The Lincolnshire Bombers confirmed their place as the fourth seed in the Division 2 British American Football League play-offs following a crushing 54-14 win over the Crewe Railroaders on Sunday.
The Bombers will now host the Inverclyde Goliaths in the quarter-finals at North Hykeham on August 11th after the Scottish side upset their divisional champions Clyde Valley Blackhawks to leapfrog the Leeds Bobcats into the 5th seed position and earn themselves the visitors slot for the Bombers first-ever home play-off fixture.
Considering how low the numbers were for the Bombers trip to Crewe last weekend, it was no surprise there was more depth to the team in the reverse fixture in Lincoln this weekend which included the returns of previous injured players Iwan Williams and Russ Houlden to boost the defence. However, the offence would have to do without three key offensive linemen; Martin Brearley, Simon Bracewell and Tony Marflitt - as they all missed the game due to non-football reasons.
In the end the first score came not from offence or defence, but from the special teams, on an explosive first play of the game.
The Bombers kicked off and Yu-Joe Bunting forced a fumble from the Crewe returner allowing running back Elliott Harvey to scoop and score for his first senior Bombers touchdown and give the hosts the perfect start 7-0 after one play.
However, rather than that be the start of a comprehensive Bombers performance, the visiting Railroaders (who had so far failed to win all season), incredibly scored touchdowns on back-to-back drives to take a surprising 14-7 lead midway through the first quarter, much to the consternation of the Bombers players, coaches and support.
Soon afterwards those faults were rectified though as a confident drive from the hosts saw them level the scores. A run from Elliott Harvey and catches from Sam Perry and Dan Newman drove the Bombers down the field before QB Lewis Colver found Perry again in the flat for the score - PAT good 14-14.
From there on in it was one-way traffic for the hosts as the defence stepped up and the offence turned it on for a succession of scores before the half. After another Harvey touchdown was called back for holding (just like the previous week against Crewe) he finally got a 'clean' run from the redzone to open his offensive account - 21-14.
With less than five minutes to go until half-time the Bombers tripled-up with quick-fire scores to put the game to bed. First Ryan Wakeling was picked out in the endzone by Colver, before safety Iwan Williams finally got the pick-six his season deserved when he took an interception into the paydirt before finally Yu-Joe Bunting got his obligatory touchdown with another reception from Colver to take the half-time score to a commanding 41-14.
The second half was a quieter affair with the Bombers able to blood a number of new players and rest some of the senior players ahead of the play-off fixture that was now certain to be hosted next weekend.
The Bombers did manage another score in the third quarter, running back Kaylind Grant having a long carry to push the hosts into the redzone before Yu-Joe finished the drive with his second score of the day and a fourth passing TD for young quarterback Lewis Colver to extend the lead to 48-14.
There was still time for a few splash plays on defence in the fourth quarter before the game ended. First, Adam Simeoni took a spectacular interception to give the Bombers the ball back, before a great recovering toe-tap tackle from rookie James Marston prevented the Railroaders from getting a score of their own with Mike Sison making the interception soon after to end the visitors' hopes of a third score.
The last laugh was the Bombers' though and following a surprising punt catch and return from Graham Owens, it was another running back who took the ball home for a final score of the day - Matt Dobson getting his first in Bombers' colours to give the scoreline a final shine at 54-14 with the full-time whistle coming before the chance of a 2pt attempt.
The Bombers' win ended their regular season on 6-2, ahead of Inverclyde and Leeds who both rank lower on points conceded, with the only two defeats coming at the hands of the #1 seeds the Birmingham Bulls. As two sides are promoted to division 1, the Bombers are now potentially just two wins away from an unprecedented promotion, having finished 0-10 in division 2 just four years ago.
Division 2 North Play-Offs: #1 Birmingham Bulls vs #8 Staffordshire Surge #2 Halton Spartans vs #7 Dumfries Hunters #3 Clyde Valley Blackhawks vs #6 Leeds Bobcats #4 Lincolnshire Bombers vs #5 Inverclyde Goliaths