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Defense and mud. These factors had an immense impact on the matches played on Saturday after it rained all day and the two pitches being beaten up at Founder’s Field in Pittsburgh, Pa. for the USA Rugby East National Club Quarterfinals. In the end, here are the matchups for Sunday’s semifinals: Old Blue and Mystic River in Division I, the Detroit Tradesmen against the Village Lions in DII, and the Fairfield Yankees versus the Bremer County Bucks in DIII. On the women’s side, the Raleigh Venom will play Chicago North Shore in DI and Harrisburg will meet Wisconsin in DII.
Games started at 10:00am and by the last match at 5:00pm, the field was reduced to a mud soup. Open play was severely hindered and the teams with dominant forward packs excelled. The playing conditions look to be the same or worse for the semifinals as more rain is expected to fall over night.
For the Old Blue versus Rocky Gorge match, it was a test of field position as strategic kicking played an important role. In the end, Old Blue pulled out a 27-19 win against a tough Rocky Gorge squad who brought it’s A game to the pitch. The Old Blue defense stepped up, especially against Gorge’s lethal pick and go forward attack. The referee called a hard, but fair, game with each side being assessed a yellow card in the contest.
After an early kick and chase try by Old Blue, but Gorge countered with a Ben Cima penalty kick. A yellow card by Gorge opened the door for Old Blue’s second try and the 10-3 lead. Gorge surged back and threatened to score inside Old Blue’s 22 where it was assessed a yellow for repeated penalties. After almost 15 minutes pounding at the goal line and four held-up balls, Gorge’s Will Miller finally put one in for his team. A PK by James Bird extended Old Blue’s lead to 15-10 at the half.
In the second half, Gorge narrowed the gap to 15-13 with a penalty, but an Old Blue penalty try for collapsing a scrum lengthened the lead to 22-13. In the last ten minutes, Gorge came back once more connecting on two penalties to cut the lead to 22-19 with seven minutes remaining. With three minutes to go, Old Blue put the final nail in the coffin with a try from a maul off a five-meter lineout.
Waiting for Old Blue in the semifinals will be Mystic River for the third time this season. In the game against Metropolis, the Minnesota team scored first in the 16th minute with a Nathan Osborne penalty kick, but the Mystic defense would shut them out for the rest of the game. Tries by Alatasi Tupou, Jared Collinson, Vini Daley, and Mike Armstrong propelled Mystic into the semifinals.
Tupou at outside center was stellar with a try and four conversions. His kicking and superb individual effort besting three defenders for a try was the standout performance of the match. Mystic was able to use its forwards to expose the gaps in the defense for the backs to attack. The defense was key for Mystic, especially inside the 22, as well as, the opportunistic decision making following Metropolis' turnovers.
In DII, the Detroit Tradesmen crushed Charlotte, 44-10, as they utilized their size and speed to make the most of their opportunities to win the game. The Tradesman kept the ball tight given the conditions and made the forwards work for the victory. Benjamin Wendt, Conrad Bontrager, Samisoni Hafoka, Todd Else, and Michael Maczuga each had tries for Detriot and wing Adam Saad contributed with 17 points with three penalties and four conversions.
For the Village Lions, they starved Wilmington of possession and turned errors and penalties into points. The set piece and defense was key as the Lions held an 11-0 lead at halftime behind two penalties by Pak Hang Chan and a try by Matt Mullen. Another PK by Chan in the second half and a try by Julian Watts lifted the lead to 21-0 before Wilmington’s David Wolf finally got his team on the board in the 49th minute. For the remainder of the match, the Lions prevented Wilmington from making its mark and prevailed 21-5.
The Fairfield Yankees employed a brutal set piece that proved to be the deciding factor to the 39-12 win over Rocky Gorge in the DIII Quarterfinals. Most, if not, all the scrums were won by Fairfield as Gorge was unable to get a stable platform all game. The Yankee forwards dominated the game setting up their backs with open lanes. Karl Rempe, Mike Pappa, Matt Leonard (2), Joe Bonano, and Ben Philpott scored for Fairfield with Rempe chipping in three conversions and two penalties. In the losing effort, Chris Bleiler and Khalid Epps each had tries for Gorge.
The Bremer County Bucks surpassed the Savannah Shamrocks in the second DIII Quarterfinal by a tally of 36-17. It was a battle of forward packs and the Bucks proved to be more dominant spreading it out and holding onto possession. DeAndre Moore (2), Zach Behrends, Joe Lippert, Jeremy Newman, and Joe Randall each scored for the Bucks. Savannah played a physical, forwards-heavy game and received tries from Gavin Rourke (2) and Scott Lucas.
Chicago North Shore executed its gameplan to perfection and defeated Beantown, 29-8, to advance to the DI Women’s Semifinals. North Shore spread out its attack across the field and was patient letting the game come to them. Noby Takaki, Gabrielle Whittinghill, Yuliana Garcia, Brittany Klimek, and Coleen Canniff each scored for North Shore in the victory and Emily Jones had Beantown’s lone try.
In it first year of DI competition, the Raleigh Venom edged Boston, 12-5, to join North Shore in the eastern semifinal. The game was scoreless until the end of the first half when Raleigh’s Jennifer Larrimore scored a try and Chelsea Garber tacked on a conversion for the 7-0 halftime lead. Garber extended the lead to 12-0 three minutes into the second half with a try. The teams continued to battle in a tough, bruising second half until Boston cut the lead to 12-5 with a Deanna Nash try. Boston never gave up, but the Venom held on for a tight victory.
In the DII Women’s Quarterfinals, the Harrisburg Harlots snatched victory away from Burlington in the final ten minutes with a final score of 18-15. The Harlots knew to expect a hard fight, but the speedy, hard running of the Harrisburg backs proved to be the difference. Emily McHenry dotted the ball down in the 73rd minute to push her team over the top after a Dana Marchitelli try and a followup PK by Kendra Smythe for Burlington made the game 15-13 with by the 72nd minute.
Lastly, Wisconsin returned to the Women’s DII Semifinal with a convincing 67-19 win over Charlotte. Wisconsin utilized their speed and quickness to get the ball to the outside where it exposed the defense’s weaknesses. Sybil Levine, Felicia Carlson, Kristine Peterson, and Justine Wypych each scored two tries for Wisconsin and Sarah Thomas put in one more. Elizabeth Ravaiolli, Crystal Sain, and Raelyn Jehlik scored for Charlotte in the loss.