Harrogate RUFC scored a last-gasp try to earn themselves a dramatic victory at Billingham in their opening league game of 2017/18.
Injury stoppage time led to Saturday’s National Three North clash lasting for 92 minutes and the home side were in the lead for more than 91 of them.
In the dying seconds, Billingham scrum-half Elliot Husband was tackled by ‘Gate’s Dave Doherty as he tried to kick for touch and Luke Edwards pounced on the loose ball before scorching through the cover to register the decisive score of the afternoon.
At the start of the match, home number eight Danny Dixon made a powerful run through the middle and his strength in contact was to become a feature of the game.
The hosts’ pressure continued and an astute Pete Evans cross-kick was gathered by centre Andrew Gardner who touched down out wide for a 5-0 advantage.
Billingham then had to defend desperately against a series of Harrogate driving mauls and, when they went offside, Luke White’s penalty opened the visitors’ account.
Fifteen minutes into the game, ‘Gate’s own number eight Tim Heaton had to leave the field with a head wound that required stitches.
Billingham didn’t have a doctor in attendance so a Harrogate supporter had to take him to a nearby hospital and, although the repair job was a straightforward one, Heaton didn’t return until after the final-whistle.
With ‘Gate certainly suffering due to the experienced forward’s absence, sustained home pressure then led to a second try of the day, this time from from flanker Dan Burns.
Harrogate regrouped and their attacks led to another Billingham offside offence and White’s second penalty goal, reducing the arrears at 10-6.
Yet more Harrogate pressure followed, resulting in a series of home penalty offences in the ‘red zone’.
However, no further sanctions were imposed on the hosts before White’s third penalty goal made the score 10-9.
A brilliant jinking run from Billingham’s Evans led to their next try.
He split Harrogate’s defence and delivered a scoring pass to winger Martin Hopley, the conversion taking the scoreline to 17-9.
Another powerful Dixon charge threatened to extend the lead but a crunching tackle from visiting skipper Danny Matthews forced him into touch just before half-time.
Harrogate were quick out of their blocks from the re-start and, yet again, forced the Billingham defence to concede penalties close to their own try-line.
A long clearance then led to a home counter-attack and Harrogate’s Edwards went offside inside the 22.
Despite everything that had gone before it, this particular offence was deemed by referee Mr Taylor to be deserving of a yellow card and a successful kick at the posts made the score 20-9 in favour of the hosts.
From a seemingly hopeless situation, the men from Rudding Lane went up a gear and a series of attacks forced the home defence into conceding a string of penalties.
A yellow card was eventually brandished in the direction of a home player and Harrogate opted to kick for touch and an attacking line-out.
The kick did however fail to find touch and Billingham cleared their lines.
The Aces’ power-play then saw them take control for the rest of the match.
Forward pressure eventually created a gap for Olly Rosillo to score in the corner and White’s conversion made it 20-16.
Billingham’s long restart kick was then fielded by Matthews and passed to Harry Barnard, almost on the Harrogate goal line.
The young winger’s pace saw him burst through a first attempted tackle and his strength and guile took him the length of the field to the home goal-line.
He was finally tackled in the act of touching down and was adjudged not to have grounded the ball properly, meaning that away team still trailed.
The ‘Gate pressure continued well into injury-time and it was this that led to the missed Billingham clearance kick and Edwards’ dramatic winning try.
At the end of the match, there was a moment of stunned silence from both sets of supporters.