The Bombers stunning 14-point comeback against the Staffordshire Surge proved in vain as a late touchdown within the two-minute warning gave the visitors a tense 28-24 win in the first game on home soil for 2018.
Surge came into the match in terrific form; after defeating the Bombers 22-0 in Stoke in gameweek 1 they completed further wins against the Humber Warhawks (53-0) and Knottingley Raiders (18-8) to jointly lead the division with the Birmingham Bulls (3-0) early in the season.
It was the visitors who started strongest at Memorial Hall too. Although the Bombers had first possession, a pass from inside Bombers territory was intercepted and returned to the redzone. Shortly afterwards this was converted into the opening score through the air – with the 2pt conversion failed, Surge led 6-0.
However, unlike in games 1 and 2 of the season, the Bombers were able to respond immediately. The drive almost never got going as the first of a number of flags (the game was ridden with them) stopped a good connection from QB Andy Bagnall to debutant WR Jordan Hancock from registering as Jordan used his man to stand up… (this was not the only questionable penalty of the afternoon).
A good run from rookie RB Nathan Haymer-Bates helped reboot the drive and a typically powerful run from Bagnall followed suit, as did a 15 yard penalty on the Surge. With the Bombers no huddle offense quickly taking chunks off the field, the ball was in the end zone just two plays later. A quick pass to Hancock took the hosts to the 5 yard line before a Bagnall pass to WR Russell Moore registered the first touchdown of the Bombers season after two shutouts. The PAT blocked – scores level 6-6.
With extra confidence the defence took to the field and, assisted by poor discipline from Staffordshire (more flags), were quick to hand the ball back to the offence who drove with Bagnall sending himself up the middle. In the Surge redzone the Bombers went for it on 4th down but the play fell short and the score remained level.
That was the last good news the hosts had for a while as it was all Surge to the half-time whistle. A missed tackle on defence allowed Staffs to run the ball half the field up the middle for a TD (no PAT) and then the kick-return by Haymer-Bates to the halfway line was called back for an illegal block.
More bad news was to follow. Another penalty pushed the next Bombers drive back until the side punted from near the end zone and Surge capitalised to pick up a third touchdown and secure the 2pt conversion for a 20-6 lead.
If ever you were going to identify ‘the brink’ – this was what happened next. The Bombers were pushed to breaking point through a series of bad plays. Firstly QB Bagnall was taken off the field shaken up through a hit before Head Coach Tex was struck with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on the sidelines.
While Haymer-Bates nearly made back the yards with an excellent run, the Bombers were forced to punt and subject to even more penalty flags. The first given to Surge for a late hit on a punt return, before two penalties on a single play (pass interference and unsportsmanlike conduct) pulled Surge deep into our red zone. An offside call helped the defence keep the visitors at bay - allowing the half-time score to remain 20-6.
With the heat of the day and the intensity of the sideline threatening to overload in the second half it was the Bombers who used the break to best effect.
The defence got an immediate stop to begin the second half before the offence drove into Surge territory. Although Haymer-Bates’ touchdown run was called back for a hold, Bagnall (back on the field) piled forwards for a first down and then connected with WR Chris Wilson in the end zone for the score.
Cue more crazy flags. The first 2pt attempt – a successful connection from Bagnall to Moore was withdrawn due to a flag, then a second attempt – a failed run, was boosted by another penalty this time against Surge. A third attempt, also unsuccessful was finally confirmed leaving the score 20-12 to the visitors.
The defence, having stepped up from the first half malaise, again immediately got the ball back in home hands and a horse collar tackle penalty (because variety is the spice of life) by Surge on Haymer-Bates helped the hosts drive.
Although fruitless, it wasn’t long before the Bombers were celebrating again. Matt Sawdon, apparently getting a penchant for interceptions, picked off the Surge QB and this time returned it to the house – 18-20 (2pt conversion failed).
With the Surge sidelines in panic, the Bombers struck another blow. Ben Beales forcing the fumble with CJ McAllister recovering the ball and putting the offence in range again. This time the drive was stopped short but still had a shot at a field goal to take the lead for the first time in the game. Unfortunately, this was missed narrowly left as the visitors were let off the hook.
With the sun beating down the game finally passed into the fourth quarter and it was everything to play for. Neither side capitalised with their opening drive of the quarter but a big tackle from Ben Harris gave the Bombers the ball back. Soon afterwards, a long connection from Bagnall to Ryan Wakeling flipped the field to put the hosts in scoring territory again.
Although Bagnall was sacked shortly after, he connected with Wilson for a crucial first down, which allowed Haymer-Bates to record a well-deserved maiden touchdown and complete an 18 point swing to 24-20. The 2pt attempt was failed but now the pressure was all on the previously undefeated visitors.
The Bombers thought they had sealed victory late in the quarter after they picked up three first downs in driving to the Surge half but a block in the back penalty halted the progress at the two minute warning.
With a failed fourth-down attempt, the Surge were given one last chance to overturn the score - one they duly took.
A long connection down the left-hand side to the wide receiver ate up big yardage and shortly after they got the ball over the line with another pass attempt. The 2pt conversion good, it left the score 28-24. The Bombers still had just over a minute on the clock to create their own game-winning drive but a Surge interception in the first set of downs ended all hopes of the victory. Staffordshire able to kneel it out and move to 4-0 on the season while the Bombers drop to 0-3.