Hemel Stags looked to be heading to an embarrassing end to their first season of semi-pro rugby league as they trailed playoff rivals London Skolars 38-0 at half time on Sunday.
But a spirited revival after the break saw them battle back to respectability, and their second half performance showed the sort of skill and character that have surprised many observers during the Championship 1 campaign.
The final 44-28 score may have drawn a line under the Pennine Way club’s adventure, but Stags ended on a high and are already looking forward to what next season brings.
After opening exchanges were pretty even home side Skolars romped into a commanding lead, with three quick scores putting the visitors very much on the back foot.
When Hemel did start to put moves together they were too often let down by errors which were ruthlessly punished by the rampant Skolars side.
And the Stags fightback didn’t get under way straight after the break – they went even further behind before at last putting points on the board.
Full back Mike Forgham scored what must be a candidate for Stags’ try of the season to give his side a glimmer of hope.
He collected the ball only a few feet from his own try line and skipped and danced his way through the home defence, running the full length of the pitch to touch down.
After BJ Swindells converted, it wasn’t long before Stags were back on the board, with Aiden Pritchard barging over the line with four defenders hanging onto him.
Swindells kick made it 42-12 – still a huge gap, but Stags were on a roll.
Having had a try by Swindells ruled out for a forward pass Hemel scored again when Swindells collected a kick on the last and was heading for the line before selflessly passing out to centre James Hill for finish the move.
Swindells was the scorer of the next try, though, and added more points with his boot as Skolars began to rock.
Teenager Ben Young added another score on 76 minutes and sure-booted Swindells added the extras, but that was the end of the Stags revival and Skolars inched a little further clear with a penalty as the clock ticked down.