by Richard Choksey
The Durham Saints stood on hallowed ground on Sunday as they lined up against the Leeds Celtics in the final match of the regular season. The Graveyard has seen Celtics rise to top of their division and win the championship, and fall out of contention to rebuild a season later. As they faced the Saints, this year’s team stood on the dividing line between glory and obscurity. A win would open the door to the playoffs whilst a loss would end the season there and then.
The Celtics took possession to start the game and had an opportunity to set the standard to follow. A penalty on first down did not bode well and the subsequent run for 0 yards shook the spectators’ confidence, but the players on the field kept their composure. Adam Smith lofted a pass over defenders in coverage into the path of Caspian Paget, who snatched the ball out of the air whilst keeping his feet in bounds long enough for the play to be declared a catch for 1st down. The Celtics built on this success, running the ball into scoring distance. Tension built again as they reached 4th down without scoring but this was surmounted with a well-timed screen pass to Trevor Milestone that put the Celtics up by 6.
Boyed by their success, the Celtics’ defence took to the field with a mind to match the offence. Three plays later they ran off the field having stopped the Saints dead. These opening drives set the tone for the rest of the half. The defence continued to shut the Saints down whilst Jack Fuller and Darren Mould both made spectacular catches in the endzone, which gave the Celtics a respectable but not insurmountable 19-point lead going into half-time.
At the restart the Celtics looked to continue their success. The Saints took possession and the Celtics were aware that the opposition would want to stage a comeback. Any hopes of this were quashed as the defense forced another punt within 4 plays. This continuity was complimented by another successful offensive drive that saw Caspian Paget receive a well-thrown pass on the sideline with a lane of open space in front and two burnt defenders behind.
With the score at 26-0, the Saints seemed to realize that they were in line for a humiliating shut out. This instilled a sudden sense of dynamism that the Celtics struggled to hold back. A pass to the outside flew beyond a Celtic, into a Saint’s hands and suddenly a score was on the cards. Various runs brought the Saints within yards of the goal line and a valiant last stand by the Celtics was broken on 4th down as a tight end caught the ball for a touchdown.
Following this score, the momentum seemed to turn against the Celtics. Although the defence reestablished their form, the offence began to stall. This slump was capped of when the Celtics gave up a safety on a punt attempt deep in their own territory. This marked the low point of the game for the Celtics. The offence returned to the field after a successful defensive series with a mind to regain control. Trevor Milestone realized this by making a dramatic cutback that lead to a touchdown. As full time approached, the defence was able to hold the Saints in check and the clock wound down without further ado. The Celtics won the game 33-8 and went home happy to be looking forwards to the playoffs.