Northumberland Lightning produced one of the shock results of the season when they defeated the Dundee Hurricanes 27-20 at Ashington Rugby Club in the British National League NFC Division 2 North division.
In a game that many American Football pundits had as an easy victory for the ‘Canes, the Lightning prevailed and secured their first ever National League win in their first season of competition.
The game started slowly with both teams feeling each other out. The Lightning defence held firm in the first quarter with defensive linemen Ben Harris and Tom McKale along with linebackers Roy Boucher and Dale Clarke setting the tone with some hard hitting.
Meanwhile, the offence moved the ball early - tight end Ross Conley taking a 52-yard run into the Hurricanes red zone, but a few plays later on fourth down, quarterback Callum Pattison found Conley on a crossing route, but he dropped a sure fire touchdown.
The game kick-started in the second period as the Lightning got the first score on the board with a well-executed play-action.
Quarterback Pattison faked the hand-off to running back Reece Salkeld before rolling to his right and throwing a pinpoint pass to the corner of the end zone into the hands of Conley. The point after was missed.
The ‘Canes replied when a deep pass from quarterback Bruce Thomson was hauled in by the wide receiver as he ran down the side-line and into the end zone. The point after was good to give the visitors a 7-6 lead.
A Northumberland fumble then gave the Hurricanes excellent field position as the half drew to close. The game appeared to be heading in a similar pattern to the first meeting between the two sides which ended 37-6 earlier in the season, the Lightning having a 6-0 lead in that game before conceding two late first half touchdowns to go into the break 13-6 down.
But this time the Lightning were made of sterner stuff and the defence stopped the visitors from getting in the end zone, leaving the half-time score 7-6 to Dundee.
Northumberland received the ball from the kick-off and made the most of it, with strong running from the full back duo of Gary Cooper and Scott Radford moving the ball down field and taking time off the clock.
The drive ended in a second passing touchdown of the day for the Lightning, Pattison finding wide receiver Carl Charlton unmarked in the middle of the end zone. The point after was good.
This spurred on the defence as it held strong in the third quarter, getting the ball back for the offence again and again.
The biggest play of the game followed late in the third quarter as one of the Hurricanes’ better defenders was forced off the field with an injury. The Lightning took advantage and ran a perfectly executed reverse with Conley sprinting his way to a 62-yard touchdown. The point after was missed.
Dundee were not to be underestimated, though, and showed their class just a few plays later, Thomson hitting another long pass on fourth and 13 which found its way into hands of a wide receiver who scampered into the end zone. The point after was good to leave the score at the end of the third quarter 19-14 to Northumberland.
In the fourth quarter the Northumberland offence continued to move the ball with the running game, with Radford, Cooper, Salkeld and Conley getting the bulk of the work.
The Hurricanes did not help themselves with a number of penalties on the drive, including back to back infringements on Andrew Henderson for a late hit out of bounds and unsportsmanlike conduct.
From the one yard line Northumberland yet again handed the ball off to full back Radford and he dived into the end zone for the touchdown. The Lightning converted a two-point conversion with Pattison throwing to Cooper to make the score 27-14.
But the Hurricanes were not done yet, putting together an impressive drive before another Thomson passing touchdown closed the lead to 27-20, with the extra point attempt failing.
Dundee set up for an onside kick to try and get the ball back with just 3.55 left on the clock, and the Lightning were unable to gather the ball and the Hurricanes to recovered.
The Hurricanes moved the ball down the field on the next couple of plays before a crucial fourth down. Thomson dropped back to pass before trying to run up the middle. He tried to unload the ball to a fellow Hurricane but it was fumbled and picked up by Lightning linebacker Boucher.
The Lightning still had some work to do with 2.04 left on the clock and the opposition having three timeouts left.
But on a crucial third down, tight end Lee Davison took a reverse beyond the first down marker, securing their first ever league victory. All that was left was for Pattison to take a knee, running out the clock.
It was an exceptional turnaround for the Lightning, who lost just two weeks ago 98-6 at the hands of the West Coast Trojans, and were all but written off by the pre-game predictions.
Northumberland head coach Mal Ditcham said: “It’s a great feeling to get our first win of the season, especially to bounce back from a big defeat against West Coast Trojans in our previous game.
“The players were fantastic and a real credit not only to the club but to the county of Northumberland.
“Most of our players had not played American Football prior to this season, so to see them develop in such a short space of time is a great credit to the players and the coaches.
“We have five games remaining this season so hopefully this win can be the springboard to more wins.”
“I’d like to say thanks to the Dundee Hurricanes for making the long trip south, that’s the second time the two clubs have met and both games have been good competitive games played in the right spirit.
“I’d like to wish them all the best for the rest of the season.”