Sydney University Lions retained the Foundation Shovel with their 14-7 win over arch rivals, the Bondi Raiders, played on the University Square last Saturday.
In what was dubbed the Homecoming Game, the Lions came from behind in a physical encounter to keep the Shovel in the annual clash between the last two foundation teams in Gridiron NSW.
As Lions coach Andrew Ogborne said, it looked like it might be plain sailing when the Raiders fumbled the ball on their first possession for Dino Srekais, on exchange at Sydney University from Cornell University, to make the recovery for the Lions in good field position.
It was the start of a good night for Srekais, who made 10 tackles, with two tackles for loss, to earn Lions Paw honours on defence.
After gaining possession, the Lions confidently drove the ball down to the one yard line, but were stopped by the Raiders on 4th down to come away with no points despite the early turnover.
From there the game turned into defensive struggle. The Raiders drove close enough to attempt a field goal, but the kick was short. The Lions completed a long pass from quarterback Kiernan Dorney to wide receiver Brandon Austley, to be knocking on the door, but then gave up an interception on a tipped ball on the next play.
The Lions were gaining some control territorially until the Raiders scored on a long-range punt return from 72 yards out to put the Lions behind on the scoreboard 0-7.
The Lions were able to answer back immediately, with running back Alex Watson buffeting his way for a 43-yard run to get the Lions close before Mazen Safkouni finished the job with a two-yard touchdown run. The teams went into the halftime break at 7-7.
The game flowed back and forth in the second half, until cornerback Suren Wickramasinghe made a crucial interception off a Raiders pass to give the Lions the ball in good field position. The offence drove methodically to the goal line and punched the ball into the end zone for the go-ahead score on a two-yard run by Alex Watson.
The Lions defence did enough for the rest of the way home, stopping the Raiders on two occasions when they tried to convert on 4th down and, by the end of the game, the Lions had driven to the goal line and were inches away from scoring a further touchdown for insurance.
It was a tough night at the office, but in the end, the Lions deserved their 14-7 victory against a determined foe.
The Lions will meet UTS Gators at the St George Hockey Centre at 3pm tomorrow (Saturday, November 1), with the winner going to top spot on the table.