The Lincolnshire Bombers fell to an opening day defeat at the hands of the Staffordshire Surge in miserably wet and windy conditions at Stoke-on-Trent.
With the build-up to the 2018 season already hampered by the weather (two unseasonable deluges of snow having cancelled two training sessions earlier), plus the team only managing to arrange a single pre-season scrimmage due to the move in home venue, the Bombers didn’t need any more hurdles in their way as they aimed for a first-ever spot in the British American Football League play-offs.
However, the British weather had other priorities in mind and decided on descending upon the west midlands with a mid-afternoon monsoon to aid in scuppering the chances of a ‘clean’ game. It became, as they say, a game ‘for the purists’.
The Bombers travelled to Staffordshire with a full roster of around 50 individuals rearing to go for the first fixture of what could be another record season. Hosts Surge, also tipped for the play-offs this year, were also supported in full force having recruited well in the winter.
The clash of two of the potential heavyweights of the NFC 2 South division was about to begin.
With a strong wind blowing straight down the field from goal post to goal post the Bombers won the toss and decided to kick with the wind into Surge territory.
After the special teams did their job the defence started to feel the pressure of Surge’s new o-line and run game as the hosts confidently marched down the field on opening possession, keeping the ball on the ground – a good tactic in the blustery conditions.
However, as the red zone approached, the Bombers defence stalled the Surge attack and, when forced to go aerial, it was rookie Matt Sawdon who picked up the interception to give the Bombers possession.
Starting from within their own 10, the offence managed to get some breathing room with a first down completion to Chris Wilson on the right and gained further yardage off some good running from Elliott Maris down the left. However, as the Bombers drive also stalled at midfield, they were forced to punt away possession.
Conditions started to worsen with the introduction of light rain to the proceedings and the Surge were first to suffer. Matt Sawdon in the right place again with a fumble recovery to set the Bombers up in Surge territory.
Although the offence were again able to close on the goalline, they were unable to find the end zone and opted against kicking with the wind for a short field goal in favour of a fourth down shot but Andy Bagnall’s connection to Maris was punched out of his hands.
With the weather gradually worsening the quick changes of possession became a frequent feature as the defences were on top, the Bombers forcing turnovers while the Surge capitalised on the visitors struggles to connect on aerial passes in the wind and rain. With the rain increasing in intensity, the absence of both lead running backs Jack Paddison and Nathan Haymer-Bates affected the team’s ability to move the ball in perfect ground and pound conditions.
The first score of the match wouldn’t come until the second quarter and it was following some good special teams work from the Surge. Punt returner Antonio Hamilton making just enough forward progress to start the Bombers drive on the 1 yard line, but a tackle in the backfield on the next play ensured the Surge picked up the safety, 2-0.
Despite this, the Bombers again should have been ahead before half-time. An interception by Ben Millington got the offence on the field and a trick play completion from Bagnall to Russell Moore drew the Bombers down to the Surge 5-yard line.
However, after two incomplete passes and a stuffed run (Bagnall now acting as RB with Lewis Colver in at Quarterback) the Bombers settled for a field goal try from about 20 yards – a kick that drifted just a yard or so left of the posts, leaving the half time score at 2-0.
The main feature at the break was the introduction of even worse conditions. The rain was now in full flow and played into the hands of Surge’s run-heavy offence – making the Bombers attack, blunted with the loss of two running backs and heavily dependent on the aerial game, hard to develop.
The game continued, of sorts, in the second half with neither side able to move the ball with any real consistency. It took for well into the third quarter before the Surge finally broke through. A glut of runs finally ending with the game’s opening touchdown, although when they tried to repeat the play for the two-point conversion it was blocked leaving it as a one-score game at 8-0.
When the visiting offence did try to get going, mistakes started to creep in. A first down reception by Nathan Harris ultimately resulted in a forced fumble while another fumble in the run game turned the ball over as the weather took its toll.
Finally in the fourth quarter Staffordshire put the game to bed. Another drive built on their run game was punched into the end zone and with the addition of the two-point conversion (another run) the score extended to 16-0.
The Bombers did return to the Surge red zone near the two-minute warning but an attempted pass to Moore was batted away to signal the end of the team’s hopes for the day.
The scoreline was slightly flattering for a Surge side who were perfectly suited for the day and harsh on the Bombers who weren’t able to show their true offensive strength. The defence played well, forcing early turnovers, but were ground down eventually by the run game. It was a very disciplined performance by the whole side with good special teams results and very few penalties against the visitors, however, a defeat is a defeat and it will hurt in the ambitions for making the play-offs. When the sides play again in Lincoln on 20th May expect another close encounter with the Bombers confident of making amends.