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Rowan overcame a 31-0 deficit to stun Fairfield, in Fairfield, Conn., Saturday. With the win, Rowan punched a ticket to the DII Sweet 16 and will take on James Madison in Harrisonburg, Va. next weekend.
Fairfield started the game fast, dominating Rowan like it had been doing to Tri-State teams all season. The Stags scored twice in the first couple of minutes and added three more scores in the early stages of the first half to go up, 31-0. Fairfield used its forwards to make gains on the edges of the ruck and spun the ball wide to use its potent back line to score several break away tries. Fairfield overloaded the backline with forwards, confusing the Rowan defense.
“They were recycling faster than we were out of the rucks and getting the ball out faster than we were getting set on defense,” Rowan captain and prop and J.C. Carr told Rugby Today.
At 31-0 down, Rowan refused to give in and the boys had a gut check in the huddle after the fifth Fairfield try. “We were not going to let the seniors get embarrassed in their last game. We decided that we had to try and get out seniors one more shot at a Sweet 16 berth,” Carr added.
Rowan responded by adding two scores of its own, but surrendered another score late in the first half to leave the game 38-12 at halftime. Despite being down 26 points, Rowan was pretty confident going into the break. “We knew we could play with them physically, and we were stronger in set pieces and off the ruck," said Carr. “If we kept them pinned in by their own try zone they would not be able to get it to their backs.”
The Profs came out in the second half with much better defensive shape and pressure. Flyhalf Mike Ehrlich had an excellent second half with the boot, pinning Fairfield deep in its own end. The Stags couldn’t use their backs down on the goal line and ended up turning the ball over thanks to strong Rowan defensive pressure. Rowan forced Fairfield to commit numerous penalties and poached the ball to regain possession in good field position.
On the day, Rowan owned the set piece, dominating Fairfield in the scrums. The visitors drove three five-meter scrums over the try line for easy touchdowns by Number 8 Eddie Williams. Williams was outstanding, often dragging tacklers with him down the field.
Co-captain Harvey Singh orchestrated a Rowan offense that scored five unanswered tries in the second half. Moving forward, Rowan will move on to play James Madison in the Sweet 16. The Profs will need to play a full 80 minutes of solid rugby to compete, and Carr thinks his team is capable of doing so.
“We will have to play our pattern and dictate the game the way we want it,” said Carr. “If we fall into the style of play they want to play we are going to be disrupted. If we keep time of possession and do the things that we want to do on the field, I think we can play with anyone.”