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The spring will end how it started as Rocky Gorge and the Pittsburgh Harlequins will play in the DI Mid-Atlantic Conference Championship. In March, the two teams played in a tight 31-29 match won by Rocky Gorge in the final minute. Gorge and the Quins won their semifinal tests on Saturday and will meet at 3pm in Richmond, Va. for the conference final.
In Columbia, Md. for the first conference semifinal, Rocky Gorge shook off an early 5-0 deficit defeating Norfolk, 52-34. The defending MAC champions scored seven unanswered tries and tacked on a penalty kick before Norfolk answered with four late tries late to close the gap.
Center Matias Cima logged four tries as lock Kevin Jackson, wing Brady Smith, and flanker Scott Wheeler also found the try-line for Gorge. Fullback Nick Kuhl was perfect with the boot connecting on a penalty and going 7/7 with his conversions. Nick Sandoval scored the opening try for the Blues and Ryan Carden, William Jefferson, Jake Humphrey, and James Irey each dotted down tries in the final 20 minutes of the game.
“This has been our best game yet, but hopefully it builds into next week,” said Rocky Gorge coach Nick DiMichele. When asked what the difference was between this week and last week’s tighter match versus Norfolk, DiMichele responded, “We didn’t turn the ball over in our 22 and the individual efforts were huge. [We had] more success in the set piece and gave our backs space to attack.”
Norfolk coach Chris Porter was straight to the point when he described what went wrong after a promising match agianst Gorge last week. “We got our [butts] whipped, plain and simple. They played their gameplan, took us out of our gameplan, and we just took a beating today. I was really proud of that last 30 minutes of the game. We kept fighting, got our punches in, and we put in a few tries at the end.”
Joining Rocky Gorge in Richmond for the conference final is the Pittsburgh Harlequins, who advanced by knocking off Schuylkill River, 31-17, in Philadelphia, Pa. After a sluggish 22-5 loss in Philly last week, Pittsburgh came out swinging in the semifinal.
“I think last week we didn’t come switched on,” said Pittsburgh captain Luke Titus. “This week, we came firing out the gate from the get go. I think a lot of the guys showed up last week thinking ‘we’ve got this in the bag’ because we beat them at home in the fall. But that’s not the way things go. The guys were more fired up now that it’s playoffs; a ‘leave everything out there’ kind of attitude.”
Try-scorers for the Harlequins were wing Brandon Stine, fullback Ted Sheedy, flanker Mike Gorrell, lock Mitch DePelligrini, and #8 Viliami Siali. Sheedy finished the match three for five on conversions.
In the intense playoff atmosphere, Titus was particularly impressed with the play of the big guys up front. "The forwards pulled their socks up and got dirty all game, which gave the backs some room to run. Credit to the forwards for doing the hard work. It got heated during the game with a few silly things going on. Emotions were high on both sides. But, I guess you can put that down to finals footie.”
Both coaches of the title game expect a tough game with a trip to Nationals at stake. Pittsburgh head coach Eric Jerpe said, “We must play as a team and not as individuals. Also, we need to score more points than them.” On the other side, DiMichele added, “We must show up on defense.” Expect the fireworks to fly on Saturday.
Alexander is a beat reporter for Rugby Today, published author, freelance sports writer and club rugby player for the Potomac Exiles. For more rugby action and his sports takes, follow him on Twitter @alexanderdiegel.