Lightning punch far below their weight in Typhoon loss
Like women I meet in a bar, Blockhouse Bay Reserve seemed to become both hot and wet with my arrival. After totally bailing early last week, this was to be my first full “Lightnings” experience and it felt strangely foreign, and exciting. Kind of like The Stranger. I knew that, after a thumping at the hands of the Lions in the opening week, the Lightning would be keen to exact revenge on the brand new Waitakere Typhoon.
They were to get a shock however as, on only their second offensive play, a Typhoons receiver scorches the Lightning secondary in completing a 75 yard pass for a score (2 point conversion no good). Early on, dreamboat quarterback Johnny Johnson and his receivers can’t find rhythm as balls are dropped or overthrown. Tailback Siliva Ugapo is surgical in slicing through the line and provides much needed go forward in the early goings. At the start of the second quarter, juggernaut fullback Ojay Edwards lays waste to multiple Typhoon defenders before losing possession. The Typhoon’s spread offense is clearly out to ask questions of the Lightning defensive backs however the defense is hungry for blood and players frenzy to get a piece of the ball carrier like beasts to a carcass. And like any kind of hierarchical pack, leaders Wes Manao, Zac Timo and Starsky Maiava are always out to feed first. The ensuing Lightning drive is stuttering but receives life in the form of Typhoon indiscipline. Unfortunately, they are unable to execute and Ali Juddery is once again back to kick. Not even a misfiring offense can quell the fire in the defense and Timo slices through the line to make a big sack on third down.
It’s late in the second quarter and Ugapo is back on the dance floor doing old moves (to quote 50 Cent) and keep the ball rolling while receiver Ali Tillbrook brings in a couple of passes which moves the chains. Typhoon penalties further the Lightnings cause another 30 yards before receiver Shiraz Soya lays out beautifully to collect a 20 yard Johnson pass and put the offense within striking distance. On the very next play, Soysa again brings in a pass and has the goal line in sight before blowing his load early and fumbling the ball through the endzone. The first half ends with the Lightning ruing missed opportunities. On too many occasions, balls were dropped or overthrown, blocks unsecured and possession lost in what are base fundamentals of the sport. I’m certain Coach Jim Hunter has plenty to say during the break and a quick look over to the Lightning girlfriends momentarily makes me think of The Stranger again.
The second half begins with some great defense and special teams play from Maiava, Edwards manages to rumble for a few on the next drive before the Typhoons open up the game with their short passing. Linebacker Timo has clearly been doing both his weights AND his speed work as a huge tackle blights their attempt at a fourth down conversion. For the first time today, the Lightning offense looks relaxed and fluid as the workload is spread around. Edwards gains some hard yards up the middle, Soysa makes a long grab and Ugapo bounces outside for yards which brings puts them well into the red zone. Tillbrook evens up the game with a collection in the end zone however the 2 point conversion is no good. Short passes from the Typhoon offense open up the Lightning defense but there is just no quit in cornerback Tillbrook as he competes for every ball and disrupts the passing action that comes his way.
The score is locked at 6-6 midway through the fourth until, after a series of short passes, the Typhoon manage to run the ball in and top it off with a two point conversion. With ball in hand and the game on the line, the time for the Lightning offense is now. Johnson is unable to connect with any of his receivers as the game, and the hopes of the dozens and dozens of Lightning fans around the globe, are all but extinguished. Even though the Lightning defense has still come to fight, they are only able to give the offense 12 seconds with the ball. Johnson once again heaves the ball downfield but the pass, as well as the game, just seems to be one or two steps out of reach.