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“We lost the battle, but won the war.” Kutztown’s head coach Gregg Jones’ words framed the Rugby East Conference Championship perfectly. Even though #12 Penn State employed a ball control offense to defeat #8 Kutztown, 24-15, the Bears won the conference by one standing point over the Nittany Lions. If PSU had scored a fourth try to get the bonus try point, the conference champion would have had to been decided by tie-breakers. This is Kutztown’s second title in three years and will now face #9 Indiana on November 21st in the ACRC Bowl Series in Charlotte, N.C.
The deciding factor of the game was ball possession. “In the first half, PSU starved us of the ball, Jones said. “We did not see the ball hardly at all. When we did see the ball, we were dangerous. We started to see more ball in the second half and scored three tries. We played better defense in the second half and had more possession, so they had less opportunity to attack. What it came down to, they had the most ball and they won the game.”
For the game, it was a tale of two halves. Penn State busted out of the gates for a 24-0 lead at halftime by retaining possession and hammering at the tryline. Jimmy Haley, Chris Burian, and Mike Eife each scored for the Nittany Lions and Jimmy Ronan connected on a penalty and all three of his conversions.
In the second half, it was Kutztown’s turn to be on the front foot. Scoring three tries in the period, Robert Stortz put one in the corner, a driving maul gave Johan Van Wyk a try, and Davis Snead set up Joe O’Shields for a try late in the half. The Bears’ defense stepped up and prevented PSU from scoring it’s all-important fourth try to secure the championship.
“PSU definitely played really hard and physical,” Jones said about his opponent. “They beat us and there was no doubt about it. We made a couple of key mistakes that could have made a difference, but that’s the way it goes. Penn State looked good and we looked good.”
Reflecting on the win, PSU head coach Blake Burdette said, “I’m really happy with how they guys played. Our depth showed a little bit in that our captain (Gabe Tupper) went down at halftime and we brought some guys in that didn’t have the same intensity. That being said, it was the first time we beat Kutztown in six years. I’m really happy with the win, really happy with way the boys performed.”
“I thought we were the better team,” Burdette added. “We still have a long way to go, but we were the better team on the day and I was happy with that. I’m not going to take anything away from what we did and the performance the boys put in... We didn’t win the conference, but we’ll take what we’ve done and build on it and hopefully springboard to the spring season.”
As for the Bears, the objective from Day One for Jones was for Kutztown was to win the Rugby East Title. “ In the first meeting we had when they came back to school, the first thing I did was write on the blackboard, ‘Win the Rugby East’. We won it, but it was a bittersweet way to win it. I would have much rather to stay undefeated and beat Penn State, but this one is going to take time to sink in that they won the conference.
Kutztown has completed it’s first stage of the goals they set forth at the beginning of the season. “We have set goals for the season. Win the Rugby East, try to win the game at ACRC Championships in two weeks, win the ACRC 7s, and win the CRC 7s. Those are our four goals this season. We just accomplished the first one, so that means a lot.”
In other Rugby East action, St. Bonaventure beat Buffalo 36-7 and Wheeling Jesuit overwhelmed West Virginia 86-13.