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OXFORD Saints found their step up to Central Division 1 a hard assignment as they lost 35-8 to Sussex Thunder in their season opener at Tilsley Park.

Having gained promotion from Southern Conference Division 2 West, Saints, who fielded returning quarterback Ben Denton, could not have faced tougher opponents and struggled to find the endzone until the third quarter.

The visitors took the lead, when veteran quarterback Eber Kington made a deep a pass to receiver Adam Fishlock, who reeled in the ball for a 25-yard touchdown. Danny Wallace kicked the extra point for 7-0.

Thunder extended their lead in the second quarter when running back Ben Chukwu-Onu sprinted up the sideline and ran into the endzone untouched for a 67-yard score.

Shortly afterwards, they made it 21-0 when Kingston set up Fishlock for his second score, Wallace again improving.

In the third quarter, Oxford looked like they were going to force a turnover on the fifth down, but Kington showed his class, passing the ball to Daniel Branch for a 24-yard touchdown. Wallace made it with his fourth of five extra points.

With Oxford desperate for a score of their own, first-year quarterback Marcus Alphonso was intercepted by Dan de Lucia, who touched down as Sussex pulled 35-0 ahead.

Oxford brought on interchange quarterback Kyle Swann. He handed the ball off to James Walter, who broke through the Sussex defence and went up the sideline for a 43-yard touchdown run.

Looking to cut the deficit, the Saints went for the two-point conversion and Swann passed the ball to rookie receiver Andrey Kays for the extra points.

The fourth quarter saw both sides exchanging blows but neither were able to make it to the endzone.

Saints’ next outing is on Sunday, when they visit South Wales Warriors.