New England Football League Battle Tested Gladiators outlast Generals' Charge | New England Football League
New England Football League

Battle Tested Gladiators outlast Generals’ Charge

It was indeed a battle Sunday afternoon when the Taunton Gladiators came to Manning Field to take on the North Shore Generals. When the dust settled it was the Gladiators who breathed a sigh of relief. The stickiness of the afternoon brought with it a plethora of mental breakdowns for everyone before the rain showers that preceded the second half helped both teams settle.

The typically well-coached Gladiators seemed to be out of their element in the first moments of the game. Maybe it was the physicality of the Generals or the absence of key members in both the offensive line and special teams, with their kicker Conor Flaherty on vacation, but penalties and mental mishaps derailed the start of the returning Northeast Champs.

The action got started with an interception by #20 of the Generals Kevin Sledge early on. After a back and forth Cory Burnham was able to hit Dre Williams for a score to put the Generals on top 7-0. Soon after Ckay Miles had an incredible 57 yard return that appeared to be the spark the Gladiators needed but it was negated by a penalty, continuing the trend of mental errors that uncharacteristically troubled the Gladiators in the first half.

A defensive battle ensued and both teams coughed up the ball; first Jari Plaud from the Generals and then the well travelled Leo Barnes, now with the Gladiators. The most impactful mind blunder came in the second quarter. After failing to move that ball the Gladiators were forced to punt. Number 4 for the Generals Dre Williams was deep to return. The booming punt sent Williams into a backpedal and he muffed the punt which rolled inside the Generals’ 5 yard line, where the Gladiators recovered it, giving them their first ray of sunshine in what had otherwise been a pretty gloomy first half.

Gladiators went to work expeditiously on offense as they handed the ball off to Barnes for a quick score. Their hopes of evening the score were quickly dwindled after kicker, Paul Ollivierra missed the point after try. This sparked was quickly shut down when quarterback Cory Burnham hit Dre Williams on an incredible 45 yard tightrope throw that beat the Gladiator coverage and put the Generals back on top. After a holding penalty that negated a successful two point conversion, the Generals made the point after try to go up 14-6, a score that stood until torrential rain poured and halftime began. After the rain seceded and the game was back on, the second half brought the resurgence of the Gladiators. Mathew Letourneau found #85 Jordan Burris for a beautiful acrobatic diving catch in the back right corner of the endzone. The gladiators evened the score at 14 a piece after Barnes scrambled in for the conversion.

With the game on the line the Gladiator defense tightened up, forcing a three and out that culminated in a dropped 3rd down pass by Jari Plaud. With a comeback in mind, Mathew Letourneau went to work with back to back first down passes to Evora and QB turned WR Drew Bolton. Then with 1:15 left on the clock Letourneu hit Mark Evora who made the catch of the day; a one handed diving catch after freeing himself of the tight coverage from Omari Mobley, who had fallen down after dealing with a foot injury he had nursed for the previous few plays. Evora caught the ball tumble and pushed himself off the ground as he ran into the endzone for the go ahead score. Felipe Njeim, who was key in the rushing attack of the Gladiators all day, put the game out of reach with a misdirection carry into the endzone for the two point conversion.

The Generals attempted to answer back with an incredible kickoff return by Dre Williams. However, after futile attempts of closing the distance gap and with mere seconds on the clock the Cory Burnham launched a pass intended for Dre Williams that was intercepted by #8 Drew Bolton to seal the fate of the game.

The battle between these two giants will surely have playoff implications. The Generals, who held the lead most of the game will now have to refocus, especially offensively if they wish to contend in the near future. With back to back losses it is imperative that they find their offensive identity and begin to execute it in order to remain relevant in the ever changing landscape of the league. Taunton fought all game; against the opposition, the referees, even against themselves, and it was this fighting spirit that helped them to stay in the game. With much to still ascertain offensively in the NEFL, the Generals proved that the Gladiators, dubbed “God’s team” by their whimsical kicker, could bleed. They are mortal. The bell has been rung and the call has been put out: It is anyone’s game now. The crown for the NEFL is up for grabs.

Contributed by Jonathan Pérez. Articles for the NEFL website can be sent to neflscores@aol.com

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