The Lincolnshire Bombers American Football Club fell agonisingly short of a first-ever play-off victory in a 22-18 defeat to the Inverclyde Goliaths in Lincoln.
Despite trailing 22-10 in the fourth quarter, the Bombers fought back to force a final drive in the last two minutes for a game-winning touchdown only to be denied at the goalline by their Scottish counterparts. It was a great day for the Bombers nonetheless who brought play-off football back to Lincoln for the first time since the 1980s and for the first time under the current Bombers moniker which was formed in 2005.
The hosts came into the game with a strong outfit as offensive line trio Martin Brearley, Simon Bracewell and Tony Marflitt (playing his last-ever game) returned to action. The defence though would remain without long-term absentees Joe Hickson and Ben Harris, while key cogs Boawe Rankin and Ben Beales both also missed out.
The absence of Hickson in particular would prove pivotal as visitors Inverclyde brought with them a smashmouth style of football – grinding long drives on the ground with a trio of running backs shouldering the burden on offence.
After a pair of stalled drives the visitors struck first after two crucial penalty calls. Firstly, a Goliaths passing touchdown was recalled for a holding penalty, before an interception by Bombers’ Sam Pearson was overturned for rushing the passer. I think it took for the second half for another pass to be thrown by the Scottish side after that.
The penalty took Inverclyde into the Bombers’ 5 yard line with a first down and ultimately this led to the ball being bundled over the goalline with a succession of running plays. The 2pt conversion failed, leaving the score 0-6.
However, soon after the Bombers replied and got their own run game going through Kaylind Grant and Elliott Harvey, before the latter bumped a run outside and took it to the house to level the scores. A successful PAT meant Lincolnshire led 7-6.
That was pretty much all the action in the half as the Inverclyde ground game took a lot of time off the clock. When their next drive was stopped by the Bombers’ defence, half-time came with the hosts holding a slight advantage.
That lead was extended in the first drive of the third quarter, even after Yu-Joe Bunting went down in the kick return and remained out for the rest of the game, a good drive was rewarded with an Andy Bagnall field goal to stretch the lead to 10-6. However, the remainder of the third quarter was dominated by the Goliaths. Another long, energy-sapping drive was punctuated with a further rushing touchdown and 2pt conversion, before another at the start of the fourth quarter extended their lead to a robust 22-10.
With minutes left to go the Bombers orchestrated their comeback. Playing four downs all the way and a hurry-up offence drove the team back into contention. A key long run on third down from Kaylind Grant kept the drive going in Goliath’s territory before Harvey’s run took the side into striking range.
The Bombers thought they had their score when Ryan Wakeling ran the ball into the endzone but a holding penalty called the play back. The offence finally struck soon after as Lewis Colver found Wakeling again, whose catch and run reduced the arrears, before a 2pt connection between the same layers cut the score to 22-18.
Although the Bombers failed with an onside kick attempt, they were gifted a surprise chance at glory when the Inverclyde running back inexplicably fumbled the snap allowing Kris Ashton to recover the ball and give the hosts hope with just under two minutes left on the clock.
The drive slowly progressed against a stubborn Scottish defence and reached the edge of the redzone with the paydirt in sight for the Bombers. However, one final stand by Inverclyde meant the Bombers turned the ball over on downs and effectively finished the game.
While this season has once again been record-breaking for the team having reached their second play-off campaign in two years, the defeat will leave a bitter taste for the club who had earned home advantage following an excellent campaign in 2019. The Bombers will now be looking forward to 2020 and will soon start recruitment with rookie open days.