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Avenging last season’s loss, the U.S. Naval Academy beat Notre Dame College, 32-25, in Annapolis, Md. Utilizing strong forward play and exemplary efforts from eightman Connor McNerney and scrumhalf Gardy Lebon, the Midshipmen were able to limit possession to NDC’s dynamic backline. Situational and tactical kicking was invaluable to Navy and its defense stood stout in the second half to protect the lead.
Navy’s head coach Gavin Hickie was delighted with the win and his men executed the gameplan well. “NDC has a very dangerous backline and we were well aware of that. Marcus Tupuola and a few others are dangerous players. Our whole objective going into this game was to put as much pressure on their set-piece as possible with the idea that our backs will close the space on their backs pretty quickly... All in all, I was pretty happy with how we executed our game plan today.”
At Prusmack Rugby Complex, handling errors plagued both squads to start the game with knocks stifling any momentum. Navy righted the ship five minutes into the match as scrumhalf Lebon scored off a ruck to beat the opposing wing to the tryzone. The conversion missed, but Navy led 5-0.
Seven minutes later, the Midshipmen were knocking on the doorstep again. After two held balls, an eightman pick from the back of a five-meter scrum saw McNerney dive into the endzone. The team captain missed again on the conversion, 10-0.
Using the kicking game and dynamic play from fullback Marcus Tupuola and flyhalf Cory Graham, NDC finally got some push and good runs to set up its first points. Inside center Jasper Windsor-Clive kicked two penalties at 15’ and 20’ to cut the deficit to 10-6. The Falcons looked to add to their tally, but a Navy steal and Lebon clear thwarted their attack.
Once reset at just outside mid-field, a Falcon scrum was spun out to the backs where Tupuola showed that speed kills on the wing. The fullback stepped inside and outside of wing and outraced the entire Navy backline for the 55-meter try. Windsor-Clive made the points after to give NDC its first lead of the day at 13-10.
The advantage didn’t last long as Navy struck back at the end of the half. The powerful Midshipmen forward pack bulldozed to the goal line once more and a NDC penalty set them up with a five-meter scrum. McNerney’s number was called again and he scored off an eightman pick dragging two defenders in for the try. At the half, Navy was up 17-13.
The home team picked up where they left off to start the second half. Only four minutes into the period, McNerney passed to wing Michael Samaniego who rumbled inside the 22. The forwards took over from there as reserve Gordon Livermore dotted the ball down for the 24-13 lead.
It would get worse for NDC three minutes later when a Lebon kick bounced into the tryzone. Instead of downing the ball for a 22-meter drop, the wing brought it out and Navy forced a turnover. The Midshipmen immediately capitalized and Spencer Craig ran right up the middle of the defense to score. A subsequent penalty by McNerney made the total 32-12 with 15 minutes left in the match.
NDC never gave up and after a goal-line stand left the Falcons wanting, Auggie Murphy scored off a five-meter lineout in the 63rd minute. The Navy offense went to work soon after and threatened to score. Two held balls later, the NDC defense came up big with a steal. Tupuola would score his second try at the whistle, but Navy emerged as the victors, 32-25.
“We played way too much defense and they controlled the ball quite a bit,” NDC head coach Jason Fox said. “When we did have the ball, we made way too many mistakes. I thought we were running hard and we did a pretty good job at maintaining, but we were trying to play smash-mouth rugby with a team that likes to play that way... We should have got the ball out to our backs and had them do more, but they were taking away our space whether offsides or not... We played into their hands.”
NDC will have little rest as it will travel back to Ohio today then venture to Wheeling Jesuit in West Virginia tomorrow. “Moving forward, we have to play mistake-free ball,” Fox added. “Wheeling is going to be a tough test for us, but we are pretty deep.”
Coach Hickie gave games balls to McNerney and Lebon for their stellar play. The eightman finished with game with 17 points and Lebon masterfully directed his troops all over the field. “Gardy was very much in tune with the plays we were doing today. He directed the forwards all around the pitch. A clearing kick when their back three were out of place, a turnover at a very important time, I think he was the gel that held the whole thing together today.”
Navy has next weekend off to prepare for Penn State on November 4th. “The focus isn’t on beating them, the focus is us getting better,” Hickie explained. “We have had three games now and we have been at this for ten weeks and we have another two weeks to get better and execute accurately.”