You are here
The epic final of the Division II National Playoffs Mid-Atlantic Regional came down to the last minutes of play between Towson and Rowan at Founder’s Field in Pittsburgh, Pa. In the end, Towson survived a second half seven-try onslaught by Rowan to win 44-41 and will return to its third Final Four in the last five years. Set at Furman University in Greenville, S.C., the Tigers will meet UW-Whitewater in the Championship Semifinal on December 5th.
“We had momentum in the first half, the ball 80% of the time, and the wind,” Towson head coach Don Stone said. “We dominated the first half and had probably the best half of rugby we’ve had this season. [In the second half,] they got momentum, they used the wind, they kicked the ball and went for field position and had a lot of breaks come their way.”
In a tale of two halves, Towson played inspired rugby with the wind and jumped out to a 27-0 halftime lead. Vince Francescangeli, John Schuberth, and Jason Laria each scored for the Tigers. Scrumhalf Eric Sweeny made each conversion and connected on two penalty kicks.
After intermission, Rowan came out in the second half and showed why they were an undefeated club this season. Rowan’s head coach Curt Gruber let the captains rally the troops. “The captains did the talking at halftime and they spoke to the guys about breaking down, cleaning up mistakes, and taking advantage of the wind that would with them, and fighting back.”
Fight back they did as Rowan surged in the second half with the wind to score a total of seven tries, including five straight to open the period and take a 29-27 lead. Sam Touroonjian, Joe Schengrund, Mike Ehrlich, John Edler, Matt Bettin (2), and Kris Raso had tries for Rowan in the second.
After Rowan gained the two-point advantage, Towson regained its composure with tries by Sweeney, Will Ngonga, and Nick DiPietro to reclaim the lead at 44-29. “That’s when we stood tall. Everything that we worked for during the course of the whole season was about those 15 minutes. We reasserted ourselves and that’s why we won the game. The coaches are proud of the fact that as tough as the game was we fought back and showed some resiliency to score those tries.”
With its season on the line, Rowan battled once again scoring two more times in the final minutes of the nail-biter. Rowan’s final try came at the end of the game to cut the Towson advantage to three points at 44-41, but the whistle blew sending the Tigers to the Championship Semifinal.
Commenting on his club’s efforts, Coach Gruber said, “It was a really tough game. We were down 27-0 at the half, came back and went ahead, but it took too much coming back and they pulled out in front of us again... There was a big wind and that favored the team that had the wind. At the end of the day, there were two very good programs playing hard rugby and three points separated them at the end.”
High performance rugby was showcased in the quarterfinal with huge swings of points and opportunities from both clubs. “There was a blocked kick by each team into the endzone, there was a picked off pass by each team that ran 40 yards into the endzone,” Stone added. “Both teams were god-like at times and both teams made enormous errors. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen anything like it or been a part of anything like it.”
Coach Stone gave game balls to two of his outstanding players, No. 8 Nick DiPietro and scrumhalf Eric Sweeney. “DiPietro scored the last try of the day, which ended up being the margin of victory. He was a beast and one of the glues in our pack. We subbed in all seven of our guys and many were hurt to begin with and DiPietro played strong. The Man of the Match was Eric Sweeney, who not only had tries, but points and great kicks and leadership. Without Eric, we don’t win this game.”
Towson will use the two weeks until the Final Four to rest and heal, then gear up for UW-Whitewater. “If we are healthy, play well, and get a little luck, we feel we can play this anybody,” Stone exclaimed. “UW-Whitewater is a really terrific program and we are going to have our hands full to beat them. We know if we play well and play with confidence, we can be right there with them. That’s what we are looking forward to, a big challenge. “