Market Rasen and Louth RFC paid the price for lapses in concentration and discipline as they were edged out in an exciting nip-and-tuck encounter on Saturday.
The defeat ended a three-game winning run, but was a great improvement on the previous outing at Dronfield, except for the final outcome.
Rasen threatened from an early lineout following a penalty kick to touch, but the feared catch and drive malfunctioned and the ball was turned over.
The Red and Greens were soon in a similar position and from another penalty-induced lineout, the backs were released. Paul Gutteridge cut a superb line from centre to slice open the Huntingdon defence and dot down close to the posts.
The usually reliable boot of Meehal Grint deserted him as his conversion attempt drifted wide.
Both sides looked evenly matched, but a trailing leg from a prone Chris Starling resulted in a trip and earned the Rasen skipper 10 minutes in the bin which turned into 12 minutes.
Huntingdon kept up the pressure and worked through the phases before Ben Chamberlin was penalised for going off his feet.
Stags fly-half Dan Malem made no mistake with the penalty to put the visitors on the scoreboard.
The points lifted the visitors who were keen to capitalise on their numerical advantage. Huntingdon winger Tom Morgan was held up over the line after a strong run for a five-metre scrum, and Glen McIntyre picked up from the base to power his way over.
Malem added the conversion before Rasen were restored to their full complement and came back with a vengeance.
From the restart Rasen secured possession and drove upfield into the Huntingdon 22.
Fly-half Dan Robinson’s astute cross-field kick caught the visitors unawares as Gutteridge followed up to claim the ball in sight of the line. Huntingdon scrambled back, but a superb sleight of hand resulted in Gutteridge popping the ball up for the supporting Tom Stephens to gather and level the scores.
More Rasen indiscretion gave Huntingdon another attacking opportunity from a penalty kick to touch which looked suspiciously like it had gone dead.
The Stags rumbled the play on for prop Luke Murphy to barrel his way over and restore the visitors’ lead.
But once again, Rasen bounced back almost immediately as number eight Dave Starling burst clear and delivered a sublime pass for fellow backrower Chamberlin to roll back the years and sprint over the line.
Grint landed the conversion to give Rasen a slender 17–15 half-time lead.
Rasen made an inauspicious start to the second half as lacklustre tackling allowed Huntingdon to surge towards the home line.
After some desperate defence, Adam Dearden was penalised for not rolling away and yellow-carded. Huntingdon spurned the kick at goal for a scrum, but Rasen dug deep and turned the ball over before clearing.
A long pass from Robinson then found Stephens who set off down the wing and powered his way past several would-be tacklers before he was eventually stopped.
The forwards took over, and an illegal intervention earned Seth Muggeridge a 10-minute break as Rasen were awarded a penalty.
With the sides now equal in number, Rasen took the bold decision to opt for the scrum and move Dave Starling into the backline.
It turned out to be a masterpiece of judgement from his brother Chris as Rasen secured possession and Dave Haig’s delayed pass put Dave Starling clean through a gap to secure a try bonus point.
Grint’s kicking nightmare continued when he failed to execute the kick in the allotted 90 seconds. Insult was added to injury when the referee converted the restart into a full-blown penalty for injudicious back chat.
The game was still poised on a knife edge as it entered the final quarter, but Rasen suffered a mini implosion.
Dave Starling was sin-binned for interfering with a quickly-taken penalty and then the defence switched off, allowing Malem to glide through a gap to score under the posts. The simple conversion drew the sides level again.
Huntingdon then took the pragmatic approach when awarded a penalty in Rasen’s 22 as Malem kicked the goal which restored their lead.
Rasen were made to pay again four minutes later as Huntingdon spun the ball wide against a stretched home defence and winger Simon Rose sprinted down the touchline to score in the corner.
With six minutes left to conjure up two scores for victory, Rasen tried desperately and in a final flurry of activity Huntingdon were reduced to 14 with a yellow card for a deliberate knock-on.
Grint’s attempted touchline penalty fell short, but was almost gathered by Dave Starling for what would have been a remarkable try before Huntingdon booted the ball out of play to end the match.
Rasen: C. Starling, Alldridge, Haig (Southwell), Pilkington (Grant), Inman, Mills, Chamberlin, D. Starling, M. Starling, Robinson, Stephens, Dearden, Gutteridge, Harvey (Goodwin), Grint.
* On Saturday, Rasen travel to second-bottom Ilkeston (2.15pm). Travelling supporters are reminded that Ilkeston charge an admission fee.