The Lincolnshire Bombers completed a first-ever league double over the Staffordshire Surge with a dramatic 17-15 victory following a late Andy Bagnall field goal.
The win moves the Bombers to 3-1 on the season and in an ideal spot to battle for not only a home play-off fixture but also for the NFC2 South Divisional title when they face the undefeated Birmingham Bulls at the end of June.
The Bombers travelled to Stoke having spent the last four weeks watching from the sidelines with their previous match (a tight 11-8 home win over the same opponents) still lingering in the memory. During this time the Birmingham Bulls defeated Surge to secure their space at the top of the table while Crewe and Humber battled it out at the bottom.
It was a strong roster who travelled to Staffordshire with the full return of defensive lineman Joe Hickson and offensive lineman Charles Osei, while Great Britain under-19 player Elliott Harvey made his senior team debut in a strong running back trio alongside Kaylind Grant and Jamal Alvaranga (while return specialist Nathan Haymer-Bates remains on the sidelines from his dislocated shoulder).
Once the game started Surge replicated their effort against Birmingham from the week before with an opening drive touchdown to put themselves ahead at home.
After a series of positive runs they finished off the drive with a connection to the wide receiver in the back corner of the endzone, laced with fortune, as the ball was tipped by one receivers hand into the others. A good PAT opened the score 7-0. The Bombers’ opening drive was stifled by a block in the back penalty – the first negative yardage of a day that totalled 200 penalty yards that certainly made the task more difficult of driving the ball all day.
The next two drives then both ended in turnovers as the two sides battled for ascendancy. First, Iwan Williams forced a Surge fumble which was recovered by Graham Owens, before a Surge interception gave possession back to the hosts.
Despite the short field, the Bombers defence was able to make the stop and force Staffordshire to take a field goal, one that was blocked by Russ Houlden to keep the score 7-0 – three missed points that would prove crucial at the end of the game.
With the defences starting to get on top, including Surge picking up a second interception, the second quarter was well underway before the Bombers offence finally retaliated. Quarterback Lewis Colver starting to find his targets – firstly hitting Ryan Wakeling with a catch-and-run that took the side into the redzone, before finishing off the drive with an endzone connection with Russell Moore to put up the Bombers’ opening touchdown. A successful PAT and the scores were 7-7 as half-time came.
The Bombers received the second half kick-off and a good return by Mike Sison set them up with good field position. However, not for the first time this season, the referees deemed a Bombers drop as a fumble (despite the forward pass) which gifted the hosts back possession.
While the defence kept Surge subdued once again it was a double roughing the snapper and roughing the punter call that kept the next Bombers drive from stalling. With that boost, the offence kicked into gear with an up-tempo series punctuated by good runs from running backs Grant and Alvaranga.
It was the former London Blitz player Grant who finished off the drive from close range with his first Bombers’ touchdown to give the visitors their first lead of the day at 14-7.
After that there was a prolonged period of defences being on top with neither side able to make progress (the Bombers again stunted by several penalty calls) before Surge finally made the breakthrough deep into the fourth quarter.
An energy sapping drive that was built on numerous bouts of tough running eventually ended in a play-action pass to the corner of the endzone to allow Surge to close the score to 14-13. Then, all credit to the coaches, they decided to gamble for the 2pt conversion and were duly merited with the score – a short throw to the slot receiver, to lead the game 15-14 with just five and a half minutes to go.
It appeared as though the game was over when Staffordshire picked up a third interception of the day of a tipped pass from the Bombers with only 3min 30 to go, but a crucial defensive three-and-out meant the offence got one more shot at redemption.
With 1min 40 left on the clock and the majority of the pitch to go, quarterback Colver found his form to orchestrate a fine drive. First he found tight end Bagnall to get things going before a long run from Elliott Harvey got the Bombers into field goal range. Or so they thought…
Another holding penalty (yard no. 200) dropped the visitors back and it took for Colver to find Bagnall for a second time to keep the drive alive. Another run from Harvey, this time with no penalty flags, took the Bombers to the 10-yard line where Colver spiked the ball with 20 seconds remaining to allow for a final shot at a game winning field goal.
Just like in the home fixture five weeks before, Bagnall split the posts and game the Bombers a crucial, and match-winning, 17-15 lead.
There was still time for the Surge to return the kick-off and run two plays, but with good defensive line pressure resulting in a sack, the clock ran out and the Bombers secured a first ever double over last year’s defending NFC2 South Champions. The Bombers can now take a shot at the division crown with a home fixture against the 5-0 Birmingham Bulls (June 30th) – looking to overturn a 12-0 H2H loss that took place on the opening day of the season in order to top the table.