Sydney Uni Lions faced undefeated opponents in their last two rounds and emerged victorious to remain the only undefeated team in the Gridiron NSW competition leading into the playoffs.
First up, the Lions faced traditional rivals, UNSW Raiders, in the annual battle for the Foundation Shovel. The Lions and the Raiders are the only remaining foundation teams in the league and this year there was more at stake than just bragging rights in the rivalry game.
The Raiders came into the contest with a record of 7-0 and were looking to beat the Lions for the first time in over 15 years.
However, the Lions had other ideas. Despite local game review pundits predicting a close contest, the Lions stamped their authority on the game from the start.
The Raiders opened the game in a three running back set, but the Lions shut down the attack and cornerback Kevin Trinh picked off a pass to put the Lions in good field position. The Lions were methodical on offence and drove in for touchdowns on their first two possessions to take a 14-0 lead.
And that was the trend for the rest of the first half, with the Lions’ defence keeping the Raiders in check, while running back Alex Watson (#40) gained yards on the ground and quarterback Matt Hilley (#14) distributed the ball to receivers Sam Darcy (#84), Andrew Ghaly (#89) and Harry Granger (#5) in the passing game. At half-time, the Lions had moved out to a 28-6 lead.
The opening play of the second half proved to be the icing on the cake, with running back Abdul Kadir (#25) taking the kick-off all the way back for a touchdown to deflate any hopes of a second half Raiders’ comeback.
From there, the Lions coasted home to a 35-18 win to remove the Raiders from the ranks of the unbeaten.
Next on the schedule were the West Sydney Pirates, with the Lions travelling to Wollongong to take on last season’s Waratah Bowl opponent.
Again, the Lions faced an undefeated opponent looking to replace the Lions at the top of the table. But, again, the Lions responded with authority, shutting down the Pirates on their first three possessions, while driving in for scores to take a 20-0 lead into the second quarter.
Quarterback Matt Hilley (#14) was having a career day for the Lions, and would finish with 24 completions from 37 attempts for 380 yards while throwing six touchdowns. By the end of the first half, Hilley had thrown two touchdowns to Sam Darcy (#84) and another to Conor Foley (#21), while Alex Watson (#40) and Charles Adams (#2) had rushed for touchdowns on the ground, and the Lions had the lead 32-6.
But this time the Lions were made to work for the win all the way to the end of the game.
In the second half, after driving the length of the field but failing to score from the one yard line and then throwing an interception that was returned for a touchdown, the Lions let the Pirates back into the game. The Pirates closed to within two points in the fourth quarter, but the Lions held their poise to drive in for another touchdown ‑ Sam Darcy holding his third scoring catch for the game – to seal the win 51-42.
The Lions face their final regular season opponent, the Newcastle Cobras, at David Phillips Sporting Fields, Daceyville, at 4pm this Saturday, November 12.
A win against the Cobras will give the Lions an undefeated regular season and confirm them as the top seed for the playoffs. All supporters are encouraged to get out to the game to cheer the Lions home.