The Northumberland Lightning shocked the Aberdeen Roughnecks on the opening day of the British American Football National League season with a 10-8 victory at Ashington Rugby Club on Sunday.
The heavily fancied Roughnecks, who reached the play-offs last season with a 6-4 record, made the long journey south to take on a Lightning outfit that went 1-9 in its rookie season, suffering heavy 44-20 and 53-0 defeats to Aberdeen in the process.
The Roughnecks’ first drive showed some potential, but the Lightning held firm, forcing a punt that Aberdeen were able to down inside the ten-yard line.
Northumberland’s offense struggled to gain yards, but an excellent punt by Michael Raven flipped field position in the home side’s favour.
From that point onwards, the defences dominated, particularly Northumberland’s, who got immense pressure on Aberdeen quarterback Chris Breen. Rookie linebacker Liam Allen was a particular menace, totalling two sacks, with fellow rookie ‘backer Dan Bandeira also sacking the QB.
Second-year defensive end Sean Hall picked up his first sack of the season as the home side took their total to four.
Rookie corner back Luke Osbourne also made his first career interception as the Lightning shut out their opponents in the first period.
On the other side, Northumberland managed to move the ball thanks to running back Dale Merritt and the blocking of an offensive line including two rookies.
The hard work paid dividends in the second quarter when, after a fumble recovery by Hall after another vicious sack, Raven kicked a field goal to give the Lightning a 3-0 lead.
A crucial play before the end of the first half almost provided more points for the Lightning. A fantastic pass rush forced Breen into an errant throw and it was picked off by recent transfer Michael Brown who ran it back to the three-yard mark.
However, there were two flags on the play, both on Aberdeen, but the referee’s called the play should never have happened, meaning the visitors kept the.
The third quarter followed a similar pattern with defences on top.
With ten minutes left in the fourth quarter, Northumberland increased their lead. Allen broke through the Aberdeen offensive line, making a crunching hit on Breen as he was in the process of throwing the ball. It looped in the air for Conley to intercept and he ran it in from 23 yards out for the touchdown, with Raven’s block opening a lane to the end zone.
The Aberdeen quarterback was forced out of the game after the hit with a shoulder injury.
To their credit, Aberdeen came back strong and with just over two minutes remaining tight end Rob Hayes ran free down the middle to catch a 40-yard reception for a touchdown. Ollie Schaffmann converted for two points leaving the score 10-8 in Northumberland’s favour.
Aberdeen tried an onside kick, but Lightning running back Daniel Patterson picked up the kick despite a pile on from the Roughnecks.
Northumberland then failed to move the ball and Aberdeen had one last play with four seconds remaining from halfway. The Roughnecks back-up QB dropped back and fired to his left where free safety Dick caught the interception and took a knee to end the game.
Next up is a home game against the Glasgow Tigers on Sunday, April 24 at Ashington Rugby Club, kick-off 2.30pm.
After the win, Lightning head coach Mal Ditcham said: “I’m delighted with the guys, going up against a team like Aberdeen on the opening day was never going to be easy, but the team played brilliantly and managed to grind out the win.
“Last year was our first in the league and at times we found it difficult, so to get a win in the first game really shows how far we have come in the last 12 months.
“The lads did brilliantly, I can’t praise them enough. We will not get carried away though, this is just one win, we have another nine games to go, so our focus now switches to our home game against the Glasgow Tigers.
“I’d like to say thanks to Aberdeen for making the long trip down south, they put up a strong fight and the late TD really made it an exciting finish.
“The Roughnecks are a great organisation and we’ve enjoyed all of the games we’ve played against them. We wish them all the best for the rest of the season.”
Defensive co-ordinator Dale Clarke added: “The players have done themselves proud with the hard work they have put in during the off-season and pre-season training.
“Seeing new players play with confidence having not played the game at all three months prior to playing alongside ten teammates in a league game was a privilege to see.
“We had great team chemistry and aggression from the first quarter to the final interception.”
Game day sponsors Punch Drunk Comedy supplied two tickets for an upcoming gig to the game’s most valuable player, awarded to rookie linebacker Allen for his two sack performance, along with a number of other big plays.
Punch Drunk 2.4 is coming to Blyth, Bedlington and Ashington between April 18 and 21.