After demolishing the Reapers in their final regular season game, the Rebels came back home to host the Carrickfergus Knights. This would be the third time the teams would face as they had already faced each other in a pre-season match-up and regular season head-to-head, both of which, the Rebels came out on top. Despite the Knights losing their matches against the Rebels, this wild-card match was always going to be a challenge as the Knights are a tough, physical and well-trained team.
The Knights began the game with the ball after a touchback but this ball-in-hand advantage was short-lived as Owen Daly caught an early interception which he returned to the Knights red-zone. After a methodical drive led by the skilled passing of Andrew Dennehy and the power running of Simon Mackey, the Rebels were within reach of a touchdown and with a 4th and short, the Rebels went for it and got the touchdown through a Simon Mackey scampering run.
A stout Rebels defense halted any momentum from the Knights as they forced a 3-and-out. Great special teams play forced the Knights’ punter into kicking a short ball with which Rebels veteran Paul Grogan scooped up quickly, allowing for the Rebels to continue with great field possession. Unfortunately, a botched Quarterback-Center exchange by the Rebels created a turnover giving the Knights some breathing space as the Rebels were ready to add more points to the board.
Again the Rebels defense came up big forcing another 3-and-out giving the ball to Dennehy and the offense to come up with some points. However, this resulted in a 3-and-out once more.
The second quarter began with a Rebels lead but Knights ball. After the defense again showing some grit and determination, the Knights were forced to punt, but a roughing the kicker penalty against the Rebels kept the ball in Knights hands. Patience, a bullet pass and great hands got the Knights a first down and some momentum. However, a great play by Ross McCooey in recovering a fumble gave the Rebels the ball with great field position. The Rebels offense took advantage of the turnover and a quick screen to Mackey got the ball into the red-zone with goal to go. However, a solid Knights defense stopped the Rebels capitalizing after going for it on fourth down.
With what looked to be all of the field to march down, the Knights had possession. The Rebels defense forced a 3-and-out but a booming punt helped make the change of possession a bit easier to handle for the Knights as it sailed over the returners heads and out of bounds – a good example of directional kicking.
The Rebels came out passing with completions to Peter Keely, Shahin Nikroo, Chris Purdy and Paul Grogan and hard running from Mackey. But again, they were held short by the Knights defense though the accurate kicking by Gerard O’Leary gave the Rebels a 10-0 lead as the half ended.
The Knights opened the second half with a squib kick which was return to about the 20 yard line. A high snap to Dennehy sailed over his head but the hands of left tackle Mike McGuire kept the ball in Rebels hands despite being seven yards from their own goal-line. With a third-and-very-long to go, with great blocking in front of him, Mackey ran through Knights defenders to gain a new set of downs. But the Rebels were kept without points on this drive as the Knights defense kept the ball from moving any further forward.
The boot of O’Leary pinned the Knights back near their goal-line as the Knights offense got back onto the field to try work some magic. The Rebels defense again put a halt to any sort of offensive revival from the Knights. The Rebels offense came back onto the field but soon enough turned the ball over on downs as they failed to get much forward momentum. With the ball in hand and in a decent position to mount a comeback, the Knights were ready to grind the ball out but an errant pass into double coverage was picked off by Eoin Daly creating a quick change of possession.
The fourth quarter began with the Rebels in possession but the Knights played some good defense to keep the Rebels away from the end-zone despite some good gains by Dennehy to Mackey and Nikroo through the air. Bobby Smith got a sack on first down as the Knights offense came back onto the field. On third down, a pass got intercepted by rookie linebacker Darragh Stone which he returned to just outside the 10 yard line. From this close, the Rebels were not going to be denied again and a screen to Mackey from Dennehy resulted in points for the Rebels.
After the ensuing kick, the Knights again had the ball. But turned the ball over quickly through an interception by Smith. Two solid runs by Kevin Finnegan resulted in points for the Rebels as they pushed the score to 24-0. No more points would be scored on the day despite possession being exchanged throughout the afternoon. The game would be closed out by a Nikroo interception.
This game was always going to be a hard fought battle as two experienced squads faced each other for a third time. The Rebels offense proved it could get the job done, and the defense smothered the Knights across much of the game. Next week the Rebels will be heading west to contest the semi-final against the Trinity College team that has been on fire the entire season. It will be an interesting match as power and wisdom go up against speed and tenacity.