A last gasp try from debutant Noah Cato and a pressure kick from Jimmy Gopperth sealed a dramatic victory for Newcastle Falcons over Bedford Blues at Kingston Park.
Cato’s heroic touchdown in the corner deep into injury time ensured that the Falcons’ long unbeaten record remained intact to produce scenes of jubilation on the terraces.
A Falcons line-out midway inside Bedford’s half was collected by the dependable Scott MacLeod before the ball was switched to the speedy winger on the blindside for the five-point score.
It was a ‘get out of jail card’ against a Bedford side that fought right to the bitter end as they themselves eye silverware come the end of the campaign.
Bedford Blues took the lead two minutes into the contest thanks to a Myles Dorian penalty after Falcons skipper Will Welch was adjudged to have taken out full-back Brendan Burke off the ball following his clearance kick.
The Falcons conjured up their first real attack with a quarter of the game played with Michael Tait’s line-break setting the tone for a period of sustained pressure. Two penalties in quick succession followed which were both kicked into the corner in favour of the three points, as the Falcons looked to get a stronghold of the affair. However, a gutsy Bedford rear-guard stood firm to prevent a Newcastle score.
Following a scrum on half-way in which Oliver Tomazczyk tussled with former Falcon Darren Fearn, the two sets of forwards packed down again before referee Llyr ApGerraint-Roberts lost his patience to award the penalty. The normally reliable Jimmy Gopperth shanked the penalty to the left of the upright, and Bedford’s three point cushion remained intact.
That three point lead was extended to six when Mark Atkinson’s audacious 30-metre drop goal arrowed between the posts.
But in comical fashion the Falcons went in front on the stroke of half-time through Jamie Helleur after Gopperth’s penalty cannoned both posts, then the bar before the Samoan centre pounced on the loose ball to touchdown. Gopperth added the extras for a 7-6 interval advantage.
The northeasterners came out for the second period with more potency in attack, and were rewarded for their early foray into Bedford’s half with a penalty wide left, but Gopperth was unable to convert.
On 55 minutes both sides were reduced to 14-men with Leinster-bound Gopperth and James Stephenson yellow-carded for an altercation on the near side. The resulting penalty was converted by Dorian to give Bedford a narrow 9-7 lead.
Following the restart the Falcons’ task was made more difficult when Ally Hogg was sin-binned for an off the ball infringement.
Atkinson struck his second impeccable drop-goal of the night from all of 35-metres to increase the gap to 12-7. And 17 minutes from time Dorian made it 15-7 with a penalty.
Gopperth returned from the bin with 12 minutes left on the clock and made an immediate impact with a simple penalty from in front of the sticks to set-up a frantic finale.
Needing a converted try to win, the Falcons, dripping with passion and desire kept going until the end, and were rewarded with Cato’s final throw of the dice. Gopperth’s conversion gave Newcastle a 17-15 victory to extend their unbeaten run to 18 in the league and 24 in all competitions.
Newcastle Falcons: 15 Tom Catterick, 14 Noah Cato, 13 Michael Tait, 12 Jamie Helleur, 11 Ryan Shortland, 10 Jimmy Gopperth, 9 Rory Lawson, 1 Jonny Golding, 2 Matt Thompson, 3 Oliver Tomaszczyk, 4 Scott MacLeod, 5 James Hudson, 6 Mark Wilson, 7 Will Welch (c), 8 Ally Hogg
Replacements: 16 Michael Mayhew, 17 Kieran Brookes, 18 Sean Tomes, 19 Taiasina Tu’ifua, 20 Warren Fury, 21 Joel Hodgson, 22 Alex Crockett
Bedford Blues: 15 Brendan Burke, 14 James Stephenson, 13 Ollie Dodge, 12 Mark Atkinson, 11 Josh Bassett, 10 Myles Dorian, 9 Darryl Veenendaal, 1 Darren Fearn, 2 Chris Locke, 3 Ben Cooper, 4 Mike Howard, 5 Ben Gulliver, 6 Gregor Gillanders, 7 Darren Fox (c), 8 Don Barrell
Replacements: 16 Neil Cochrane, 17 Dan Seal, 18 Ricky Reeves, 19 Paul Tupai, 20 Joe Vandermolen, 21 Luke Baldwin, 22 Jake Sharp
Referee: Llyr ApGerraint-Roberts