The Lincolnshire Bombers failed to snatch the divisional title from the Birmingham Bulls as the side from the West Midlands ground their way to a 21-7 win in Lincoln and secure an unassailable 6-0 record.
Heading into the game the Bombers were the only side who could overtake the Bulls in the NFC 2 South but it was to be no easy task. The pre-season favourites had conceded just six points in their five previous games, including the 12-0 opening day win in Birmingham over the Bombers – the closest any side had come so far.
It was a warm day at Memorial Hall but there was a clear breeze heading downfield which the Bombers opted to receive into first. However, they were unable to make headway into the wind and punted away their first possession.
The Bulls would do likewise on their first possession but a wind assisted kick went out of bounds at the 1-yard line setting up the Bombers in a precarious position on their next drive. It was a situation they would not get out of as a backfield fumble gifted the visitors the opening score for 6-0 – the defence stopping the attempted 2pt conversion.
After the Bombers offence got a little momentum going in their next drive it all ended with a very tepid interception thrown under pressure from QB Lewis Colver, a mistake the Bulls almost capitalise on at their next drive when a long throw and reception seemed to be bundling away into the endzone.
However, with the Bulls sideline starting to celebrate, CB Boawe Rankin emerged with the football for the Bombers to surprisingly turnover the ball on the 1-yard line.
It was a short reprieve for the hosts though as a high snap one play later resulted in a safety being scored – giving the Bulls an 8-0 lead at the end of the first quarter, all scored from defensive plays.
Although the Bombers kicked away following the safety, the ball was shortly back in home hands as Ross Wheatley picked the ball out of a Bulls receivers hands while they juggled a catch and was about to set off on the return when a referees whistle blew the play dead.
To say there was outrage from the sidelines was an understatement. With clear grass and blockers ahead of him, the pick-six was on, but the whistle – apparently blown because he thought Ross’ knee was down, stopped the Bombers picking up a score of their own.
The Bombers then remained camped in the Bulls half while they had the wind benefit in the second quarter but were unable to put points on the board. One connection from Colver to TE Andy Bagnall which would’ve put the side on the 1-yard line was ruled out for a flag and a final shot to the endzone to an open Ryan Wakeling just drifted long with the wind kicking up as the half ended 8-0.
The second half started in a similar vein to the first – a very feisty encounter with lots of flags for both sides, backed up by good defensive play, preventing any quick scoring.
It would be the Bulls who struck next with a well thrown ball into the corner (to the ‘wind’ end) as they extended their lead to 14-0 – the 2pt conversion stopped by a tracking Iwan Williams.
With the wind still affecting the game it was still the Bulls who applied pressure in the third quarter but a fine interception from Sam Pearson in the endzone prevented a game-killing score and gave the hosts the ball as time drifted over into quarter 4.
This time, the Bombers were to use the wind advantage. Firstly, a run from Yu-Joe Bunting took us over halfway before Colver scrambled excellently to find Wakeling on the run to the perimeter. Then another run, this time from Elliott Harvey takes the side into the redzone.
The drive almost stalled there but a penalty on the Bulls defence gave the hosts first and goal which they would punch in using Andy Bagnall under centre, driving behind Martin Brearley to force only the second touchdown the visitors had conceded all season. A successful PAT and the score was suddenly 14-7 with the Bombers having the wind advantage.
Unfortunately, despite this, the defence had suffered a couple of injuries earlier in the game and as the heat bore on and the fatigue grew, the Bulls were able to exact and long and slow, energy-sapping run-heavy drive.
When the finally got to the redzone they took a shot to the corner and, despite some good coverage, were able to connect to finish the game off. A good PAT effectively ended the contest at 21-7.
While the Bulls were able to celebrate on the day, the Bombers will now aim to join them in the post-season with games against Humber Warhawks (H) and Crewe Railroaders (A, H) to come for a potential 6-2 record. The surprise news of course filtering through that the Warhawks defeated Staffordshire Surge 14-8 to make next week’s Lincolnshire derby even more interesting.