Finishing third in the Thames Valley Conference table meant Portsmouth had a chance at claiming the Challenge Trophy. But first they had to beat the Bath Killer Bees at home, something which was going to be difficult after losing 22 players because of injuries. However, in what might have been seen as an easy game last year, the Bees showed no sign of faltering as they, too, wanted the trophy.
The game started with flags being thrown against both teams, but Bath were soon gaining yards and their running game was strong, pushing them into the end-zone and a successful kick meant the Killer Bees were leading 7-0.
Portsmouth’s special teams were struggling against Bath as they had lost one of their key kick-returners. However, their other kick-returner, Fola Dare, made a huge run with the ball to gain Portsmouth the yards that they needed to shake Bath’s nerves.
The Destroyers were using their running game in the second quarter but more flags meant Portsmouth were being pushed back into their own territory when the ball slipped out of their arms, allowing for a bath recovery. The Killer Bees once more got the better of Portsmouth and managed to fight their way into the end-zone and a successful kick left the half-time score at 14-0 to Bath.
The third quarter didn’t start any better for Portsmouth after a bad punt made its way into Bath’s possession. They were quick to take advantage and put another six points on the board against Portsmouth.
Quarterback Ben Clift was injured during a play and stepped off for Simon Blow to take over, but a bad throw led the ball straight into the arms of Bath who ran for another touchdown and extra point.
In the fourth quarter Portsmouth managed to throw the ball into the safe hands of James Haggarty for their only score of the game, momentarily lifting the away spirits.
An error by the officials meant Bath went for a field goal on their fifth down but Portsmouth managed to block which was then picked up and ran by Matt Doherty. As it became apparent that Portsmouth weren’t going to win, they bought on third-string quarterback Sam Forster who made completions that were becoming a rarity in Portsmouth’s throwing game. However, nothing came of them and the game ended 27-6 to Bath, Portsmouth’s biggest loss in over 18 games.
Portsmouth were one of the most feared sides before Christmas, undefeated for 15 games, before their number of injuries increased rapidly. There is no doubt next year Head Coach, Russ Hewitt, will be making sure the boys are fit, healthy and injury-free going into the next season so that they can give full commitment to adding another BUAFL trophy to their cabinet.
The Destroyers now bid farewell to 10 graduates whose shoes will be hard to fill, but recruitment next year should help fill the void.