JACKSONVILLE, FL – The Jacksonville Axemen defeated the Atlanta Rhinos by a score of 38-28, on a University of North Florida (UNF) soccer field. With this win, Jacksonville earns the title of 2016 Southern Conference (SC) USA Rugby League (USARL) Champions.
In retrospect, what this game’s outcome means for each club:
After winning the SC USARL Championship Game, the Jacksonville Axemen’s record improves to 8-0-0. Also, the Axemen qualify for their sixth USARL National Championship in the club’s 11-year history.
For now, the Axemen must wait for the final USARL playoff game Saturday, 20 August. There, Boston takes on Philadelphia to determine who their opponent will be in the 2016 USARL National Championship.
Regarding the Atlanta Rhinos, their season ends at 3-4-1. As a consolation, Atlanta’s record for its last four games in 2016 was 3-1. After starting 0-3-1, the Rhinos underwent a remarkable turnaround. Also, the Rhinos scored 28 unanswered points on the unbeaten Axemen. Looking back through the 2016 SC USARL Season and Playoffs, no other club came close to this run.
Early in game, Jacksonville jumps out to big lead
About ten minutes into the game, Jacksonville Axemen Head Coach Ben Nicoll scored his club’s first try. Following the try, Axeman Hayden Diggins kicked the conversion, giving Jacksonville a 6-0 lead over the Atlanta Rhinos. Around the 18-minute mark, Axeman Joe Eichner secured another try for his team. After another Diggins conversion, Jacksonville took a 12-0 lead over Atlanta.
Approximately 24 minutes into the first half, Jacksonville’s Ryan O’Hara earned an unconverted try. With these points, the Axemen took a 16-0 lead over the Rhinos. As the game closed in on the 30-minute mark, Axeman David Thomas tacked on another unconverted try. After scoring four consecutive tries, Jacksonville extended their lead over Atlanta to 20-0.
Before halftime, Atlanta starts cutting into Axemen’s lead
After the four Jacksonville tries, Atlanta responded in a big way. Just before the end of the first half, Rhino Dustin Syas scored his team’s first try. Followed by Joe Cowley’s conversion, Atlanta cut Jacksonville’s lead to 20-6.
As a result of this drive, Atlanta (temporarily) took back the match-up’s momentum from Jacksonville. Most importantly, this try and conversion signaled the beginning of a big Rhinos rally that lasted well into the second half. Atlanta’s points at the end of the first half brought the official halftime score to Jacksonville 20 – Atlanta 6.
To open second half, Atlanta scores 22 more unanswered points
Just after halftime, the Rhinos’ Syas and Cowley (respectively) scored and converted another try, closing the Axemen advantage to 20-12. Just two minutes later, Atlanta’s Matt Fontana added yet another try. After Cowley successfully converted the try, the gap closed further to 20-18.
After earning these points, Atlanta’s Syas scored his third (unconverted) try. At this point, the Rhinos took a 22-20 lead over the Axemen. About halfway through the second half, the Rhinos Says tacked on still another try, again converted by Cowley.
Following Atlanta’s five-try run, the Rhinos had scored 28 unanswered points against the Axemen. With only ten minutes left in the game, Atlanta held a 28-20 lead over the heavily-favored Jacksonville Axemen.
In end, Jacksonville rallies to win SC USARL Championship
However, in the closing minutes of the contest, the Axemen regained control of the game. With ten minutes left, Axeman Diggins scored a try and conversion, cutting Atlanta’s advantage back to two points. Just three minutes later, after a Thomas try and Diggins conversion, Jacksonville retook the lead 32-28.
As the Championship Game ended, Axemen Josh Cock and Diggins teamed up respectively for another try and conversion. After Jacksonville’s last converted try, the SC USARL Championship final score read Jacksonville 38 – Atlanta 28.
Both clubs respond regarding the outcome of Saturday’s SC USARL Championship
Following the end of Saturday’s SC USARL Championship, both Atlanta and Jacksonville each spoke with Rugby Wrap Up (RWU). Atlanta Rhinos senior-level player Salesi Tongamoa provided his team’s perspective regarding the outcome of the game and the 2016 Season. Jacksonville Axemen Head Coach Ben Nicoll also commented on what went right and wrong with his club through the game.
Atlanta Rhino Salesi Tongamoa:
“Honestly, yesterday’s loss probably stands out as the toughest Atlanta Rhino’s defeat suffered in the club’s three-year existence. However, the boys played hard, making all of us proud. Overall, we are elated with the way we finished the season. going 3-1 down the stretch. In the end though, we just failed to close it out against a tough and physical Axemen club at home.”
“Actually, I think the Axemen wrote us off after we fell behind 20-6 at halftime. Nevertheless, the effort by the boys to come all the way back and take a 28-20 lead at one point was outstanding.” As a club, we are already looking forward to 2017. Lastly, we wish Jacksonville all the best in the 2016 USARL National Championship Game.”
Jacksonville Axemen Head Coach Ben Nicoll:
“Honestly, we [Jacksonville Axemen] served as our own worst enemy this past week. First of all, we made way too many mistakes. Secondly, we gave away some needless penalties. However, we came into the game expecting a really tough matchup. Needless to say, the Atlanta Rhinos brought their ‘A-game’ to Jacksonville.”
“Overall though, hats off to all of our boys, our Jacksonville Axemen team. Even though our club fell behind, we refused to panic. Instead, our team just kept playing footy. As a result, the Axemen came back at the end to take the 38 to 28 win. Of course, an ugly victory always places well ahead of even a best-scenario defeat.”
For now, RWU awaits more details about the 2016 USARL National Championship
Without a doubt, many readers want to watch the 2016 USARL National Championship Game. As of publication time, RWU knows this contest will take place on Saturday, 27 August. Also, RWU knows either Boston or Philadelphia hosts this year’s Championship Game.
However, RWU must wait until the USARL releases more information. Most likely, the USARL will provide more details following the conclusion of Saturday’s (20 August)Boston, MA vs. Philadelphia, PA matchup. After this happens, RWU will pass the word along to everyone.
Links to more information about the clubs, the SC USARL, and RWU
At this time, there is nothing more to share. As always, please feel free to comment below. Also, make sure to look for and “Like” our Facebook Rugby Wrap Up Page. In addition to Facebook, please follow us on Twitter@: @RugbyWrapUp, @BrianCCole, @Junoir Blaber, @MeetTheMatts, @LukeBienstock, @Ronan Nelson, @GeHar and @Declan Yeats.
P.S… In order to best keep up with the Jacksonville Axemen, Atlanta Rhinos, Tampa Mayhem, Central Florida Warriors, and the SE USA Rugby League (USARL) this season, enlist the help of Rugby Wrap Up.
To learn more about the Jacksonville Axemen, please visit the club’s website. For more information about the Atlanta Rhinos, please visit the club’s website. To learn more about the Central Florida Warriors, please visit the team’s website. For more information about the Tampa Mayhem, please visit the team’s website. Finally, for more details relating to the USA Rugby League (USARL), please visit the website.