Final Score: Darlington Mowden Park 30 Ampthill 28
WHAT a parting shot. In the final move of his last game for Darlington Mowden Park, livewire scrum half Zylon McGaffin nipped over for the try which clinched promotion to National One.
The South African, who is to play for Rotherham in the Championship next season, instantly became the centre of jubilant scenes as Mowden and another bumper crowd at The Northern Echo Arena celebrated wildly.
McGaffin’s sniping breaks had always been Mowden’s most potent attacking threat and his pressure-relieving kicks were also significant, so it was fitting that he should emerge the hero.
The drama of the previous week’s win against Macclesfield had been almost unbearable and this time there were some who couldn’t bear to watch as Tom Hodgson lined up the penalty which would have snatched victory in injury time.
For the second successive week it seemed the fly half would have a 100 per cent record as the 40-metre kick soared towards the left post.
But it drifted inches wide, taking the game into ten minutes each way of extra time at 25- 25.
Mowden's Chris Peace powers through the Ampthill defence
Hodgson had kicked superbly, landing six penalties and converting Mowden’s only try. But suddenly the fates turned against him and early in extra time his long, accurate pass to winger Tom Kill was harshly adjudged forward.
At the ensuing scrum Mowden were under immense pressure and conceded a penalty, which Ampthill kicked. They looked certain to hang on to their lead as their stronger, more experienced forwards effectively ran down the clock, only to lose possession when time was all but up.
It was Mowden’s turn to keep possession and the referee could not blow for time until there was a breakdown in play. They continually recycled the ball for four minutes, knowing that one knockon would end it, and were finally awarded a penalty five metres from the line.
There was no point in going for goal to level the scores again as Ampthill would have won by virtue of scoring three tries to one, so McGaffin tapped and darted.
He scrambled over and up went Northumberland referee Wayne Falla’s arm, leaving Ampthill and their blazered supporters mortified.
Mowden players celebrate at the end of the match
They were fully justified in wondering how they had lost because in many respects they were the better team. But the young Mowden players simply refused to buckle and their never-say-die spirit prevailed.
Hodgson’s first 40-metre penalty gave Mowden an early lead, but when they went backwards at a scrum shortly afterwards Hodgson’s hasty attempted clearance was plucked off his boot by his opposite number, who had a clear run to the posts.
The visitors knocked on at the restart, allowing Mowden to set up an attack in which lock Pierce Phillips and full back Henry Robinson were prominent before Cameron Mitchell sent left winger Kill over.
Hodgson converted from wide out for a 10-7 lead and after Ampthill equalised he landed three in six minutes, the most difficult being from the ten-metre line wide on the right.
A good move by the visitors created a clear chance in the right corner, which was wasted through a poor final pass.
But they kept the pressure on and when a flanker crashed over by the posts he couldn’t believe it when the referee ruled he hadn’t grounded the ball.
Mowden’s 19-10 interval lead soon began to look vulnerable.
With another scrum going backwards, No 8 Talite Vaioleti knocked on and a team-mate picked up from an off-side position, presenting Ampthill with three easy points.
The pressure was soon back on, but Robinson and Mitchell broke out from the 22 and McGaffin got to the line from a quickly-taken penalty, only to be held up.
Again Mowden were pushed off the ball at the scrum and Vaioleti, struggling with his shoulder problem, was replaced by Ollie Hodgson. Without their most experienced man it was clearly going to be a struggle for Mowden to hang on and they fell behind to a converted catch-and-drive try after 57 minutes.
Hodgson put them back in front, however, with a 40-metre penalty, only for the visiting full back to show electrifying pace in racing outside his marker to score in the right corner.
That made it 25-22 to Ampthill, but through impeding McGaffin’s attempts to take quick penalties they gave Hodgson a simple chance to level the scores with six minutes left.
Mowden's Tom Hodgson (10) with hands on his head after missing a last minute penalty in normal time to win the match
Two minutes into injury time came his chance of glory.
Many thought the well-struck kick was over, but the agony of that miss turned to sheer ecstasy in the end.