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Belmont Shore vs Santa Monica. @1st_XV_Rugby Photo.

Traditionally used as a make-up weekend for DI Club, the Easter holiday brought six games to the masses across the country. With Nationals about a month away, every team is searching for wins to secure playoff spots. In the Mid-Atlantic, Rocky Gorge outpaced Schuylkill River, 40-7, and the Potomac Exiles ran past Wilmington, 55-7. As part of the NorCal round robin playoffs, San Francisco Golden Gate and Olympic Club notched big wins and Belmont Shore blasted Santa Monica, 67-17, to lock up first place in the Pacific South. Lastly, the Eastside Tsunami ended its regular season with a 57-16 home win over Snake River.

Mid-Atlantic

In Philadelphia, Pa., a tight match at halftime was blown open in the second as Rocky Gorge continued to make a statement in the Mid-Atlantic, 40-7. Schuylkill River struck first and it took Rocky Gorge 27 minutes before #10 Ben Cima found the try zone. Gorge grabbed the momentum with two tries in the final two minutes of the first half from scrummy Eoghan Doherty and flanker Dustin Meehan to snag a 19-7 lead.

After the first half test, Gorge opened up the offense and outpaced Schuylkill River 21-0 through the final 40. Finishing up the scoring for Gorge was eightman Josh Brown, wing Mike Tillman, and fullback Nick Kuhl, who also was 5/6 on conversions.

Rocky Gorge coach Nick DiMichele pointed to a little halftime chalk talk as the key to the second half performance. “Being able to make adjustments at the half and our fresh legs picking up the pace,” said DiMichele when asked about the turnaround. “The first half was just bad. Lots of dropped balls and penalties before we scored a long one. We put some good tries together, but should have scored more.”

At the friendly confines of their home pitch in Gaithersburg, Md., the Potomac Exiles used space and pace to run up the score against Wilmington, 55-7. Playing in the visitors’ end early, Potomac punched in a try through the hands to fullback Mike Hultberg, who dotted down in the corner. Prop Mike Minchik followed up with a goal line crash and the Exiles did not look back.

Wing Joanel Joseph scored along the sideline, hooker Guy Lopresti found some space for the first of his three tries, and Hultberg scored again to spot Potomac the 29-0 halftime lead. Center Bill Whalen scored first in the second, followed by Wilmington’s lone try. Tries came in quick succession for Potomac as Lopresti scored two more, prop Jason “Dutch” Vanterpool crashed in for another, and coach Owen Lentz dusted off the boots to finish off a long try through the hands to end the match. Matt Quigley was 5/9 on conversions from the #10 position.

“I think we just stuck to the basics and stuck to the structure. Whatever we did at training, we executed well,” said Lentz. “I think it was a team effort, making the ball do the work. We had a couple of guys who hadn’t played DI rugby before and they did pretty well, that was probably the standout thing.”

NorCal

The NorCal playoff format consists of a four week round robin with the team having the best record advancing to play the Pacific Northwest champion for a spot in Nationals on May 6th. Additionally, the second place team in NorCal will play the Red River #2 in Texas on May 6th for entry to Nationals.

With wins by SFGG and Olympic Club on Saturday, SFGG leads the playoffs with a 2-0 record and Olympic Club and Life West are tied at 1-1 for second place. Each victory is essential for all clubs as tie-breakers may determine who advances farther in the postseason.

San Francisco Golden Gate secured its second win of the playoffs beating Life West on the road, 38-28, in Vallejo, Calif. The Gladiators struck first just after the opening kickoff, but SFGG kept its composure.

San Francisco answered with a penalty kick from #10 Volney Rouse at 9’, then notched its first try to take the lead at 13’, scored and converted by Rouse. The visitors added to the lead with tries from wing Viliami Huihui and #8 Akuila Uaisele to go into the break up 24-14.

Ten minutes into the second, Life West used its powerful scrum from the five-meter line to close the gap to 24-21, then took the lead at 52’ via an 80 meter try from wing Anthony Munoz.

Down 28-24, SFGG prop Patrick Latu struck back at 62’ to regain the lead and wing Isoa Donaldson scored the game’s final try at 70’. Life tested San Francisco all the way to the end, but key lineout steals deep in its own territory helped seal the win for Golden Gate.

SFGG coach Neil Foote pointed to big performances from his reserves, composure by his veterans, and key lineout steals late as the triggers for the comeback win. “It was a pretty tough match. When the momentum was with Life, we just hung in there and showed the mental fortitude to come back. The guys that came on really made a good impact.”

In East Palo Alto, Calif., it took a last-minute try for Olympic Club to steal a road win over the EPA Razorbacks, 27-24. Olympic Club jumped on top 10-0 in the first eight minutes with a penalty kick from fullback Ricky Boebel and a try from wing Josh Tucker.

EPA answered at 20’ and both teams lit up the scoreboard in the second stand of the first half. Olympic responded five minutes later with a try from #8 Matt Frederickson, then EPA got two from fullback Josefa Vuatelevu to tie the match. Boebel struck again at 37’ to give Olympic the halftime lead, 22-17.

EPA struck back early in the second with a converted try to take its first lead of the match. Down by two points, Olympic Club really had to dig deep when its flyhalf James Jones IV was issued a red card. Both defenses stood up and issued a stalemate for the final 38 minutes.

With less than five minutes to play, Olympic was awarded a penalty on the EPA ten meter line. Featuring a dominant scrum through the day, OC looked to drive through for the go-ahead try. Olympic broke the scrum and was tackled on the goal line after a few resets tested both teams’ patience. After a few picks sucked in the EPA defense, Olympic went weak where Tucker found some space and touched the ball down in the corner for the game winner.

“It was a hard-fought and physical match with the teams going back and forth,” said OC commissioner Andrew King. “Prop Stephan Salimi and lock Nick Wagner were instrumental for the forwards’ set-piece dominance. It provided our backs with a great attacking platform and prevented EPA from being able to attack or even retain possession on their scrums.”

On Saturday, SFGG plays EPA to potentially lock up the top spot in NorCal while Life West and Olympic Club battle for second place.

Pacific Northwest

In the final Pacific Northwest match of the regular season, the Eastside Tsunami defended home field in Portland, Ore. with 57-16 win over Snake River.

The Tsunami grabbed the lead two minutes in via prop Isaiah Bird’s try and Eastside never looked back. Center Peter Maea followed up at 6’ and flanker Loa Liu tacked on another twelve minutes in. Snake River answered with a penalty kick at 17’, but the relentless Tsunami attack extended the lead with another try from scrummy Iopeti Aisea four minutes later. This time Eastside missed the conversion, so the lead held at 26-3 before Snake River scored its first try, converted, at 30’ to close the gap to 26-10.

An early second-half try from fullback Caleb Chavez-Lomboy extended the lead before Eastside brought in the reserves. Finishing up the scoring for the Tsunami was wing Jonah McMoore, #12 Nephi Kalamafoni, eightman Sione Taumoeanga, and Maea’s second try of the match at 74’.

Pacific South

In the lone Pacific South match of the weekend, Belmont Shore got its vengeance over the Dolphins with a 67-17 win in Santa Monica, Calif. Just two weeks after the loss to Santa Monica, Belmont came out focused and ready for payback. With the win, Belmont Shore secured the #1 seed in the Pacific South Playoffs and Santa Monica fell to second.

Seven minutes into the game, prop Maze Masoe scored and #10 Andrew Jackson slotted the conversion to put Belmont on top 7-0 to set the tone. Scrummy Jonathan Gray found pay dirt at 10’ and Jackson tacked on a penalty kick nine minutes later to add to the visitors’ 15-0 lead.

Masoe scored his second try 25 minutes in before Santa Monica answered at 32’. However, Belmont was unrelenting and center James Muse scored just before halftime for the 29-7 lead.

Belmont picked up where it left off scoring twice in the first four minutes of the second half through #13 Edgar Pitts and wing Max Paronelli to put this one out of reach. Greg Daniel, Rob Newcomb, and Masoe’s third for the hat trick finished off the scoring for Belmont. Santa Monica dotted down two in the final ten minutes to close the gap to the game’s final margin of 67-17.

In the last match before playoffs, Santa Monica had a number of regular starters out for this game, a fact that was not lost on Belmont coach Ray Egan. “It was a weakened Santa Monica side, but we can only play what’s in front of us,” said Egan. “Our tackle completion was a lot more accurate [than in the first Santa Monica match] and I think that was really the key to the game. It gave us a better platform to get some stops on defense and shut down their attack. Now we have to dig in, roll up our sleeves and get ready for a good Aztecs team this weekend at home.”

#1 seed Belmont hosts #4 San Diego in the first semifinal of the Pacific South Playoffs, while #2 Santa Monica will play host to third-place OMBAC. The winners of those matches will go head to head on April 29th for the division crown.    

Alexander is a beat reporter for Rugby Today, published author, and club rugby player for the Potomac Exiles. For more rugby action and his sports takes, follow him on Twitter @alexanderdiegel.