Rangers Colts Start the Season with epic Come from Behind Win
Saturday saw the opening of the 2017 GV Junior season, this year, rebranded as the Colts competition. The Rangers took to the field in Reservoir for a 3pm kick off, taking on the Melbourne Uni Lions, runner up in the 2016 Colts VicBowl.
There are games that you will remember for a long time. And there are performances that you will remember for a long time. The match up on Saturday had both.
The Rangers had early success, running the wild cat offense with James “Speedy” Dall receiving the snaps at Quarterback after only one training session in the position, while rookie Tom “Calves” Taylor took the start at running back. The wild cat appeared to confuse the Lions defence, and the Rangers had their way, marching the length of the field on their opening possession, with Dall and Taylor clocking up yards. The drive was capped with a 2 yard reverse to Taylor, posting the first touchdown of the season, and the first career touchdown by the rookie. As would prove the case for most of the day, the 2 point conversion failed.
Following a strong opening stand by the Rangers defence, the offense soon had the ball back, and Dall continued to orchestrate from the shotgun. Starting with good field position, Dall moved the ball downfield, with the help of Taylor, and a handful of penalties that saw the ball move forward, back and forward again. Dall eventually carried the ball into the end zone on a 5 yard scamper, dodging three tackles and going over the right pylon. The conversion failed again, and after two possessions, the Rangers were leading 12-0.
At quarter time, the Lions defence adjusted, and the wildcat started to lose its purr. With the running game stagnating, and the defence teeing off on the run, Dall turned to the air to try and establish a passing game. With the game drawing towards half time, the Rangers were looking forward to heading to the break with the two score lead, and the opportunity to adjust the offence, and reinforce the defence that was holding strong.
With less than 4 minutes in the half QB Dall, back pedalling in the face of a fierce rush from the Lions LB #40 Junior, tosses the ball which was picked and returned deep into the Rangers half of the field. Backed up immediately, the Rangers defence showed their first cracks for the day, and the Lions had a late score to bring the score back 12-6 just before the half.
On the ensuing possession QB Dall, again under pressure from a full blitz, this time finds LB Junior from the Lions who returns the ball for a game tying pick-six, right on the half. As it would turn out, the happenings just before half would only serve as an appetiser to the second half that would see supreme performance from both Dall & Junior.
At half time, the Rangers rallied around Dall, who had been rattled by the two successive picks, and looked to come out refocused in the second half and take control back of the contest. Dall, also playing as kicker and punter, opened the second half, which promptly saw the Lions take an 18-12 lead on the back of a kick return touchdown.
The rest of the third quarter proved to be the Dall versus Junior contest. The Rangers offensive line would hold their own, but were struggling to get down field for the second level blocks. QB Dall regularly found himself in open field situations, facing a one on one battle with the Lions’ Junior. Time and again, the two would charge each other, with Dall looking to side-step, skip, or run through Junior, with the Lions LB wracking up the tackle count, and Dall copping 3, 4 or 5 yards a clip. Sacks, the occasional stuffed run up the middle, first game penalties, and the slippery condition as the rain briefly fell being the primary stumbling blocks to marching the field. Mid way through the third quarter, the Rangers finally found their big play, and Dall peeled off a 64 yard rush, notching over 100 yards for the game, to tie the game up at 18.
Almost immediately, the Lions would strike back with their biggest offensive play of the day, taking the score back 24-18. Following a 3 and out by the Rangers, the Lions looked to go big again. In the last drive of the third quarter, the Lions found their WR across the middle behind an undersized CB in Nicholas Moore, and looked home for all money. Moore, having given up the reception, turns and gives chase, bringing down the receiver to whom he was giving up at least six inches in an incredible display of grit and determination that epitomised the Rangers efforts on the day. Facing a goal line stand, the Rangers defence held tough, with Jaxon Tiziani getting through the line to chalk up tackles for loss, and Dane Francic playing lock down coverage on their receivers. At this point, Dall was called in to corner to assist with the pass defence, recording the coverage on the 4th and goal play from the 8 yard line, that returned the ball to the Rangers.
The fourth quarter was a series of back and forth defensive stands. The Rangers D-Line and Linebackers continued to cut into the Lions back field, giving their QB no time to make passes, and their running backs, no room to move. The Lions defence rested largely on LB Junior, and his one on one duel with QB Dall continued, with hard nosed running, and solid collisions the order of the day.
As the time ticked away, and the offenses both looked to stall, the Rangers appeared to be running out of ideas, and Dall, running out of steam. The Rangers received the ball inside their own 20 yard line, with 2:15 left on the clock, and what appeared one last chance to tie up, or win the match. With the offensive playbook consisting generally of QB keeper for the last quarter, the Rangers play call team substituted in Fawlo Apai and new transfer Majny Majing to WR and called in the pass play. With Apai and Majing both streaking long, the defence had to respect the receiver threat, giving Dall just enough time to set himself and throw long. Majing beats his defender, then turns back for the ball, catching it whilst running backwards. With his defender turned inside out, Majing spun for the endzone, shaking off three tacklers and ran the final 60 yards for the game tying 81 yard touchdown.
With the score tied at 24, Dall found Apai for the 2 point conversion, and the Rangers regained the lead, 26-24 with 2:08 left in the match. “Do it all” Dall then lined up and delivered the best and most important kick off for the day, driving the ball long, and out the back of the end zone on the hop for a touch back, eliminating the threat of a second KR touchdown for the day. With the Lions needing to march the 80 yards for a go ahead score, they immediately turn to the air – only to find the man of the last two minutes, Majing, taking the pick near midfield.
With only one time out left for the Lions, the Rangers were able to close out the game with a few runs, and a first down, for an incredible come from behind, season opening win.
James Dall would finish the day with centuries in yards both in the air, and on the ground to go along with a goal line pass defence, and his punts, punt returns and kick offs. Linebacker Junior of the Lions would finish the day with 10 tackles, 2 for loss, 1 pick six and 1 forced fumble & recovery. Two outstanding individual performances from two teams that both gave everything they had on the day, and both have plenty to build upon in the 2017 GV Colts season.
To see all the photos from the game, check out the fantastic work by Barend