The Lincolnshire Bombers took another huge step towards featuring in the British American Football's post-season with a hard-fought victory over the Staffordshire Surge.
The Bombers came into the game already on record-breaking form with three consecutive victories against the Crewe Railroaders, Humber Warhawks and Halton Spartans securing a .500 or better season for the first time in the club's history. A win against the Surge would not only extend those records but have the team looking towards the play-offs for the first time too.
When the teams met earlier in the season, the Bombers endured a torrid first quarter which saw the offence gift three turnovers and head into halftime with barely a first down to their name - trailing 22-0.
This time the Bombers were more resolute and following an early three and out from the defence, embarked up the field for the opening score. Good work in the trenches from the o-line resulted in a well-driven running game and a pitch over the top to tight end Morgan Page in the red zone who was able to turn from five yards out and walk into the end zone.
While the PAT was no good, it was a marked improvement on trailing by 20+ points in Stoke and gave the Bombers the impetus to go on with a 6-0 lead.
That would turn out to be half of the total touchdowns in the day as the pay dirt was offering a high price in Lincoln with both defences dominating for the most part.
Notably, it was the Bombers who were able to manufacture the better drives. With the Surge stymied at the line on rushing attempts and shutout in the aerial attack, the defence were rarely on the field for more than four plays during an excellent first half.
Trying to force the issue, the Surge quarterback rolled out to his right and sent the ball down the sidelines, only to fall into the hands of linebacker Adam Simeoni who secured the interception and gave the offence the start in opposition territory.
The Bombers were able to capitalise on the pick, Andy Bagnall eventually converting a field goal following a short drive, to give the Bombers a 9-0 lead at the end of the first quarter.
The second quarter was a real defensive masterclass. Once more the Surge attack proved powerless against the confident Bombers defence, rarely threatening the halfway line, while the Surge defence, attempting to stop the run game of 'pinball' Jack Paddison and Ross Wheatley, stuffed the line with seven defenders to keep the scores the same at the break.
While the third quarter was also scoreless, it was the Bombers who threatened again. Having been stuffed short on a 4th and goal at the end of the first half, the Bombers were once again stopped with the goal line in sight with the first drive of the second half. With only a fragile 9-0 lead heading into the final quarter, the decision to turn down two field goal attempts started to feel ominous.
But, in the space of two drives in the final quarter, everything changed.
Firstly, the defence as they had done all game, forced the issue and recovered the ball in Surge territory. A run up the middle was stopped by a swarm of Bombers and, after the pile revealed itself, it was Graham Owens who appeared with the ball in hand - the turnover confirmed after some deliberation by the officials.
The hosts then drove quickly down to the goal line before a series of penalties (including a bizarre delay of game) had the Bombers forced back to the 32 yard line. On a 'first and goal/forever' QB Bagnall sent the ball over the top for Jack Paddison who took the ball down and strode into the end zone - the score deserved by Paddison who had been excellent running the ball all day.
Although the PAT missed left, the Bombers now held a commanding 15-0 lead with minutes to spare.
Despite a Ben Harris sack (regulation these days) the Surge finally worked their first meaningful drive of the day and managed to pick up a first down in the red zone for the first time with a long pass play.
However, the defence - off the back of last game's shutout versus the Warhawks, were not keen to let up any more room and successfully held the Surge at bay on 4th and 5 to put the icing on another impressive performance.
With that victory the team went to 6-3 for the first time and gave themselves a real chance of play-off football when they travel to Chester in two weeks in a winner-takes-all game.
With the Surge at home to both the Halton Spartans and Humber Warhawks they should finish 7-3, leaving the winner of the Romans/Bombers match to fight for the 2nd/3rd spot at 7-3 as well.
Regardless of the season's finish, the Bombers can already revel in an incredible season which has seen them break the following records:
- First 6-win season - First winning season - First occasion with four consecutive victories - First time with back-to-back shutouts