The Lincolnshire Bombers took their NFC Division 2 South destiny into their own hands with a perfect demolition of the Crewe Railroaders on a baking hot day in Cheshire.
With the dreams of play-off football hanging by a thread a couple of weeks ago at 0-4, the Bombers have since downed rivals the Knottingley Raiders and Crewe Railroaders convincingly to take control of the race for third place in the division behind the runaway Birmingham Bulls and Staffordshire Surge.
You could’ve excused the 1-4 Bombers of being apprehensive heading into the key fixture with the 3-3 Railroaders – not only were the hosts in good form, but there were a long list of starters missing for the travelling side; Martin Brearley (C), Dan Hickson (OT), Callum Restall (OL), Ross Wheatley (LB), Adam Simeoni (LB), Ben Beales (LB), Robertas Beniusis (LB), Ryan Hicks (DB), Owen Firth (DE) Neil Jefferson (DT), Jason Cole (DT), Elliot Marris (WR), Ben Lee Harris (DE), Will Hutson (K) and Chad Birch (P). But the depth of the squad stood up to the test during an incredible performance on Sunday.
Winning the toss, the Bombers deferred and gave the ball to the Railroader offence where there was immediate drama. On fourth down a snap was fumbled by the QB, recovered and thrown for a first down only to have the referees call it back for Bombers ball. They then changed their mind again and give Crewe the possession.
Although the drive continued, the Bombers defence, missing so many key cogs, got what they were after with safety Antonio Hamilton picking up the opening drive interception to give the visitors the early advantage.
Following a couple of quarterback keepers on the run option, the Bombers punched the ball home for the first score with Jack Paddison receiving Andy Bagnall’s pass to hit the paydirt on the opening drive – a good PAT and the score was 7-0.
That lead was quickly doubled upon as a combination of Dan Hickson and Graham Owens sacked the Railroader QB, forcing a punt, and from the resulting drive a big connection from RB Jack Paddison to Stuart Morgan and then a run from Nathan Haymer-Bates was converted into touchdown no.2. This time it was former U17 and U19 wide receiver Ryan Wakeling picking up his first senior score with a whip route. No PAT but a 13-0 lead off two drives to give the perfect start.
In the second quarter Crewe decided to risk it all on a long drive involving three fourth down attempts. When they finally got in range for shots into the endzone, they targeted Antonio Hamilton against their tall wide receiver on successive plays but none connected as Hamilton defended stoutly and earned a well-deserved goalline stop to keep the lead at 13.
A long reception by Matt Garner gave the Bombers breathing room down the field and after a quick dual change of possession, it was Bomber ball again with just over a minute left on the clock in the first half.
That time was immediately converted into seven points with the quick-stepping Jordan Hancock taking a slant to the house to give the Bombers a comfort zone at the break – the successful PAT making it 20-0.
With the Bombers starting with the ball in the second half there was an opportunity to extend that lead but on the very first play a fumble gave the ball to the Railroaders in good field position. The Railroaders finally connected into the corner to get on the scoreboard and give themselves hope for the remainder of the game (20-7).
Not to be held down though, the visiting Bombers struck back immediately. A hook and ladder between QB Lewis Colver, WR Russell Moore and RB Haymer-Bates put the side into striking range and a few plays later it was Haymer-Bates who emerged virtually untouched into the endzone to extend the lead 27-7.
That seemed to break the back of the Railroader resistance as the rest of the game was relatively one-sided.
First it was the defence to make a play with safety Lee Soar gathering the interception which led to a Bombers field goal by Andy Bagnall (30-7). Then Joe Hickson caused chaos on back-to-back Railroader drives. The defensive tackle’s fumble recovery resulting in a touchdown with no PAT for 36-7, then immediately afterwards forcing the issue once again with another fumble recovery.
That led to QB Colver floating the ball to Hancock on a bubble on the right touchline and the youngster took it home for his second touchdown of the day and a 35-point lead, meaning the start of the rolling clock with just under ten minutes left in the match.
There was still time for one last score for the Bombers – Colver first finding WR Moore in the redzone with a jump ball, before rolling out himself to the right to the three yard line. Finally a handoff to Jack Paddison resulted in his second TD of the day – impressively walking the ball over the line after dropping a defensive back in his tracks to take the score to 48-7. The Bombers kicked the PAT rather than go for two for the 50 and that was the last real action of the game.
It was an almost flawless performance from a side who can welcome back a large proportion of those missing players to the field next time out. With a defence that has conceded just one touchdown in two matches (not including returned PAT/field goals) and an offence that is averaging 38 points over the last four games, the Bombers are certainly hitting their stride. This big win will have sent out a strong message to the rest of the NFC Division 2 that should the Bombers make the post season, they’ll be one of the sides to avoid in the first round of the play-offs.