Black Knight as Cardinals' run ends

AMERICAN FOOTBALL: The proud unbeaten record of the Ipswich Cardinals fell apart as the Northgate-based American football side met their match in the shape of Tony Stitt, running back for the Guildford-based PA Knights.


THE proud unbeaten record of the Ipswich Cardinals fell apart as the Northgate-based American football side met their match in the shape of Tony Stitt, running back for the Guildford-based PA Knights.

Last season's Division One - and entire league's – leading rusher Stitt moved teams this year from the Southern Sundevils to the Knights, and how the Cardinals wish he hadn't!

His one-man show was the Knights' offense. The reliable Cardinal defenders checked every threat bar Stitt.

There was no way through the air for quarterback Ashley Heath to go as the Ipswich secondary blanketed the lauded Knights receivers. Dangerous rusher Rob Scruby, ironically an Ipswich native, was ineffective.

It was the unbelievable agility, speed and power of one man that broke the hearts of the large, vociferous Northgate crowd.

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This enthralling encounter between the winners of the last two BSL Division Two titles was an excellent advert for British gridiron.

Both sides have established themselves as Division One front runners and they put on quite a show as their grit and determination provided mouth-watering entertainment.

The first quarter was locked in stalemate, despite some good drives by both sides with Stitt and Cardinals' Paul Borstel running the ball with passion.

The chess game between Ipswich's head coach James Mitchell and his opposite number Steve Rains, was riveting and it was a lucky bounce that broke the deadlock in the second quarter.

Mitchell gambled on a fourth down, and short play led to an excellent drive that saw Ipswich move down to the Knights' 20-yard line.

Cardinals quarterback Marvin Jimerson dropped back to pass under heavy pressure, but when his passing arm was knocked the ball squirted out and bounced up off the back of a lineman before dropping into the grateful hands of Knights defensive tackle Michael McMillan.

The unlikely ball-carrier trundled his way up the park before being tackled from behind at the Ipswich six-yard line.

Stitt sprinted in for the first touchdown of the afternoon. Steve Belcher missed the extra point so it was 6-0 to the Knights.

Solid special-teams play by the hosts pinned the visitors from Surrey back in their half all day and that first fortunate bounce for the Knights was matched by Ipswich when Stitt was tackled hard by a gang of Ipswich defenders at his own 20-yard line.

His resultant fumble was scooped up by defender Cory Whitman and advanced to the one-yard line.

The college league's 1998 'most valuable player' Steve Coles blasted in to the end zone to tie the scores, and kicker Sandy Francis reciprocated Belcher's miss.

With just minutes left in the half, the Stitt show continued and he powered the P.A ( Personal Assurance) side upfield.

Inspired by their offense, Cardinals' defense toughened and did superbly well to keep the Knights out of their end zone, forcing the visitors to opt for a Belcher field goal to end an exhilarating half 9-6.

Cardinals were slow to react, still digesting their half-time oranges, and Stitt powered in again from six yards to increase the away side's lead. Belcher's second attempt hit the post, leaving the score 15-6.

Cardinals' offense advanced the ball proficiently enough at times but the disciplined Knights defenders took advantage of any Ipswich mistakes.

Jimerson was intercepted late in the third-quarter to stall another fruitful drive, but the Cardinals defense proved their superb record is no fluke and forced the visitors to punt away possession frequently.

Into the fourth-quarter and another crucial fourth down and more short play for Ipswich. Again Mitchell put faith in his offensive line but this time Borstel was met by a solid wall of defenders and possession was lost.

Ipswich's defenders continued their stubborn resistance and the little-used Scruby fumbled the ball after he was gang-tackled.

The Ipswich offense took over and intensity rose. First downs by Stevie Stephens, on the ground, and a pass reception by Stu Brereton took the Cardinals to within scoring range before a penalty slowed momentum.

Sandy Francis kicked a 38-yard field goal to reduce the deficit to 15-9 and there was renewed belief evident on the home team's bench.

The Northgate crowd sensed it, and rarely has such a noise been made at the Sidegate Lane stadia. It was heartwarming stuff for Ralph Alexander and his team but this quickly turned to heartbreak as Stitt again changed the game.

He broke loose up the middle and dashed 66 yards untouched for his third touchdown, silencing the home team and their supporters.

Belcher's kick was blocked to end the scoring at 21-9 to the visitors. Try as they might, the Cardinals offense couldn't overcome the quality of the Knights defending. A last-second interception by Ipswich linebacker Cartez Hester shot the crowd to it's feet but was cut down as time expired.

Despite this result, Cardinals' record is still a fantastic achievement. A newly-promoted side standing at six and one after seven games can stand proud.

The Maritime Cargo Processing-backed Cardinals now have one week practising before their next match, away to the London Mets.

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