It was a bitter-sweet day for the Lincolnshire Bombers first taste of play-off football as they were downed by a professional Chester Romans outfit in the NFC Division 2 post-season.
After the high of reaching the play-offs for the first time, the defeat was a crash back down to Earth for the Lincolnshire side who were second-best during the 47-6 loss – a long season and long journey taking its toll on the developing roster who will have plenty to learn from the experience.
Before the game began there were a couple of factors working against the Bombers which didn’t help the cause (file these under ‘excuses’). While the Bombers were battling Knottingley Raiders to secure a play-off spot, the 7-0-1 Romans were able to play a second string against Morcambe Bay Storm on the same weekend – a side they had demolished 77-0 earlier in the year.
Then there was the amended kick-off. A refereeing schedule clash meant the kick-off was moved forwards two and a half hours, forcing the Bombers bus to leave at 06:30 on Sunday morning with a few sleepy heads on board ahead of the three and a half hours journey to Cheshire.
Finally, there was the missing men, while both Martin Brearley (centre) and Ben Harris (defensive end) were big losses, it was the absence of cornerback duo Matt Sawdon and Antonio Hamilton that would have the biggest bearing on the game.
Excuses out of the way and due credit to the Romans. From warm-ups to the final whistle they looked every inch a side ready for Division 1 – it would be no surprise to see them in the middle tier next season as their strong defence was backed up by a great aerial attack on Sunday.
Their first drive was evidence of this. After an early sack and a late hit on Kris Ashton (which forced him to miss the rest of the game) the Romans threw a long sideline ball for the opening score.
With the Bombers offence misfiring against the stubborn Romans defence (they recorded five shutouts in the regular season) it was down to the Bombers D to keep the game close.
Good tackling by CJ McAllister (in his final game before returning to America) stopped one drive while a sack from Korey Rankin helped allay another. The incessant pressure was continued when an interception thrown by Andy Bagnall was returned to the one-yard line.
However, Jordan Hancock’s excellent recovery tackle saved the touchdown and shortly after more great work from Rankin forced a fumble recovery on the Bombers goalline.
The holdout could only last for so long and soon after the Romans took advantage of the Bombers defensive back crisis. Two more first half touchdowns were to follow, between which were sandwiched two picks, one by the Romans and one in reply by Ryan Hicks, to increase the lead to 21-0.
The end of the half saw the Bombers best football though. As the offence flickered some life, the defence continued their strong work. After a period of ‘handbags’ in which the Romans no. 71 was ejected, Graham Owens blocked a field goal attempt and the Bombers responded by driving down the field for their first post-season touchdown.
A connection between Bagnall and Russell Moore started things off before a pass interference call took the Bombers down to the Romans 10. From there Bagnall found former youth player Ryan Wakeling in the end zone and the Bombers were on the board 21-6 (unsuccessful 2pt attempt) at the half.
By the time the second half rolled around the pattern for the match had been set. The faltering Bombers offence, handcuffed by a number of drops by the receiver corps, were stymied by the Romans defence, while the Bombers D – spending most of the time on the field, battled hard to keep the score down.
Against the run, the defence allowed virtually zero yardage all day but the absence of the cornerbacks in the passing game just allowed the good Romans attack to pick their chances. Credit to the several guys who stepped in and played corner on the day – including Wayne Rodger, Callum Deans and Jack Paddison among the group.
Despite the Romans picking up more endzone visits, the defence never lost its heart and managed a couple of gutsy stops at the end of the game to avoid the 50 point mark. One stop, plus a missed field goal, kept the score down while a final drive stop from Ross Wheatley in the red zone ensured the final score read 47-6.
A resounding defeat for the Bombers then, the first in a while, but at least this time it was in the play-offs following a successful season. As mentioned earlier the Chester Romans were the most impressive side we’ve played in recent memory and hope to emulate their success next year and beyond.
Focus already is turning to next season with the rookie open days and pre-season schedule and the thoughts of what this talented unit could achieve next year – bring it on!