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Blowouts, upsets, tight matches, and thrillers permeated the DI club rugby scene Saturday. Glendale finished its undefeated season in ARP play, while Life took down Mystic River 67-25. In the Mid-Atlantic, both Rocky Gorge and Norfolk remained undefeated, with the Blues pulling out an emotional thriller over Washington Irish. In the Midwest, the upset of the week was the Chicago Griffins over the crosstown Lions, Metropolis stayed undefeated, Kansas City Blues notched a win, and Cincinnati defeated Columbus.
Glendale again got the better of Old Blue, 50-36, in a star-studded friendly in New York, N.Y. Glendale spotted Old Blue a 14-0 lead via a Cam Dolan intercept-try and another turnover deep in its own territory. But in the end, Glendale regained its composure and put up 45 points in the first half en route to the win.
“We had a disappointing and slow start,” Glendale coach David Williams said. “When we got into our shape, we won the territory battle and won the physicality. We did well and scored those 45 points in the first half. Second half was very scrappy; way too many unforced errors and we had to defend a lot. They wanted to play fast, they wanted to play wide. We knew as along as we kept our structure on defense, we could hang with them and we did.”
The win finishes an undefeated season in ARP play for Glendale. Now it will reflect from this season and prepare for the MLR. “Once we stopped going so wide on attack we started making some penetration," Williams concluded. "We went through our phases and that was it. We did well on that part. I was happy overall with the win. We made a fair few mistakes, but we went undefeated for the season, beat Old Blue twice, so I’m very happy with how it went. That will give us confidence and energy heading into the MLR season.”
The strong season for the Life Running Eagles continued with a dominant 67-25 win over Mystic River in Marietta, Ga. Mystic got on the board first with an intercept-try, but Life quickly regrouped.
A penalty kick cut it to 5-3, Mystic came right back with another PK, then Mitch Wilson notched the Life’s first try to give the Running Eagles the 10-8 advantage. After a series of offloads, Wilson scored again and the conversion made it 17-8. Mystic hit yet another PK to make it 17-11, but Life came right back with a cross-kick recovery by Zander Van Schalkwyk for its third try and a 24-11 lead.
The visitors hung tough early with Mystic bringing it to 24-18 before Van Schalkwyk's charge down extended the tally to 31-18 Life. Another try stretched the lead to 20 points before halftime and that’s when the floodgates opened. The Running Eagles would go on to dot it down more five times in the second half before Mystic scored on the final play of the match to close the gap.
After a hard-fought 25 minutes of shutout rugby from both sides, Rocky Gorge got the offense rolling at home in Columbia, Md. scoring 57 points to 12 versus Schuylkill River. With Eagle Ben Cima back from the APC and several other starters back in the lineup, Gorge broke the ice with a Kevin Jackson try and did not look back from there.
It was 19-0 Gorge at halftime and the lead ballooned to 40-0 before Schuylkill notched its first try at 60'. “We were eager to execute some things and that led to some uncharacteristic drops. Once we started scoring, we didn’t stop and in the beginning of the second half, we just exploded,” Gorge coach Nick Dimichele explained about the win.
Wing Eric Tack, fullback Nick Kuhl, flyhalf Ben Cima, scrummy Sean Hartig, outside center Matias Cima, reserve CJ Leadingham, and eightman Josh Brown joined Jackson, who scored another in the second half, in the try zone.
In the “Remember Abby” down in Norfolk, Va., the Blues defeated a spirited Washington Irish side, 48-44. In a game that displayed how truly special rugby is, the Irish showed up wearing pink in honor of Abby. Eric Hagen (surviving husband of Abby) scored, and it was one of those back-and-forth matches that no one deserved to lose, but someone had to.
It looked like Norfolk might ride that emotional wave all the way to a blowout victory, as the home team was up 21-3 19 minutes in. After a turnover was taken back to the house by Irish, that sparked the visitors to a big rally. Irish made it 21-17, then Norfolk extended 26-17 to seemingly take control back. However, Irish fought through again and took the 27-26 lead into halftime.
Early in the second, Irish went up 34-26, then reserve and former Norfolk captain Fred Wintermantel picked off a Washington pass and dotted down. The conversion made it just a one-point deficit before Irish found the try line yet again; Taylor Teaford’s conversion and penalty kick moments later made it 44-33 Irish with 29 to play. Norfolk finally took control from there as Adam Brubaker and Dutch Jones (2) scored the defense shut down the Irish attack to secure the wild 48-44 win.
“It was an amazing day and Irish was amazing itself,” Norfolk coach Chris Porter explained. “They showed up and everybody brought pink t-shirts for Abby. Eric just being as strong as he is to play in a match like that and to play well. A guy like that as classy as he is, to get a score like that on his wife’s day, it was big. It was a great day not only for the Blues but a great day for rugby. I’m as proud as I’ve ever been about being a rugby player in the U.S. and the Mid-Atlantic. I’ve always said that the MAC is a special place, not only for the style of play we have but for the bond that we have.”
The win moves Norfolk to 5-0 and keeps the Blues one point ahead of also-undefeated Rocky Gorge. Gorge will take on fourth-place Potomac this weekend. Norfolk has its bye, then will try to keep its special season going versus Gorge on November 4th.
In the shocker of the weekend, the Chicago Griffins defeated the Chicago Lions on the Lions’ home pitch, 44-15. Coming into Saturday, the Lions were firmly in second place in the Midwest, while the one-win Griffins sat in last place. Those standings still hold, but the result was no less surprising.
“We’ve been chipping away at our defensive systems’ basics and our run-catch-pass fundamentals all year,” Griffins’ captain Andrew Suniula explained about his team’s improved performance. “It has started to pay off over the past few weeks. Our set-piece dominance was probably the difference from yesterday’s game and from the first time we played them. They’re a well-coached, disciplined pack so we really wanted to challenge them at the set piece, as well as their first and second phase ball. We got some change in those areas, which opened things up for us as the game went on. I’m just glad we were clinical enough to convert those into points, which has been an issue all season.”
Lions’ coach Dave Clancy cited a great effort and tactical game plan by the Griffins for the upset, but also lamented his own club’s effort a bit. “The Griffins did really well to capitalize on a strong wind at their back first half to win the territory battle and control possession. They also did a great job disrupting our set piece, where we had a tough day at the office. Throw in a poor defensive display on our part and you end up with a tough loss like we did,” he explained. “I'll give credit where it's due and the Griffins played the conditions well, they kicked smartly, they attacked and carried strongly. It was a performance and a roster much more like the Griffins of old.”
With back-to-back losses, the defending Midwest champs will look to put this two-week stretch behind it and build momentum through the late portion of the season. “I think we need to be mentally stronger, losing to Metro [last week] and feeling that the Midwest title had slipped out of our control was a tough blow. We will review the defensive errors and address the set piece, but we can't dwell on one performance in a long season of 14 straight games.”
In Minneapolis, Minn., Palmer pushed hard for an upset in its own right, but in the end, Metropolis came out with the 21-11 victory. Palmer jumped up 6-0 on two David Jerson penalty kicks, however, Metro regrouped, found wing Melvin DeSouza for a try at 32’ and the Bryan Ptomey conversion gave the home team a slim 7-6 lead at halftime.
Metro steadily grew the lead to 21-6 before Palmer scored its first try at 78’. It was too little too late and Metropolis held on through the end. Prop Bryant Larson’s try and three penalty kicks by Ptomey finished up the scoring for undefeated Metro.
“Palmer really came to play, all credit to them,” Metropolis coach Rob Holder said. “They played a really good game plan, they handled the field conditions better than we did, especially in the first half. They put us under all kinds of pressure. We weren’t able to do some of the things that we’ve been able to do all year. Partially because Palmer was playing well and keeping possession for long periods of time, and also just because the field was really wet and muddy and sloppy.
“In the second half, we were able to make a couple of adjustments and had to play a tactical kicking game for better field position. We were able to hold on by the skin of our teeth.”
The visiting Kansas City Blues rode a huge 19-minute stretch to a 50-33 win over the Barbarians in Milwaukee, Wisc. The game was tied at 26 with just minutes to go before halftime. But Kansas City scored just before the break, struck again at 41’, 50’, and a penalty kick at 55’ made it 50-26. From there, both offenses slowed, as the Barbarians’ try and subsequent conversion at 73’ represented the rest of the scoring.
The Blues had had some difficulty rotating players in and out through the season but found some stability Saturday against Milwaukee. “We were finally able to get our set pieces consistent,” KC coach Scott Kram said. “Maintaining possession allowed us to do what we do best; offer a mix of attacks to keep the opposition guessing. Our backline has been solid all season, but I felt the pack really stepped up this game attacking the midfield, initiating many of our line breaks.”
Inside center Brendan Nachbar (2), flanker Scott Kendrick, lock Kevin Schwartze, fullback Blake Beaty, hooker Greg McAvoy and lock Matt Wirken all found the try zone for Kansas City. Scrumhalf Michael Mercer hit six conversions and a penalty kick.
In Columbus, Ohio, visiting Cincinnati’s hot start was enough to hold off Columbus RFC, 40-31. Cincinnati jumped out to a 21-5 lead. Columbus got back into it by seizing mid-game momentum with tries at 33’ and 42’ made it 21-17.
Cincinnati broke up the Columbus attack with a William Whitehead try, but the home team came right back with two more to take the 31-28 lead. Cincinnati closed the game with two tries to go up 40-31 at 68’, then both defenses kept the attacks at bay for the final 12 minutes.
Outside center Derek Jackson, scrummy John Stapleton (2), and prop John McAninch joined Whitehead in the try zone, with the winger scoring twice more in the second half. Stapleton also chipped in with five conversions.
The Pigs came up short at home in Portland, Ore. falling to Tacoma 29-24. It was Tacoma’s first win in Division I after promotion from DII.
Portland assistant coach Nick Osborn had to tip his cap to the Nomads for coming out with the tight win in difficult conditions. “They just get better and better,” Osborn explained. “They’re always tough, they do everything well, they capitalize on mistakes. If you have a knock on or something they’re just always on the ball ready to go. We were up by a try and we were kind of feeling it and getting into a rhythm and doing some good stuff with our backline. They started doing some quick pick and goes and that’s how they scored that last try to beat us.”
The Pigs have stumbled out of the gate to a 0-4 record. It will look to right the ship next weekend versus the Eastside Tsunami.
“It's peaks and valleys,” Osborn explained. “I’ve been with the club when we haven’t won a game, and I’ve been with the club when we go and win [the division]. It’s peaks and valleys, and this just happens to be a valley at this time.”
Snake River hit the road to West Linn, Ore. and came away with a 17-8 win over defending Northwest Champs, Oregon Rugby Sports Union. The win moves Snake River to 3-0 while ORSU slid to 2-1.
Eastside defended home field in Portland, Ore. to the tune of a 36-10 win over the Valley Kangaroos. A tight match at halftime, 7-5 Eastside, was blown open in the second half. Valley kept it to 14-10 at 56’, but the Tsunami ended the match on a 22-0 run.
Try scorers for Eastside were lock Isaiah Bird, inside center Lopeti Aisea (2), wing Baisley Longi, outside center Peter Maea, and scrumhalf Felisiano Kalamafoni. Flyhalf Sione Aisea and Maea combined for three conversions. Eastside improved to 2-0 with the win.
Alexander is a beat reporter for Rugby Today, published author, freelance sports writer and club rugby player for Old Gaelic Rugby. For more rugby action and his sports takes, follow him on Twitter @alexanderdiegel.