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Metropolis utilized a monstrous second half to down Syracuse and win the DIII National Championship in Glendale, Colo. Sunday, 46-25.
Metropolis led by just two points at halftime, 19-17. They reached that score with three tries, two of which were converted. The first was touched down by Nathan Osborne, flyhalf and coach, after a series of slow-ball movements inched the Minneapolis bunch toward pay dirt. Inside center Isaac Johnson converted.
The next two, scored by flanker Scott Stafford and wing Peter Christensen, were direct results of strong setpiece play. Stafford’s came when the Metro pack mauled over the try line off of a five-meter lineout, and Christensen’s was made possible by a midfield line break following a lineout, which sucked in the Syracuse defense and opened space for the wing.
Before Metro’s back-to-back tries, the Chargers touched down their first five-pointer. It too came off of a maul following a five-meter lineout. Lock Andrew Pelkey touched it down, and flyhalf Jeff Devennie converted.
Down 19-7 in the 16th minute and without momentum, the Chargers received a shot in the arm when outside center Johnny Morse busted through Metro’s defense for Syracuse’s second try. It too directly followed a short-range lineout.
Syracuse's Morse breaking for a
Metro mauling in for a
Playing on the big stage is half
However, there would be nothing short about Morse’s next score. The Chargers were granted a scrum inside their own 22 in the 37th minute, and they swung it wide to Morse after securing their own setpiece. There was no trickery, no fancy play, but Morse displayed power and speed unparalleled by anyone on else on the field en route to a long-range score.
Metropolis, who had been up three tries to one, were now in front by just a conversion, and Osborne reminded his team of what they knew about Syracuse, having watched them in the Rounds of 16, eight and four.
“The one thing we kept saying to each other is, they will never give up. No matter what the score is, no matter what’s in front of them, they will just run hard and never give up,” said Osborne, “ and they really showed what championship rugby’s all about in that first half.”
Unfortunately for Syracuse, Morse’s electrifying try would be the last highlight, as Metro outscored the Chargers 27-3 in the second stanza. They kept Metro within a score until the 51st minute, when Stafford scored his second try to create separation that would only become more dramatic as time wore on.
After letting South Bay, their semifinal opponent, back in the game in the second half on Saturday, Metropolis knew it couldn’t do the same in the final.
“We came out at that halftime break, and I think yesterday halftime was their best friend, the South Bay Rhinos, and today we said we’re not going to let ourselves down and we came out and we really fought in that second half,” Osborne said.
Along with the scoreboard, Metropolis dominated possession and territory in the second half. Its scrum wore down the Chargers and forced multiple turnovers in the setpiece, and once in the redzone, it was only a matter of time before Metro scored.
“We really work hard at training on our red zone play,” said Osborne. “Knowing that in a game you probably get eight opportunities, if we can complete four of those, if we can get 50-percent of our red zone plays, that’s 28 points, so we really work hard on that. 90-percent of our training is working on our red zone, because we know we can play rugby around the field.”
Metropolis’ lineup was littered with players from different generations.
“We’ve got guys as old as 44 and as young as 19, who have just started playing rugby this year,” said try-scorer Jamey Kohlbeck.
“ I’m just super proud to be playing with guys who are retiring and young guys who are bringing a lot to the game. Most importantly I’m happy for the local Minnesotans and the guys who have been playing for this club for 25 years, that’s who we are playing for.”
Osborne, named final MVP by USA Rugby for his two-try performance, is one of those older guys, and for him and the rest of the elders, a national championship is the high note on which they wanted to go out.
“We’ve got probably eight guys here that are old and are retiring on this last game. This was our last season together,” said the MVP.
“We decided to put this thing together after stepping back from playing years and years of DI rugby. We said let’s just put this thing together and go out with style, and we really put it together all year and it really showed it all today.
“I really enjoy these guys, and I can think of no better way to finish things off. Getting a couple tries and the MVP, it really put a nail in the coffin of me never wanting to play again.”