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Towson dotting down against UMBC. Evan Lappen photo

The championship final in the Potomac Rugby Conference will be between the same foes for the fifth-straight year. No. 2 Towson and fifth-ranked Salisbury each scored 50 points to blow out their opponents on Saturday. Salisbury has won the previous four championship matches, but Towson defeated the Sharks 32-21 earlier this season. For the final, the teams will play at a neutral field with an automatic bid to the national playoffs for the winner and a hopeful at-large bid for the loser.

University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC) versus Towson
Playing in cold, windy, rainy weather at Bocek Park in Baltimore, Md., Towson rode a great team effort to a 50-5 victory over UMBC. The Retrievers won their final three games of the regular season to reach the semifinals, while the Tigers completed a perfect record, with a 121-0 rout of Johns Hopkins last weekend. Towson had eight tries by five players to punctuate their trip to the conference championship.

“It was about what I expected. It was very similar to the last time we played them,” said Towson head coach Don Stone. “They were playing tough. We let them dictate the pace of the game a little bit and let them play their game. They were playing their forwards game and that’s what they are good at. We are not very good when we concede the ruck. Once we started competing for the ball, getting some turnovers, and then spreading the field, we got back to our game.“

For the first 10 minutes of the first half, UMBC retained possession, but was unable to gain much ground. Towson wrestled the ball away from the Retrievers and drove it into UMBC’s 22. After being rebuffed initially by the defense, Towson took a lineout into contact, and eightman Pat McKenna scored after multiple forward attacks at the try line.

11 minutes later starting from the mid-field, Towson wing Zach Fluke broke the UMBC defensive front for a long gain, and after three offloads, scrumhalf Eric Sweeney put it in for the try. Sweeney made the kick to go up 12-0. The Tigers continued their go-forward assault when prop James Laiara poached the ball and inside center John Schuberth took the turnover in for points.

Not to be shut out, the Retrievers got on the board at the end of the half. The forwards repeatedly pounded the ball at the try line, and hooker Brady Frantz finally bulldozed over for the try. The conversion bounced off the pole and Towson had the 19-5 advantage at halftime. Unfortunately for UMBC, eightman Tyler Tippett suffered an injury at the end of the half and would not return in the second half.

Two minutes in the second half, UMBC was deep in its own end and tried to get the ball wide when outside center Christian Harris picked off the pass for the score. Towson added to its lead in the 60th minute following a held ball in the try zone. McKenna took an eightman pick on the subsequent five-meter scrum for the try. Sweeney’s kick was successful for the 31-5 lead.

Six minutes later, Towson had another scoring opportunity deep in UMBC’s territory after a penalty at the five-meter line. The Tigers took the quick tap out to the backs, where Harris blasted through arm tackles for the try. Sweeney made his fourth conversion to increase the lead to 38-5.

On the ensuing kickoff, Towson returned the ball to the house as it was passed through hands and then offloaded to Tim Shields for the score. The last try of the game came in the 78th minute when McKenna stole the ball and Fluke ran in for the score. UMBC put up a valiant effort, but as the final whistle blew, Towson booked its ticket to the championship with the 50-5 win.

Coach Stone said the difference of the game was Towson’s depth. “We got a roster of over 50 people. We go 25 deep so when they have people going out, they were bringing in guys that were very inexperienced. We sub 5 or 6 people and get stronger. The players are just as good as the ones going out, and they’re fit."

Georgetown at Salisbury
The third-seeded Georgetown Hoyas ventured to Salisbury, Md. to battle the second-seeded Sharks in the other semifinal. Salisbury dominated from start to finish, ripping off eight tries for a 50-7 victory. Hooker Reed Rapine had a hat-trick, and the Salisbury defense was five minutes away from a shut out.

“I thought we played really well, especially to start the game,” said Salisbury coach Bill Creese. “Five minutes into the game it was 14-0. We got a lot of guys back from injury so that helps. We controlled the pace of the game. The wind, obviously, was terrible. We just tried to keep everything close and play smart.”

As Creese said, by the five-minute mark, Salisbury had a 14-point lead. After a turnover, inside center Mike Mullens dummied the ball to run in from 15 meters out. Rapine followed it up taking a hand off from flanker Scott Wheeler for a 40-meter run to pay dirt. Wing Matt Elasser made both conversions for the 14-0 advantage.

About 15 minutes later, flyhalf John Capobianco created an opportunity by recovering his own chip kick and offloading to fullback Patrick Mullens for the try. The Sharks' aggression got the better of them as they were yellow carded for infractions at the breakdown. Even though they were a man down, Rapine scored his second try in the 28th minute as result of forwards ball near goal line. The Sharks were not done, as Wheeler took a crash from five meters out to close out the half, 31-0.

Salisbury scored three more times in the second half to bust out a 50-0 lead. Outside center Nick Rodriguez had a line break on a backs play from 30 meters out, and wing Zach Wheeler took an offload from Scott Wheeler for a 15-meter run to the try zone. Rapine finished the shark bite with his third try from a forwards ball. Elasser was five-for-eight on conversions in the match. 

As the game wound down, Salisbury had cleared its bench and Georgetown scored with five minutes left. Two penalties got the Hoyas down the field, and on the second penalty, the Sharks didn’t get back fast enough allowing Georgetown to slice through the line. One phase later, flyhalf Stephen Tigani was in to prevent the shut out. Wing Charlie Sullivan kicked the conversion.

Salisbury was evidently the better team on the pitch. Coach Creese said the game came down to the Sharks’ organization and physicality. “Georgetown wasn’t real physical and we just kept hitting them. They didn’t change their attack plan. They kept everything right around the breakdown. They didn’t make us work on defense, they came to us every time.”