The Bombers suffered a chastening defeat in the bank holiday sunshine as their play-off dreams took another blow with a second shutout loss of the season – this time to the Birmingham Bulls.
Back-to-back away trips to open the season against the divisional favourites the Staffordshire Surge and Birmingham Bulls were always likely to be a difficult proposition, but the Bombers have plenty of work to do to catch-up on lost time with a 22-0 defeat dropping the side to 0-2 for the season.
The schedule doesn’t exactly ease up for the Bombers either with the reverse fixtures coming up next against the Surge and Bulls before the side can finally welcome Humber, Crewe and Knottingley in 2018.
The Bombers travelled to Birmingham in good numbers with almost 40 players making the trip on one of the hottest days of the year so far and travelled confident of coming away with the win. While the side were missing key personnel in quarterback Andy Bagnall, offensive co-ordinator Nich Bagnall and injured players Jack Paddison (RB) and Ross Wheatley (LB) they were able to welcome back DE George Gaunt, RB Nathan Haymer-Bates and LB Ben Beales to the fold from the side who lost in Staffordshire on opening day.
It was the visiting side who won the toss and deferred, kicking the ball to the Bulls offence – a decision which quickly went awry. Just the second play of the attack and the Bulls ran straight up the gut a full 50+ yards to the endzone for the opening score. While the 2pt try was unsuccessful it was an early blow for the Bombers.
After some good defensive work the Bulls got back on the ball and drove the field for another first quarter TD – this time finding the big tight end #82 in the corner of the end zone. With a successful 2pt, the hosts led 14-0 and looked every bit the side who played in Division One last season.
The Bombers finally got some positive work going with Haymer-Bates picking up 20+ yards on the kick-off, but were again stalled offensively in midfield with stand-in OC Chris George and back-up QB Lewis Colver trying to find a way past the Bulls defence which had only conceded once in two matches this campaign through a punt return.
Although the offence was struggling, the defence readjusted and stepped up to slow the one-sided pattern of the game. Not helped by the Bulls fumbling (forced by Gaunt) yet retrieving for a first down and then the referee missing an out-of-bounds catch and calling it good, the side finally recovered the ball with Joe Hickson picking up another fumble recovery.
This remained the pattern of the first half as the defence forced further stops from the Bulls offence, interceptions from Adam Simeoni and Ryan Hicks included, but the offence gained no traction with only a couple of first downs through the air.
I wish I could say it changed after half-time but things remained very much the same way - much to the chagrin of the visiting supporters.
Another interception, this time from Matt Sawdon, was returned to Bulls territory but at the most inconvenient time Colver threw his only interception of the game to prevent the Bombers pushing into scoring territory.
Amazingly the score remained at 14-0 into the fourth quarter – the credit here must go to the defence who have held both Surge and Bulls at bay for long periods of time while the offence has floundered.
However, finally the Bulls broke through for a third, final and decisive score. The Bulls thought they had scored on defence moments before when a fumble was picked up and ran in but the officials deemed the ball was an incomplete pass. But, any thoughts of a comeback were eliminated when an outside rush finally found the endzone and the 2pt try was converted to land a 22-0 lead.
The offence did show a couple of sparks late on; Haymer-Bates breaking free for a big gain only for it to come back for a holding penalty, before Russell Moore’s catch and run took the Bombers into Bulls territory. However, a fourth down attempt was snuffed out and that ended the game inside the two minute warning.
The Bombers drop to 0-2 and with both Bulls (3-0) and Surge (3-0) starting off hot, the side needs to catch-up and fast if they are going to make any headway into the post season.
Defensively the Bombers look sound and ready to compete but offensively they took a backwards step against the Bulls. With Staffordshire and Birmingham coming up in the next two fixtures the offence are going to need to find their mojo against the toughest opponents – through six combined games the Surge/Bulls defences have conceded just two touchdowns.