Commentary of the whole game can be found here
The Bath Killer Bees made history again on Sunday, beating Loughborough 14-13 in a thriller to send them to the playoff quarter finals.
Although the 8-0 Killer Bees (#6) were the favourites on paper, the 7-1 Loughborough (#11) were heavily favoured by most commentators heading into the game due to the perceived strength of the MAC compared to the SWAC. Loughborough’s only loss of the year came against the Birmingham Lions by a score of 28-19, and they had barely been challenged the rest of the season.
Loughborough’s day got off to a bad start when their coach broke down on the way to the South West – luckily this didn’t hold them up too much, and the game kicked off on time with Bath receiving the ball.
The first quarter was largely uneventful, Bath’s first drive coming to nothing and leading to an early punt. Loughborough responded with a strong drive, picking up several first downs but ultimately ending in a turnover on downs after a dropped 4th down pass at the Bath 30. Another Bath three and out led to a booming Mike Hutchinson punt which was downed on the Loughborough 1. Loughborough tried to pass on first down, but Alex Reilly timed his blitz perfectly and wrapped up GB Students QB James Slack in the endzone. Slack managed to jettison the ball just before going down, and luckily for him there was an eligible receiver in the area so there was no intentional grounding and a safety was not awarded. The first quarter ended with CB Nick Wiggett knocking the ball out of the hands of a Loughborough receiver in the endzone on 2nd down, and then Alex Reilly laying the boom on Lenkowski in the backfield on 3rd.
Loughborough started the 2nd with a 42 yard Lenkowski field goal attempt, but this was hooked wide left and the score remained 0-0. Bath QB Christoph Cox was then hit as he threw a pass, resulting in an air ball which was intercepted by Loughborough #9 and returned to the Bath 14. A heroic defensive stand was required to prevent a score, and hyper-veteran Liam Emmett obliged with a stunning pick on the edge of the endzone to return possession back to the Bees.
Unfortunately they couldn’t do anything with this possession either, and the ball was punted to around midfield. Loughborough completed a good pass for a chunk of yardage, but Lenkowski fumbled at the Bath 18 and the Killer Bees recovered it to halt another promising drive. Yet another three and out led to another Hutchinson punt, but Loughborough #42 muffed it to start a day of kick-fielding woes for the team formerly known as the Aces, and Bath got a fresh set of downs at their own 40. Some good running from Bobby Nightingale got Bath within half a yard of a first down, but predictably Bath did not make the yardage and had to punt.
Another fantastic Hutchinson kick pinned Loughborough back on their own 5, and on the first play of the drive Alex Reilly blitzed from a potentially offside position to catch the O-line off guard and force a safety for a 2-0 lead. Loughborough were not at all pleased with the call, and the half ended soon after with Bath holding a slender 2-0 lead.
The second half started with a great Loughborough drive, with top receiver #81 making a great grab over the middle and taking it all the way to the Bees 9 for a 31 yard gain. The defense stiffened up though, and when Lenkowski attempted a 25 yard field goal to take the lead it was bravely blocked by Sean Franks. Christoph Cox and Deji Alli messed up their handoff on the third play of Bath’s drive, as the ball squirted out and was recovered by the purple to give Loughborough first and goal on the 1. Lenkowski did not require any further invitation and punched it in at the second time of asking. He kicked his own extra point to make it 7-2 to Loughborough early in the 3rd. Remarkably, this was the first time that the Killer Bees had been behind in a game this season! The rest of the 3rd was characterised by Bath’s increasing confidence in the run game, with Nightingale and Simon Vanstone combining well to gain yardage and set up a frantic 4th quarter.
|Bath quarterback Cristoph Cox drops back to pass|
(Image by Barnaby Brien)
O-line coach and former Ace Neal Callaghan was overheard shouting “This is our quarter!” at the start of the 4th, and initially this did not appear to be the case as Loughborough drove well with a new two back look, as opposed to their usual pistol offense. The Bees defense did not adjust to this new formation very well, and soon QB Slack ran it in for another Loughborough TD. They opted to go for 2, but a false start pushed them back to the 8. The attempted pass was off target, and the score remained 13-2 to the midlanders.
With 9:25 left in the game, Bath needed a touchdown to set up a grandstand finish, and Mike Hutchinson obliged with a 52 yard screen using the umpire as a blocker to set up 1st and goal on the Loughborough 3. Bobby Nightingale made it in on his third attempt to grab a 2 yard touchdown and make it a one score game – the two point attempt was no good, so the score was 13-8.
Bath quickly got the ball back, forcing a Loughborough three and out. This left the Bees four minutes in which to drive down the field and score a touchdown for the win. The first two plays were Simon Vanstone runs for no gain, bringing up 3rd and 10. Christoph Cox, who had not been having his best game, stepped up and made a brilliant throw to the broken-fingered Aaron Linley who made an unconventional but brilliant grab over the middle for a crucial first down.
Vanstone then ran it again to get into Loughborough territory. Another well-thrown screen to Hutchinson brought up a first down on the 30 as the two minute warning was called. Rob Hussey made one of his patented foolish errors on the next play, drawing a 15 yard penalty for a crackback block. The down was repeated, and ended in an incomplete pass, slightly overthrown under pressure. 2nd down was again a little overthrown for another incompletion. Cox could not find an open man on 3rd down, and took a sack to leave 4th and 33 with 58 seconds and one timeout remaining and the season on the line. Cox threw up a beautiful ball to Duncan Scrivens, who was cynically sandwiched by two Loughborough defenders and the flags for defensive pass interference flew.
The 15 yard penalty and automatic first down put Bath on the Loughborough 38, and then Simon Vanstone picked up 8 on a nice run. Hurrying to the line, 2nd and 2 on the 30, Cox threw his best pass of the day to favourite target Hutchinson on a corner route, stepping out of bounds at the 5 to set up a stunning finish. With time dwindling, Bobby Nightingale took it up the middle and appeared to have won the game – but after a conference the referees decided that he was down half a yard short. 9 seconds remained, giving Bath one more chance from half a yard out. Nightingale came out and Deji Alli went in. The Blitz man did not disappoint, cannoning himself into the endzone behind Alex Reilly and Niko Rowe to score and seal the game for the Bees.
The two point was no good, and 3 seconds remained for Loughborough to get a kickoff return. The kickoff was squibbed, and fielded but an untimely inadvertent whistle meant that it had to be kicked again. Second time around, Hutchinson kicked it into the endzone, but the returner didn’t make it out and time expired to seal an incredible victory by a score of 14-13.
Bath now travel to the 8-0 NEC champions the University of Hull Sharks (#3) in the quarterfinals. A victory would make 2012/3 the deepest a Bath team has ever gone in the championship playoffs, and the Bees will be desperate to improve on their 9-0 record.
Match report and commentary by Simon Love.
Original report features here
A photoset from Barnaby Brien can be found here