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In a match featuring five lead changes, the Division III Men’s Club National Championship between the Wichita Barbarians and the Tri-City Barbarians came down to a penalty kick on the last play of the game. After a Wichita try was called back for a forward pass at Infinity Park in Glendale, Colo., Wichita’s dominant scrum stole the ball and eventually set up a penalty inside the 22. With no time left, inside center Dustin Fross lined up the kick to the left of the uprights and punched it through. The referre blew the whistle and Wichita came from behind in the final ten minutes to win their first DIII National Championship, 30-28.
“[Tri-City] was very tough,” Wichita head coach Kevin Moloney said. “I didn’t think we had much continuity throughout the most of the game and we struggled a little bit defensively. It was a tough game and was anybody’s game for the full 80 minutes. I think we played about how we were going to with some guys being nervous and a few guys getting hurt. I was very proud on how everybody pulled together in the last five minutes to get the ball down inside their 22. After a bit of bad luck [on the called back try], to win that ball for the pack, it was a testament to their toughness and how they wanted it.”
Tri-City had the first possession of the game and displayed good ball movement on the way to their first opportunity for points at the 3rd minute mark. After an offsides penalty, wing Jonathan Beyerlein missed the kick from beyond 30 meters. Play continued between the 22s as each team felt one another out. At the 10th minute, Tri-City’s first points came from an offensive series that started from a counterattack where wing Ryan Wall stormed down the sideline. After a multiple penalties and successive forwards ball, flanker Devon Benedict dove in for the try. Beyerlein made the conversion for the early 7-0 for Tri-City.
Wichita’s first try came after Tri-City’s Corbin Oldenburg was yellow carded for a late hit. At the 27th minute following an accidental offside by Tri-City, fullback Stephen Wright dummied the ball inside and split two defenders for the try. Fross connected on the conversion for the 7-7 tie.
Once back at full strength, Tri-City grabbed the lead with a try by Wall with three minutes left in the half. Starting with a turnover caused by outside center Samisoni Hafoka, the forwards pounded the ball inside and then skipped it to Wall on the short side for the try. With the conversion, Tri-City was up 14-7. Determined to score again before the half, Wichita took advantage of a series of errors by Tri-City inside their 22. After a collapsing the maul penalty, scrumhalf Josh West made an awesome individual effort driving through three defenders with no time left for the try. Fross made the conversion for the 14-14 halftime score.
The first half was highlighted by Tri-City’s backs finding space, the Wichita forward pack finding work, and the presence of Wright being felt all over the field. At halftime, Moloney told his club “I didn’t think we played our best game up to this point and I was very happy to be tied up. We made a few adjustments in our lineouts and told them to keep plugging away. If we played better defense and run through phases better, we would have more success in the second half.”
The first five minutes of the second half was played between the 22s with each team committing turnovers and penalties. Set up by the forwards, Wichita took their first lead at the 49th minute when they attacked the short side and wing Seth Akpovona touched the ball down for the try. The points after were missed and Wichita owned a 19-14 lead. With the momentum, Wichita kicked a penalty for offsides to pad their advantage to 22-14.
Tri-City cut the lead to one point at 22-21 when they ran weak and after some great support play, Beyerlein took an offload 25 meters beating a defender for the try. Five minutes later, Wichita’s Derek Hargrave gave his club some breathing room with a try from a rolling maul following a five-meter lineout. The missed conversion made the score 27-21, Wichita.
With less than 15 minutes left, a video review revealed a dangerous tackle by Wichita and sent Jay Dahlinger off with a yellow card at the 68th minute. Off the restart, Tri-City’s Hafoka broke the line beating three defenders for the try in the corner. Beyerlein’s conversion a few meters from the sideline was good giving his team the slim one point lead, 28-27.
With the man advantage, Tri-City maintained possession and methodically moved the ball down the field in the last ten minutes. Wichita regained the ball with a few minutes left and quickly worked downfield with multiple passes and offloads ending with a perceived try by prop Sam Arndt. With a forward pass potentially missed, the referee went to the video and the try was taken back. With one minute left, Wichita’s scrum bulldozed Tri-City to steal the ball and they brought it inside the 22 where Tri-City was called for not releasing. The decision was made to take the points and Fross made his fourth kick to win the National Championship for Wichita, 30-27.
In describing the final play of the game, Player of the Match Stephen Wright stated, “It was crazy. When we scored the try, I thought that was going to be it. I thought we had them beaten and then all the sudden, there was a referee video review which you don’t see very often and it take a little while to adjust to that happening. To be able to have that called back for a try and then for our forwards, it was the most dominating scrum I’ve seen all year. As soon as the ball came in, they hit and went forward so fast. The guy who kicked the winning conversion, Dustin Fross, he’s the guy you want kicking at the end. He is such a calm person, nothing rattles him. I knew when we chose to kick it, he would kick it, that’s what he does.”
Moloney was extremely proud of the effort of his club and applauded play of two players. “Steve Wright did an amazing job. Benny Pritchett at prop in the second half really helped out. He carried the ball well and was able to gain some very tough meters and get us on the front foot.”
Wright added that this National Championship means everything for Wichita. “We’ve been building towards this for the last ten years. We’ve got guys who are at the end of full time playing, so this was our chance. To be able to win it, there will be a lot more attention back on Wichita that we don’t have a lot of. Our fans, we had about 200 people here, which was huge. Being able to go home as Champions, it will help with recruiting and help with high schools. It’s going to help with everything to be able to build a successful and sustainable club.”