The Lincolnshire Bombers finally got off the mark in 2018 with a comfortable win over the Knottingley Raiders in North Hykeham to restart their campaign towards .500 and an outside shot at play-off football.
Having finally finished the quartet of fixtures against the Staffordshire Surge and Birmingham Bulls (culminating in consecutive heart-breaking home losses) the Bombers were able to welcome a new visitor to Memorial Hall and it came in the shape of division newbies Knottingley.
The Bombers were slightly shorthanded following the back-to-back gameweeks as Dan Hickson (OT), Martin Brearley (C) and Adam Simeoni (LB) joined the absentee list with Simeoni likely out for the season with ankle ligament damage.
However, there was some positive news as running back/wide receiver/MMA fighter Jack Paddison returned to the fold – albeit in a limited capacity, for the first time since breaking his ankle in pre-season.
Once the game kicked off it was a sloppy start for the hosts who allowed a decent kick-off return and then long opening run to help Knottingley win early territory in the first drive. Although the defence stepped up to force the stop, Knottingley struck a clean field goal to lead 0-3.
Credit to the Bombers though and they responded immediately in kind. A long kick return from Nathan Haymer-Bates and a big catch from Ryan Wakeling took the hosts into scoring territory. A roughing the passer penalty gave the offence a set of downs at goal but a couple of missed connections meant the team had to settle for a field goal which was successfully converted by Will Hutson for 3-3.
The remainder of the first quarter was a poor affair with frustrations from both sidelines on some loose play. A Bombers ball was intercepted by Knottingley before the compliment was returned with Graham Owens picking off the visiting quarterback to set the Bombers up in good field position.
Again, the offence couldn’t punch in the six points as Knottingley’s aggressive blitz tactics caused problems, but Andy Bagnall’s field goal ensured the hosts would lead 6-3 into quarter two.
If the offence hadn’t quite woken up, then the defence certainly had. Two more quick interceptions were to follow; the first from serial pick artist Matt Sawdon before a second from Ben Beales got Lincolnshire back on the ball in midfield.
This time the offence were finally able to connect as pacey receiver Jordan Hancock was found behind the Knottingley defence for the opening touchdown – the successful PAT ensuring there was some breathing room for the first time with a 13-3 lead.
More good work from the defence, including pressure from the outstanding Owen Firth, led to the Bombers’ next score. A shut down drive was followed by a mess of a punt from the visitors which led to the Bombers receiving the ball on the 20 yard line.
A quick strike into the corner for the returning Jack Paddison from QB Lewis Colver meant the Bombers struck a 19-3 lead at the two-minute warning – still time for plenty more drama as last week against Birmingham showed… and it happened again.
Although the Bombers got the ball back, they were quickly intercepted once more (one of eight in the match between the sides) – yet still had time to halt Knottingley and drive to their 10 yard line with a run from Haymer-Bates and another catch from Paddison to set up a late field goal attempt. This, however, went very wrong and a potential 22-3 half-time lead was reduced to 19-9 when the blocked field goal was returned the length of the field for a touchdown by Knottingley (no PAT). The game still very much on at half-time after that late play.
The start to the second half remained a stalemate for the opening few drives – a few nerves from both sides on show plus the Bombers not able to kick it into top gear. However, the lull was finally broken on a punt return by Haymer-Bates (he’s getting good at this) which took us to 1st and goal.
After a few unsuccessful attempts the decision was taken to go for it on fourth down and a shot to the corner from Colver to Elliott Marris connected for the touchdown. A successful PAT later and the Bombers led 26-9. With little else happening in a workmanlike third quarter, the score remained the same heading in the final 15 minutes.
If there was any doubt in the final result that was put to bed early in the fourth quarter. The defence smothering the Knottingley attack, including safety Antonio Hamilton getting into the backfield to make a stop, before an errant pass was picked by Ryan Hicks who took it untouched into the paydirt for a 32-9 lead (PAT missed).
With the game now finally looking over and the travelling Knottingley side struggling to keep up the pace, it was the defence again who setup the next Bombers touchdown. Robertas Beniusis with the interception to put the ball back in the host’s hands.
Another big reception to Paddison followed before a connection with Maris took the side right to the goalline before Andy Bagnall found Stuart Morgan over the middle for his first touchdown of the season – a good PAT and the score 39-9.
Unfortunately for the Bombers the game ended on a sour note despite Adam ‘Buff’ Bailey’s fumble recovery. With not much time left on the clock the offence settled for an attempted field goal. Apparently the field goal practice is indeed needed as for a second time on the day, and a third in two matches, the failed kick was returned the length of the field for a Raiders touchdown.
With a two-point conversion the score finished 39-17 and confirmed the Bombers first win of the season, albeit with plenty of work to do to iron out the errors that could’ve made the margin of victory more impressive. A break now for the Bombers before travelling to the Crewe Railroaders and hosting the Humber Warhawks with a final return leg against the Knottingley Raiders to finish the season. That final fixture could yet prove decisive in the battle for post-season action.