PHOTO GALLERY: Heroics end historic season for Bourne Rugby Club
Player-coach Dave Maudsley celebrated "the perfect end to my career" as Bourne finished the season on a high.
With eight wins out of their last 10 league fixtures, they understandably fancied their chances in Saturday's NLD Plate final.
However, Ashfield were pre-match favourites on paper having secured promotion to the level above Bourne next season.
Preparation looked to have gone well for Bourne but the withdrawal of starting full-back Jack Berry just hours before kick-off had given Maudsley cause for concern.
Bourne consider themselves a squad with strength in depth and Maudsley was quick to call up talented youngster JJ Roberts on the wing as Jamie Colangelo moved to full-back.
Despite the late changes, Bourne named arguably their strongest squad of the season for the trip to Newark.
Bourne started nervously and looked unusually to be struggling defensively.
With the ball in hand, the Ashfield centres proved agile and were given far too much space by their opponents.
Despite several early breaks by the Ashfield backs, Bourne did just enough to eventually halt their progress.
Sensing Ashfield's frustration at not being able to turn their opportunities into points, Bourne grew into the game and maintaining possession they began to build pressure.
Having started with the wind behind them, Bourne began to make some use of the advantage as they forced their way into the Ashfield half.
With the direction of the wind changing fairly frequently, the Bourne backs were limited in terms of getting the ball wide but strong carries from centres Adam McHugh and Sam Thornburn saw them make progress going forward.
With the ball being kept relatively narrow, the Bourne pack were used to build phases and they certainly seemed to have the measure of their opponents at the breakdown.
Their dominance was rewarded with a number of penalties in quick succession.
The impact of the erratic wind was clear when scrum-half Sam Evison, normally so reliable with his kicking duties, missed four kicks at goal in the space of 10 minutes.
Bourne were handed another advantage when the number of penalties by Ashfield was considered to be getting too high and after yet another ruck infringement, their prop was sin-binned.
Already dominant at the scrum, Bourne made the most of their numerical advantage at the set-pieces and continued to build pressure.
Ashfield, though, worked hard and a resounding defensive effort kept Bourne from scoring during the sin-bin period.
Captain Tom Dixon had come closest to breaking the deadlock but fell just short of the line and second-row partners Sam Harby and Andrew Brown also looked as though they might cross to open the scoring.
Ironically it was when Ashfield returned to full strength that Bourne finally converted their pressure into points.
After another breakdown on the Ashfield five-metre line, Bourne risked taking the ball wide shipping it against the wind to the left wing where Roberts made good ground.
As Roberts was brought down, the more mobile Bourne forwards were the sharper to react by ensuring the ball was recycled quickly.
With the Ashfield defence still trying to get organised, hooker Harry Thornburn spotted his chance and dived over the line. Evison shook off his early disappointment to add a fantastic touchline conversion.
Inspired by taking the lead, Bourne continued to make inroads but failed to build on their lead, getting to half-time still just 7-0 ahead.
Facing the prospect of a rejuvenated Ashfield aided by the wind, Bourne looked to be in for a tough second 40 minutes.
In contrast to the opening 20 minutes, Bourne's defence in the third quarter was robust and - despite being camped on their own five-metre line for much of that time - they refused to concede.
Ashfield tried to utilise their heavier pack in close quarters but they found no way through the Bourne pack who clearly had no intention of taking a backward step.
The Bourne defensive effort was led by man of the match Sion Williams who time and again knocked back the oncoming Ashfield players.
When they found no way through the middle, Ashfield then reverted back to using their centres who repeatedly made yards with their good foootwork but still they couldn't cross the whitewash.
It was the Ashfield outside centre, though, whose erratic running soon looked to have caused a big shift in momentum - weaving through the Bourne defence, the centre ducked as Dixon came in to tackle him and Dixon was subsequently yellow-carded for a high tackle.
The Bourne pack doubled their efforts and for the next eight minutes they absorbed a huge amount of pressure as Ashfield continued to surge forward.
Just when Bourne were readying themselves to return to the full 15, Ashfield found the upper hand and crossed to level the score.
From the restart Bourne finally found themselves in the Ashfield half and a couple of minutes later Dixon returned to the field.
Defensively the Bourne pack kept Ashfield restricted to small gains in the centre of the field and some staunch defence from the Bourne back three halted any progress out wide.
Ashfield appeared willing to run from anywhere and with the wind behind them, it looked as though they would soon work their way back to the Bourne try line.
From a scrum just inside their own 22, the Ashfield fly-half ran centrally looking to feed the ball to his centres but he was met quickly by centre Sam Thornburn.
Latching on to the ball Thornburn, as he has so often in the past, showed incredible strength and snatched possession back to his side.
Thornburn then stormed towards the Ashfield try line and, despite the attention of several defenders, powered over to put his side back in front. Evison added the simple conversion and Bourne's seven-point lead was restored.
The game was evenly poised as Ashfield restarted but within seconds Bourne were reduced to 14 men again when Evison was caught out in the same manner as Dixon and suffered the same reaction from the referee.
Ashfield once again camped themselves inside the Bourne half but going into the final quarter, Bourne finally looked like a side that believed they were capable of achieving their ambition.
Buoyed on by almost 100 supporters, the Bourne players found another gear and set about seeing the game out.
Reluctant to attempt much with the ball when they had it, Bourne began winding down the clock with a simple carrying game.
Covering Evison at scrum-half, Roberts made good use of the forwards - notably prop Chris Greenwood and also fly-half Maudsley - to simply set a series of breakdowns each leading to another.
This approach paid dividends as, in addition to edging the game ever closer to the end, it caused desperation in the Ashfield defence who started leaving gaps.
After several breakdowns, back-rowers Williams and Adam Binns made good yards and Bourne started the cycle again - looking to play at the right end of the pitch.
Evison returned to the pitch with 10minutes to go and took over from Roberts employing the same tactics.
Again the Ashfield defence was stretched and this time it was wing Josh Lynch who benefitted.
Lynch, who had been typically good all afternoon, was heavily involved in the final minutes - making good yards in attack and putting in a solid defensive display.
With just a couple of minutes to go, Ashfield found themselves with a scrum on their own try line.
With one last roll of the dice they attacked the blindside and looked threatening as they initially made good ground.
Bourne were well organised and as Lynch hit the first runner, Maudsley had swept behind to knock the supporting Ashfield winger into touch.
With just seconds left on the clock Bourne threw into the lineout.
Having dominated throughout the game Binns went up for Bourne and secured the ball, setting a maul as he returned to the floor.
More hard work from the Bourne pack put their opponents under pressure and a couple of phases later Bourne had earned a penalty.
After confirming with the referee that there was just one play left, it was fitting that skipper Dixon tapped the penalty and kicked the ball well into touch.
Maudsley said: "That's a fantastic way to end the season!
"You don't always get what you deserve but today was the perfect reward for a group of lads who have worked very hard.
"It's been a long and at times incredibly tough season but surviving the league and winning today makes the effort well worth it.
"The game's brought me a lot of happy memories and my time at Bourne has been among the best.
"Our achievements this year reflect my belief that rugby is the ultimate team game - surviving the league and winning today could not have been a more perfect end to my career!"
Dixon added: "It was a tough game but we showed how far we've come.
"During the second half of the season we've beaten a lot of good sides in our league and knew we had it in us to take on the best in the other league.
"It wasn't pretty but we stuck at it and the lads all played their part.
"Having started the season poorly we've got better and better - winning was an incredible way to finish the season."
Club chairman Ted Thornburn said: "It's a huge day for the club and tops off a fantastic season.
"I'm grateful to all the supporters who made the journey and all those that sent good luck messages.
"Support for the club is at an all-time high and it's brilliant that we have given the town something back."
More by this authorMark Lea