Market Rasen and Louth closed to within five points of guaranteeing Midlands One East safety despite defeat in a pulsating game.
High-flying Kettering pipped the hosts by a single-point in Saturday’s high-scoring contest, but the try and losing bonus points eased their fears of the drop.
Rasen are six points clear of the bottom three with two games left and only Newark - who beat ?? on Saturday - can catch the Red and Greens.
But they must win both of their remaining games while hoping Rasen lose at Wellingborough and bottom club Matlock.
Rasen began Saturday’s game with intent and went ahead when Adam Dearden’s initial thrust allowed fly-half Jake Goodison to send John Norman over for the opening score.
The hosts remained camped in Kettering’s half and continued to pressure, resulting in Kettering flanker Chris Chapman being sinbinned.
A harsh yellow card soon followed for visiting lock Danny Noble for a high tackle, but Rasen failed to capitalise.
Kettering showed remarkable enterprise, spreading the ball wide and using their pace to counterattack from their own 22.
Scrambling Rasen defence temporarily halted their progress, but the hosts became too stretched to prevent Damian Conyard from crossing to level the scores.
Tom Bridgeman’s penalty put Kettering ahead before Rasen’s defence was caught too narrow again, allowing winger Conyard to grab his second try, converted by Bridgeman.
Peter Everton was yellow-carded for an offence in the lead-up to the score and it became Rasen’s turn to play with reduced numbers.
But the Red and Greens responded well and gained a penalty within striking distance of the line.
Opting for a scrum, Rasen pushed Kettering back for Dave Starling to pick up and power his way over with real determination.
Goodison slotted the conversion to reduce Kettering’s lead to a slender 15-12 at half-time.
Restored to 15, Rasen started the second half well and won a penalty deep in Kettering’s half.
The lineout was won and then lost, but Adam Dearden regained possession and allowed Starling to continue his imperious form with another strong run to the line. Goodison’s simple conversion nosed Rasen ahead.
The lead was short-lived, however, as Kettering worked their way upfield and Josh Plowright scored following an attacking scrum. Bridgeman added the extras.
Goodison’s penalty attempt fell just short before Rasen were caught for pace again when Joe Daniel ran around a stretched defence for a try, converted by Bridgeman.
Rasen were two scores adrift but, with plenty of time, set about their task patiently. After good handling and recycling, Rasen closed in on Kettering’s line and Ollie Cole powered over.
Nine minutes later, lock Chris Mills barged his way through Kettering’s defence and put Starling away to complete his hat-trick.
Goodison’s conversion put Rasen two points ahead, but a minute later Kettering skipper Bridgeman kicked an excellent penalty from wide out to put the visitors back in front with 10 minutes left.
Disaster struck when the ball broke loose in Rasen’s 22 and Kettering hacked it over the line where Conyard easily won the race for the touchdown to complete his hat-trick.
Bridgeman’s successful conversion left Rasen eight points behind with six minutes left.
Rasen battled to the end, and with a final flurry, Jake Pryer secured a losing bonus point with a last-gasp try, converted by Goodison.
Rasen: C. Starling, Seward, Cole (Haig), Mills, Chamberlin, L. Dearden, Pryer, D. Starling, M. Starling, Goodison, Gutteridge, A. Dearden, P. Everton, Harvey, Norman (Grint). Sub not used: Crowe.
* On Saturday, Rasen travel to Wellingborough for their penultimate league game (kick-off 3pm).