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Dramatic comebacks and near-comebacks littered the DI club rugby scene on Saturday. In the ARP, it was Life with a road 45-35 win over Old Blue and NYAC ringing up 80 points on Mystic River. The Mid-Atlantic saw Washington Irish upset Pittsburgh, Schuylkill River with another dramatic win, and Rocky Gorge setting up a battle for first place with Norfolk next week. The Chicago Lions got back on track with 74 points versus Kansas City, Metropolis hung onto a one-point win, Palmer took down Columbus, and Cincinnati over Milwaukee. In the Pacific Northwest, Snake River, ORSU, and Eastside all earned decisive victories.
A strong start for Mystic River was not enough to take down NYAC in New York, N.Y. Mystic River jumped out to a 12-0 lead twelve minutes in, but NYAC outscored the visitors 80-5 from there.
“We got our squad back together,” NYAC coach Chris Edwards said about the win and big scoreline. NYAC’s #10 Harry Bennett and capped Eagle Nate Brakeley returned to the team after missing a few weeks of action. “All in all, it was a pretty good team effort. The thing with our team is we’ve got a great backline and can do a lot of things in space but we need to set the platform to let those guys play football. The forwards sort of earned the right in the middle of the field, then we took the edges when they were there.”
NYAC will finish up its fall season next week in a rematch versus Old Blue. The cross-town rival won the first matchup, 74-35, so NYAC will be seeking vengeance. “We’re looking forward to Old Blue," Edwards concluded. "It’s going to be a hell of a match. We’re excited to see them at full strength.”
A furious second-half rally fell short for Old Blue as Life came away with the road win at Randall’s Island in New York, N.Y. An adjustment in strategy backfired for Old Blue as some missed penalty kicks got Life on the front foot. By halftime, Old Blue was staring at a 37-10 deficit.
“We went for points when previously we had taken the option to run those penalties instead. It was a gamble that we thought would pay off by putting Life under pressure but ultimately it actually relieved them of pressure,” Old Blue coach Dom Wareing explained about his team’s first-half struggles. In the second half, it was almost entirely all Old Blue. The home team got the fans excited by closing the gap to 42-35, but a late penalty kick put Life back up by ten and the defense held from there.
“We made some tactical alterations and decided to play a bit more territorial rugby rather than just possession rugby and that paid off. We shored up our defense, the amount of missed tackles was a lot lower. That allowed us to build the pressure and make it exciting at least. We’re really proud of how the guys came back and fought,” Wareing said.
Old Blue has dropped two straight matches after a strong start to the season. It will look to close on a high note next week in the rivalry match versus NYAC. “NYAC’s coming off a big win, building some momentum in their season after a slow start," Wareing said. "We know we’ve got to bring it. We’re looking forward to a good week of training and just focusing on the process.”
Building off a two-game winning streak, the Potomac Exiles presented a challenge to undefeated Rocky Gorge in Bethesda, Md. After a tight first half with the wind, PERC trailed by three at the break. Unfortunately for the Exiles, Gorge's depth and experience produced four straight tries for the 43-19 victory.
“The difference was us going into halftime and just making the adjustments,” Gorge captain Josh Brown said about his team’s big second half. “We realized that Potomac is a team that plays it wide like us. We stopped playing tight defense and worrying about their crash ball so much, and started actually getting one man on the tackle, [then] push outside, push outside, push outside.”
Flyhalf Ben Cima, wing Eugene Becton (2), lock Derrell Kittrell, reserve prop Tony Ayigah, and wing Eric Tack dotted down tries for Gorge. Cima and fullback Nick Kuhl each hit two conversions apiece. Guy Lopresti, Will Taylor, and Bill Whalen scored for PERC in the loss.
“They made use of the opportunities a lot better than us,” Potomac coach Owen Lentz explained about the loss. “If we didn’t get go-forward ball, if we were stopped in our tracks, we weren’t able to recover well enough and that basically led to turnovers. Once they start moving forward it’s very difficult to stop them.”
The win sets up a Battle of Undefeateds between Gorge and Norfolk next weekend in Columbia, Md. “What I expect is an absolute slugfest," Brown explained. "I expect a good hard-hitting match that’s going to go from the first minute to the 80th minute because Norfolk always brings it and we like to bring it right back to them. What we have to do is play RG rugby. We’re not going to change our style, we’re just going to play our game and play it well.”
A wild match in Philadelphia, Pa. went Schuylkill River’s way, 38-36, over Baltimore-Chesapeake. The teams were knotted up at 12-all and 19 apiece before BC went on a run to seemingly seal it.
The visitors led 36-19 with 20 to go before Schuylkill dug deep and mounted its comeback. It started with Cody Bukowski tip-toeing down the sideline, then flanker Ben Janssen’s try off an errant lineout made it 36-31. Janssen again found the try line in the final minute on some great individual effort.
In the corner, against a strong wind, it looked like this one was going to be a draw. However, #10 Brian Keown hit the conversion, sending BC home empty-handed after a strong 60 minutes of rugby. Prop Ricky Schneider, outside center Dan Deal, and Keown joined Janssen and Bukowski in the try zone. It was another crazy win for Schuylkill, which has seen five of its six matches decided by four points or fewer.
“It was a matter of focusing on our systems, defending when Baltimore had the ball, and just playing in the right areas of the field,” Schuylkill assistant coach Richard Casey said about the turnaround. “It’s a testament to the guys that even when we they’re down we try to stick to our systems for all 80 minutes. I think it’s born out through the course of the season that if we’re able to play to our systems there will be space later in the game. We’re not a quick-strike offense, but we will wear a team down through the course of the game. Even if we’re down with 15-20 minutes to play, we have a lot of confidence in ourselves to pull the score line closer.”
The dramatic win was in front of a big home crowd for Schuylkill River’s Friends and Family Day. This year, it was dedicated Norfolk captain Eric Hagen’s late wife Abby. Donations were taken for the college funds of the Hagens’ two young sons. “Rugby is one big family,” Casey explained. “We have friends and family day every year, but this year took on an added importance. The club felt the duty to help a fellow rugby family member experiencing a difficult time.”
It looked like a blowout win for Pittsburgh in Washington, D.C., but the Irish showed its heart and rebounded from a 21-0 deficit to earn an impressive 29-28 home win.
After 36 minutes of play, flyhalf Cameron Collins finally got the Irish on the board late in the first half and struck again at 46’ to cut the lead to nine points.The score held at 21-12 as the teams duked it out for the next 17 minutes before Pittsburgh took what seemed like a definitive 28-12 lead at 64’. Collins notched his third try at 64’ and reserve Ivan Messi scored a huge try just six minutes later to make it a one-possession game. With three minutes left on the clock, eightman Michael Fletcher crossed the try line, and Taylor Teaford calmly hit the conversion for the 29-28 win.
“They had to believe in themselves, they knew what they were doing,” Irish coach Tonga Fanueli explained about his team’s mentality through the comeback. “The funny thing about rugby is nothing’s ever going to go your way, the way you want it. So you have to believe in your ability and experience that you can bounce back. I think that was the key; we kept our composure and we believed.”
The win moves Irish to 2-5 in what has been a stronger first season in DI than the record suggests. Washington has been in every match, including a four-point road loss to Norfolk last weekend. “I think the system is progressing the way we want it, slowly but surely. I hope we’ll enjoy this last game and get another win. We have another season coming up in the spring. It’s all about the build-up,” Fanueli said.
Unfortunately for the Kansas City Blues, the frustrations of back-to-back losses for the Chicago Lions were unleashed. At home in Chicago, Ill., the Lions quickly rebounded from an early deficit to outscore the Blues and win 74-26 for their eigth win of the season.
After Kendrick Scott and Kevin Schwartze spotted KC a 14-0 lead, the Lions responded with tries by Chris Gehring, Angus MacLellan, and a three consecutive scores for Jake Hidalgo for the 35-12. KC's Brendan Nachbar and Chicago's Dan Coci traded tries at the end of the end and the Lions led 40-19 at intermission.
The Lions never let up in the second half scoring six tries in the period to KC's one. Dave Whitney (2), Brian Rooney (3), and Brady Gent notched tries for Chicago, while Nachbar dotted down KC's lone score of the half.
“We improved our set piece from recent weeks, rewarded some guys for training effort with starts and had some key players return,” Chicago coach Dave Clancy explained about the critical components to his team’s big win. “Having the platform of a steady set piece gave us opportunities we didn’t have last week. We executed our structure and worked hard. We played to put some pride in the jersey again after a tough fortnight and I feel like we achieved that.”
While Hidalgo and Rooney popped out on the stat sheet with a hat trick apiece, it was Gent that earned Man of The Match, with Whitney standing out at as well. Eloff was welcomed back after his USA responsibilities and helped spark the attack en route to its 74 points.
The Griffins nearly did it again at home in Chicago, Ill. A week after its upset win over the Lions, Chicago came up just short in a 20-19 loss to Metropolis.
Undefeated Metro went into halftime with a 10-point lead, but the Griffins stuck to the plan and eventually went up 19-15 with 20 minutes to play. Metropolis lock Conor McGill scored the decisive try at 70’ to put his team up for good 20-19. With Chicago threatening for the winning score, captain Ekaptalisio Veamatahau stole a crucial lineout and Metropolis held on from there.
“The Griffins played very well," Metropolis forwards and defensive coach Ashley Horobin said. "They did a better job of controlling territory than we did. They kicked better, they played in the right areas the majority of the time. We had the edge in the scrum which was very good for us. Our defense has been very good all season and we had to rely on it again. We have a confidence in our defense; although they were putting together a lot of phases, we felt we could hold out.”
The Cincinnati Wolfhounds improved to 7-4 with a 44-20 road win over the Barbarians in Milwaukee, Wis. The game was only 17-10 at halftime, but the Wolfhounds went on a run in the second half to distance itself from Milwaukee.
Scrummy John Stapleton started things with a PK at 48’, inside center Sam Mcaninch followed with a try, then was joined by #8 Lemeki Betomakita, wing Rashad Finley and another PK by Stapleton. Wing William Whitehead and Stapleton were the first-half try scorers for Cincinnati, with Stapleton also chipping in with five conversions and three penalty kicks throughout the match.
The Palmer Dragons earned its fourth win of the season with a 34-24 home victory over Columbus in Davenport, Ia. With the score knotted at 12-12 early in the second half, tries by Alex Marquignon, Tyler Graham, Glen Maricelli's second, and penalty by David Jerson were enough to seal it in the second.
“We came on strong in the first half but they came back just as hard. It was pretty even at halftime, but we noticed they traveled lightly and we had a full squad,” Palmer coach Mike Lawrenson said. "The reserves came on and really changed the momentum of the game and the tempo in our favor.”
Columbus scored two tries toward the end to put a scare into Palmer and give the Dragons some flashbacks. With the same score at 31-12 and not a lot of time left in their first meeting in September, Columbus managed to come back and win 33-31. This time, Palmer held on and added a final PK at the end to send Columbus home with zero league points from the game. Palmer will try to build on this win and make a run at the fourth and final playoff spot.
“We’re trying to keep the momentum going, gain some wins back, gain some confidence back,” Lawrenson explained. “We have all our injured players back, so we’re hoping to finish the season with a few more wins and hopefully get into fourth position.”
In Portland’s crosstown rivalry, it was the Eastside Tsunami that came out on top, 38-10, over the Pigs. Eastside jumped out to a 28-0 lead before Portland got on the board with a try heading into halftime. The Tsunami got right back into it with outside center Peter Maea’s try at 46’ to stop any attempt by Portland to seize momentum. Inside center Lopeti Aisea (2), wing Richard Bryant, flanker Sione Iongi and #8 Isaiah Bird joined Maea in the try zone. Flyhalf Sioni Aisea hit four of his six conversions.
“Our open play proved to be too much for them even though they had outstanding defense and tackling,” Eastside President Nephi Kalamafoni said. “We were able to dominate the Pigs pretty much from beginning to end yesterday. They had trouble finishing when they were able to break free. Some bad ball handling caused the Pigs to struggle to get their momentum going.”
In Tacoma, Wash. ORSU earned a 44-28 road win over the Nomads. ORSU led 18-7 at halftime, then the Nomads fought back to make it 25-21. In the end, ORSU was too clinical with its attack and finished off the 44-28 victory.
Snake River took down the Valley Kangaroos 47-23 at home in Boise, Idaho. The win keeps Snake River undefeated at 2-0 after last week’s postponed match versus ORSU. More information on this match was not available at the time of publication.
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.