The Lincolnshire Bombers moved a step closer to play-off football with a hard-fought win over local rivals the Humber Warhawks.
With the Bombers knowing a win in their final home match here, and another in the final fixture of the season against the Knottingley Raiders, would secure them a first-ever play-off appearance, they couldn't afford any slip ups.
After almost 50 days of unbroken sunshine, the heavens decided to open up on Sunday morning and provide a damp start to proceedings at Memorial Hall, although gratefully the rain had rescinded by the time kick-off took place.
It was the travelling Warhawks who took the ball first and to their credit and local support's surprise they drove it all the way down the field for the opening score of the game. Punching in the touchdown on a fourth and goal attempt, the underdogs also added a 2pt conversion to lead 8-0. A sign that the side from Humber (much criticised pre-season) had improved sufficiently during the season to actually improve on last year's record.
However, the visitors hadn't accounted for Lincolnshire's hot offence. After two shutouts to open the season, the hosts have since hit 24, 39, 39 and 49 in the following four games and showed their potential with a touchdown in reply on the first play of the next drive - Jordan Hancock taking it the distance to reduce the appears to 8-7 with a successful PAT.
Shortly afterwards, the Bombers were ahead. A snap over the Humber QBs head was recovered by the returning Ben Lee Harris and taken down to the 5 yard line. Although Humber's defence stood strong in the red zone, and Andy Bagnall field goal put the hosts 10-8 ahead.
With the Bombers now back on top and feeling confident they further drove home their advantage. A defensive stop was followed by a long connection between Bagnall and Jack Paddison, before the quarterback bullied it himself over the line for the score - 17-8 and some breathing space for the first time.
The Bombers almost put the game out of sight with another excellent drive. Two runs from Paddison and one from Nathan Haymer-Bates brought the Bombers to the goal-line again. However, much like the Seahawks in Superbowl 49, the short throw in the endzone was intercepted and returned to safety.
Almost in identical fashion, the Warhawks then did the same thing. Following a long drive punctuated by penalties, the Warhawks were picked off in the endzone by cornerback Matt Sawdon to keep the score at 17-8. With the half drawing to a close, neither side could force another score and had to settle for an intriguing scoreline at the break.
Both sides started with three and outs in the third quarter as defences got on top (great for fans of punters) before it was finally the Bombers again who managed to win the special teams battle - getting into range for a successful 36-yard field goal from Bagnall to extend the score further to 20-8.
From one special teams play to another and this time it was a punt return. After the Bombers defence picked up another three and out, returner Haymer-Bates took the ball from the Bombers 25 yard line down to the Humber 3 yard line to give the hosts fantastic starting field position. Not finished there, the rookie running-back then took it in himself to extend the lead once again to 27-8.
That should have been game over but once more the rejuvenated Warhawks came back and picked up their second touchdown of the day with another successful 2pt conversion (27-16) - positive signs for the visitors who were written off earlier in the year.
Finally into the fourth quarter and the Bombers improved special teams play under coach Jay Clinton paid off again. Haymer-Bates once more collecting the punt and this time returning it the full distance (64 yards) to the endzone to give the Bombers breathing space once again - after that, Humber never punted the ball to the rookie again. Another successful PAT for 33-16.
With time running out and the fourth quarter down to the two-minute warning, the Bombers were able to pick up one final score. A fumbled punt was recovered by the kicker but taken down by Miles Anderson at the two-yard line. Once again Bagnall ran the ball in for his second score - the PAT taking the score to it's final look of 40-16.
As other results completed around the country the Bombers knew their likely end of season fate. A win over the Knottingley Raiders would secure play-off football, with the most likely destination a re-match against the Chester Romans should the Lincolnshire defence hold steady on Sunday.