IAFL Wild Card Game
Craigavon Cowboys 17
Belfast Trojans 14
THE Craigavon Cowboys continued their quest to recapture the Shamrock Bowl with a narrow win over IAFL Northern Division rivals, the Belfast Trojans.
The Northern Division has been the strongest group in 2011 with all three teams making the play-offs.
The division was won by the Carrickfergus Knights with a six and two winning season, followed closely by the Trojans who also posted a six and two winning season but were pipped for first place by points difference.
The Trojans had finished their regular season with a last minute win over the Knights and so were strong favourites to beat the Cowboys who had only managed an even four and four season.
The Cowboys opened the scoring early in the first quarter when kicker Thomas Sheridan stroked the ball over the bar from 42 yards out to put three points on the board for the Cowboys.
Both defenses dominated the first quarter and the Trojans were rewarded with a two point safety when the snap for a punt went astray in the endzone and was downed by Sheridan.
With half-time approaching and both team struggling to maintain momentum on their offensive drives, the Cowboys put an 80 yard drive together that ended with a score from their most productive pairing of the year when quarterback, Chris Bondi found tight end Peter Loughran with a 35 yard pass in the endzone.
Heaping the pressure on the Trojans, the Cowboys converted a two point attempt, when Gary Carr carried the ball into the endzone to end the half 11-2 for the Craigavon team.
With a few adjustments at half-time, the Trojans came out determined to get back in the game and it was not long before running back Alex Newton pounded into the endzone for six but the extra point attempt was blocked making the score 11-8.
At the end of the third quarter a 25 yard completion from Bondi to receiver Conal Walsh set up full back Bobby Murray to crash into the endzone from three yards out. The extra point attempt was missed and the score was 17-8.
With the clock running down in the fourth quarter Newton struck again for the Trojans and although the extra point was blocked, the home team Trojans were just a three point field goal away from forcing the game into NCAA rules overtime.
With just over two minutes left on the clock, the Trojans recovered a fumble to take possession of the ball at their 40 yard line but a number of mistakes and penalties forced them into a fourth and 25 situation. The deep pass was intercepted by Sheridan and the Cowboys ran out the clock to win by 17-14.
The Cowboys now travel to Limerick to face 2011 IAFL League Champions. the University of Limerick Vikings and the possibility of a Shamrock Bowl XXV appearance in Morton Stadium, Dublin on July 31.
Head coach, Greg Loughran, said: “I am convinced that the Cowboys have peaked at the right time. We were not very competitive at the start of the season and we lacked the belief that we could grind out a result.
“However, we have come through that patch and we believe that we deserve to on the same field as the best teams in Ireland.”
The Most Valuable Player trophy went to Gary Carr, although Sheridan, Bondi, Walsh and Loughran all deserved honourable mentions