coach Fields had also told his defence that the team needed a big stop in the second half, and again his players didn’t fail to deliver as they forced a Bristol punt and got the offence back on the field following the Aztec’s first possession of the half. This time it was tight end Harry Alexander’s turn to put some points on the board as he caught for a touchdown and with the PAT the game was suddenly 26-20 and a ‘one score game’.

The teams were closely balanced for the next two drives, which both ended in punts for either team, but then Bristol’s composure and fitness started to show and despite the best efforts from the young Farnham squad the Aztecs were able to score another touchdown meaning the score at the end of the third quarter was 32-20.

After switching ends Bristol got the next score and a two-point conversion pushing themselves further away from the Knights with a 20-point cushion at 40-20. Farnham weren’t done yet though as Aaron Sekwalor (#42) ran in a hand-off from Nick Roope, who had replaced the injured Frano Annandale at quarterback. This made the score 40-26 and gave the Farnham supporters a glimmer of hope that their team could complete the comeback.

The fourth quarter touchpaper was lit and the fans who had made the trip to Wilkinson Way saw the kind of American Football that has made both teams two of the best in the UK. Bristol scored again and added the PAT making it 47-26 but then Roope launched a rocket to rookie wide receiver Matt Wilson (#80) who brought it in for a touchdown at the back of the end zone to make it 47-32. The extra point was blocked, which then saw Roope (who was also kicking for Farnham) chase the returner down the field and make a huge tackle. For someone who had played safety, quarterback, wide receiver, running back and kicker during the course of the game the commitment shown was incredible.

With the score at 47-32 Bristol delivered their final blow with a TD and extra point, and the Knights couldn’t do anymore given the time remaining. The final whistle was blown as the Knights conceded the game with a matter of seconds left on the game clock and Bristol recorded their fourth win of the season with a 54-32 victory.

Following the game Harry Alexander was named MVP for Farnham. The tight end said “It was an amazing second half performance from all of the players. Unfortunately we didn’t do enough in the first half, but this just shows what we’re capable of if we stick together for next season.”

Coach Fields only had praise for his players, many of whom are playing their first season of American Football, “I don’t think the score truly reflects how we played. We let them start too quickly out of the blocks and that was always going to be difficult coming back from, but the second half score was 28-25 in Bristol’s favour and that shows how close we’re getting to really competing in this league.”

The former Knights player who is in his first year as head coach continued, “Losing as a player used to hurt badly, but losing as a coach is another level of pain and emotion. I am so proud of each and every one of the players today, and I also want to take this opportunity to thank the coaches, staff and fans as well. We have one game left against the London Olympians and we are coming here to win that match.”

The Knights don’t have long to recover as they face the London Olympians this weekend on Sunday 19 August. Once again the match is at Farnham Rugby Club with the kick-off at 14:30. With parking and entry free, and the rugby club bar open for food and drink, the Knights are hoping for the season’s biggest crowd to mark the season finale.