The Lincolnshire Bombers fell short of victory in their opening fixture of the 2019 season as they were shut out by a strong Birmingham Bulls outfit on a bitterly cold day in the West Midlands.
With only two scores in the entire game, both coming after a scoreless first half, it was the division favourites Birmingham who emerged victorious after grinding out a tough win 12-0 to take the upper hand in the early race for the NFC play-off spots.
The Bombers travelled well to the Bulls with a strong roster size ahead of the campaign even though they were missing a few key components, including previous defensive player of the year Joe Hickson, offensive lineman of the year Martin Brearley and new acquisition from London Blitz Kaylind Grant among others.
The Bulls received the ball first, but much like the majority of the first half, they were unable to make anything of the opportunity as defences won out in the early stages.
After a couple of failed drives, the Bulls forced the first turnover when Andy Bagnall’s forward pitch to Jack Paddison was called as a fumble and not an incomplete pass. However, following a backfield tackle by Ben Harris (playing both defensive end and right tackle on the day) and an interception by Mike Sison, the Bombers kept the first quarter scoreless.
After the next Bombers drive was stalled, it was Lee Soar who picked up the second interception of the day as the defence showed their grit in the face of one of the division’s favourites.
It almost resulted in the first points of the day as good work on the Bombers next drive, including a 4th and short run from Jamal Alvaranga followed by a first down carry from Yu-Joe Lewis Lai, took the Bombers into a field goal opportunity. However, a bad snap meant no attempt was made and the ball returned to the Bulls.
The rest of the half returned to the scrappy defensive affair with two more picks collected by Bombers Iwan Williams and Adam Simeoni but with the Bombers throwing one to Birmingham to keep the scores level at half-time 0-0.
At the start of the second half, the Bombers almost opened the scoring again when they drove into field goal range with help from a good carry by Matt Garner. However, this time, although the snap went well, a slip from Bagnall meant his field goal attempt wound up just short – still 0-0.
Eventually it was a Bombers gamble that didn’t pay-off that resulted in the first score. On 4th and 2 at midfield the team decided to go for it but in the resulting play Yu-Joe was held up short, giving the Bulls the ball in good position.
They finally found the breakthrough with two passes connecting with receivers to get the opening score and take a 6-0 lead following a missed PAT.
It almost got worse for the Bombers after Russell Moore’s fumble was collected by the hosts, but big defensive plays by John Tebay and Russ Houlden on a combined sack forced the Bulls to gamble which resulted in another interception for Iwan Williams and some breathing room for the Bombers.
With time running out, each drive became precious as the Bombers offence struggled to get going against an aggressive Birmingham defensive front. The cause was helped by a 15 yard pass interference penalty called against Birmingham for a clear obstruction on Jack Paddison but once more, the offence stalled in midfield.
The visitors almost got it back immediately when Russell Moore forced the punt returner to fumble but no Bomber could lay their hands on the free ball as the Bulls gratefully recovered.
They did eventually get the ball back after the defence forced another Bulls drive to fail, however, the nail in the coffin was delivered just one play later. Confusion at a handoff resulted in the ball popping up into the Bull’s defensive tackle’s hands who had the simple task of running the remaining 15 yards unchallenged to the endzone.
A failed two-point attempt meant the score was kept at 12-0 but the two-score game looked difficult with time running out. A big kick return was needed and the Bombers almost got it when Nathan Haymer-Bates looped his way across the field but ran out of steam with only the kicker to beat when the open field seemed available to him.
From that return the Bombers played up tempo and got first downs from Bagnall completions to Russell Moore and Ryan Wakeling but with one last stall in the red zone, the game was up and Birmingham were able to see out the clock.
A tough loss to take and one that echos the start of the 2018’s season opening shutout which will leave a scar for the veteran players. However, plenty of positives can be taken with the defence performing excellently against one of this season’s toughest opponents. The Bombers now look forward to next weekend where they hope to put the result behind them and get the win and points on the board against local rivals the Humber Warhawks.