Jacksonville Still on Top in South
Playing at home in front of their delighted fans at the University of North Florida, the Axemen trailed at halftime for the first time this season following a spirited first forty minutes by the visiting team.
A thunderstorm rolled through about 30 minutes before kickoff making for very steamy conditions, but Mayhem winger Jon St John opened the scoring a few ticks into the game by evading a couple of would-be tacklers while skirting the sideline to touch down out wide.
Halfback and goalkicker Will Monnery added the extras for an early 6-0 scoreline.
Stung by the early setback, Jacksonville began to mount pressure by completing sets and maintaining possession, which culminated in two quickfire tries to fullback Will Fletcher and second-rower Jed Pearce. Hooker Lachlan Bristow converted both scores to put the home team up 12-6.
However, Tampa, which is focused on finishing in the top two in the SOUTH, countered with some pressure of their own that resulted in three straight scores by Cody Blackwell, Mike Stoeling and Vert Stephens. Monnery converted two of those tries to see the Mayhem jump out in front 22-12 around 34 minutes into the half.
Then just on halftime, the Axemen hit back when Kevin Wathen forced his way over the line under a pile of bodies. Bristow connected on the conversion from out wide to see the teams go into the half with Tampa leading 22-18.
The lead changed hands again early in the second stanza as Pearce smashed his way through traffic to score his second, and with Bristow’s extras, Jacksonville got their noses in front 24-22.
But just as they had done in the first half, Tampa’s never say die attitude came to the fore when forward Justin Branca muscled his way to the tryline while dragging defenders with him. Monnery again was good with the conversion to edge the visitors back into the lead 28-24.
As play headed towards the water break, Bristow stamped his authority on proceedings by scoring twice and converting both tries to put the home team back in front at 36-28.
It was all Jacksonville through the final quarter with three more converted tries by backs David Thomas and Tyler McClain and Bristow, who bagged his hat-trick, to make the final score 54-28.
Axemen head coach Sean Rutgerson says the game was exactly what they were expecting.
“We knew they were going to be up front, were going to be in our face and it was going to be tight and that’s exactly what happened. We had a couple of errors and they scored a couple of good tries out wide on us, but we pegged it back and we ended up sticking with it.”
It was the Mayhem’s second loss of the season, both to Jacksonville, but Tampa player/coach David Ulch says it's not the end of the world for them.
“That first half was probably our best first half of the year. The second half was like a tale of two teams. Our mistakes started building up and we kept on doing defensive set after defensive set and that’s what hurt us.”
In the other conference game, the Atlanta Rhinos shut out the visiting Southwest Florida Copperheads 74-0.
Among Atlanta’s try-scorers were skipper Nick Newlin (2), Irving Carcamo (2), Daniel Gabrieli, who got his first as a Rhino, and Jason Paul Jr.
“We took it as let’s use it as a good building block game to get us back on the right foot after we lost two in a row,” said Newlin.
“It’s not like the Copperheads show up and lay down. They really believe in themselves and are getting better every game even though the scorelines don’t show it.”
Those sentiments were echoed by Copperheads founder Curtis Goddard.
“We brought 17 up and even though we were a bit under prepared, they took what they did well from last game and worked on it. We’ve got to make improvements to those things in practice, but I’m just proud of the guys.”
The results see the Axemen (4-0) maintain first place in the SOUTH standings ahead of the Mayhem (2-2), Rhinos (2-2) and Copperheads (0-4).
Jacksonville Axemen 54-28 Tampa Mayhem
Atlanta Rhinos 74-0 Southwest Florida Copperheads