The Lincolnshire Bombers laboured to a 20-6 victory over their local rivals the Humber Warhawks which nonetheless boosted their play-off ambitions as they extended their 2019 record to 4-2 in the NFC 2 South.
With the Birmingham Bulls racing to the division title (another victory over Crewe taking them to 7-0), the Bombers knew a win would give them full control of the race for second spot in the division and a shot at the fourth seed overall in the Northern section of the play-offs.
Following the game against the Bulls last weekend, the Bombers were missing a few key cogs from the defence including; DL Russ Houlden, S Iwan Williams and CB Boawe Rankin which would force a few more players to step up and test the squad depth on what was a hot day in Lincoln.
The Warhawks would also find the heat difficult as they didn't travel with great numbers, forcing a number of players to play both ways – something they did admirably throughout the game to force the Bombers to battle hard all afternoon.
However, it was the officials that would be the first to need attention from the sideline. On the opening kick-off a home and away player tangling down the touchline crashed into the referee causing a few minutes delay as he received treatment (but valiantly continued).
When the game resumed it was the Warhawks who dominated the start. Their opening drive marched downfield, taking the slow-starting Bombers defence by surprise as the visitors registered the opening touchdown with a wideopen QB keeper run for a 6-0 lead. The 2pt attempt was stifled though as the offence took the field for the first time.
Their opening effort was hardly an improvement. A promising-looking drive ended with an interception by the Warhawks near their 25-yard line as the Bombers struggled to wake themselves up into the match.
When the Warhawks connected on a long bomb downfield next drive to reach the redzone again, the favourites were looking down the barrel of a two-touchdown deficit. However, a 4-and-out from the defence kept the score at single figures.
Shortly afterwards the hosts were level. An up-tempo offence drove rapidly down the field with runs from Elliott Harvey and Yu-Joe Bunting leading the way, before Kaylind Grant ran the ball home from close range to tie the scores at 6-6 – a fumbled PAT preventing the lead being taken.
As the defence clicked into gear, led by some impressive tackling from Ben Smith and some backfield penetration from Joe Hickson and Adam Simeoni, the Warhawks QB started receiving more pressure and hits which finally paid off with LB Rich Brooksby snaffling an excellent interception at midfield.
With the clock running out on the half, the Bombers took two shots from QB Lewis Colver into the endzone – the first dropped by an open receiver, before the second was corralled by Ryan Wakeling to finally give the Bombers a 12-6 halftime lead – the 2pt attempt failing.
A few words were given at halftime with the Bombers nowhere near hitting top gear and it seemed to have immediate effect as they opened the second half as they ended the first with a touchdown drive. This time Andy Bagnall burrowed over from close in to extend the lead to 18-6, before Yu-Joe Bunting ran in the 2pt conversion.
With the Warhawks roster getting stretched in the heat and some players going both ways it was down to the offence to capitalise on the defence's continual production of short drives. However, the misfiring hosts failed to dominate proceedings and would spend the remainder of the second half scoreless.
Even when gifted the ball on the 15-yard line following veteran Wayne Rodger's first interception of the season, the offence couldn't achieve any additional yardage and ending up missing a field goal to cap what was an under-par performance.
The win was the crucial result of the day but the lack of celebration at the final whistle said a lot for the home team's expectations in anticipation of heading deep into the post-season. With two games against the winless Crewe Railroaders coming up, the Bombers will be confident of finishing with a 6-2 record but will need better delivery on the day when tougher assignments arise.
Credit to the Humber Warhawks who really battled hard all day in the hot conditions and player-for-player put in a sterner shift than the home team.