In what will surely be only a brief setback, Bideford missed a chance to secure their Tribute South West One West status.
Needing just a draw at Wadebridge Camels to be sure of a second season at this level, they conceded two converted tries in the second half to lose 17-5.
The result kept alive Wadebridge’s hopes of a great escape from the third relegation place but, eight points adrift and with a tough run-in, they still have it all to do.
Bideford, with three home games coming up, need only three points to be certain of staying up even if the teams below them do not drop points.
It was not just points Bideford dropped on Saturday, it was also their recent standards – and the ball.
With more precision in their play, they would have scored long before No 8 Dean Folland went over from the back of a ruck in the 80th minute.
“It was a disappointing performance,” said head coach Mark Priest. “We looked like we had up to mid-December. We made silly mistakes – not taking passes, missing the odd tackle.
“All credit to Wadebridge, they needed the win and they got it.”
Two chances went begging in the first four minutes when the ball went forward to deny Andrew Baxter and Chris Snell’s pass dropped behind the overlapping Sam Olde.
“We had two gilt-edged chances and didn’t take them,” said Priest. “If we had got those, they would have started to look jittery. We could have put pressure on them and pushed on, but they came back and wanted it more.”
After a poor first half, Wadebridge were leading 3-0 through James Grubb’s 21st-minute penalty and Bideford had lost centre Baxter to a badly-gashed chin and prop George Snell to a neck injury.
Grubb missed a second penalty attempt late in the half, while Olde did just enough with a tug on Ben Miscowitz’s shirt to deny Wadebridge a try in the corner.
Given the home team’s forwards were driven back at most of the scrums, it was ironic their first try came from a set piece 10 minutes into the second half.
Hooker Matt Ballard, who had an outstanding game in open play, was held up after No 8 Gary Gynn had managed to secure the ball from a crumbling scrum.
When the same happened from the resulting restart, Ballard managed to squeeze through a gap in the defence and score.
Bideford could not take advantage of Wadebridge lock Dan Lumb’s yellow card for a high tackle on Alex Priest midway through the half.
Back to 15 men, Wadebridge won the game with a second try in the 78th minute.
There was a hint of a knock-on by the home side when the ball was dislodged in a tackle on the counter-attacking James Buckland, but full back Will Pengelly was allowed to pick up and bounce off the Bideford wing before running clear to score.
The visitors’ heads did not drop and they were unfortunate not to claim a losing bonus point.
There was an instant response with former Okehampton player Folland’s first try for the club.
Then, with captain Jono Mock yelling them on from the heart of the maul, they drove 20 metres from a lineout and thought Richard Norman had got the ball down for a try.
The referee could not see the grounding and then penalised acting scrum half Chris Snell for feeding at the resulting scrum, giving Wadebridge the chance to kick the ball out and bring the final whistle.
“Credit to them, it was a good result and they needed it,” said Priest. “The most dangerous teams are the teams who are fighting (at the bottom).”
Wadebridge Camels: Will Pengelly; Matt Angwin, Jake Grubb, James Grubb, Ben Miscowitz; Seb Purvis, Shaun Hawkey; Richard Treleaven, Matt Ballard, Jack Scott, Dan Lumb, Julian Wilce, Ben Collins, Mark Grubb, Gary Gynn.
Reps: Harry Mills (for Scott 5), Scott (for Treleaven 67), Mark Kempthorne (for Purvis 74). Not used: Chris Humphrey.
Sin-binned: Lumb (59-69).
Scorers – tries: Ballard, Pengelly. Cons: James Grubb 2. Pen: James Grubb.
Bideford: Chris Snell; James Buckland, Andrew Baxter, James Scott, Sam Olde; Olly Wickett, Ben Westaway; George Snell, Dave Evans, Paul Thomas, Jono Mock, Richard Norman, Harvey Brown, Alex Priest, Dean Folland.
Reps: Pat Sanders (for Baxter 10), John Mills (for Brown 30), Brown (for G Snell 39), Pete Bowes (for Westaway 54).
Scorers – try: Folland.