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Starting back in mid-August, the DI Club Marathon Midwest began and it ended Saturday 14 weeks later. Metropolis traveled to Columbus, Ohio with its undefeated record intact and lost by a point to Scioto Valley. The second place Chicago Lions fell for the second week in a row to Cincinnati, 31-8, and the Kansas City Blues edged a competitive Palmer College side, 32-29. Lastly, Milwaukee improved to 4-10 with a 28-25 win over the Chicago Griffins.
In addition to the Midwest, the DI Mid-Atlantic played its final match of the fall on Saturday. The Pittsburgh Harlequins trekked to the winless Baltimore-Chesapeake Brumbies and won 33-29 despite a late surge by BC.
Metropolis at Columbus-Scioto Valley
With an undefeated season at stake for Metropolis, Columbus-Scioto Valley played the role of spoiler in a come from behind one-point thriller. In a match of momentum where the lead changed hands three times, a re-energized Columbus, who beat the Lions last week, scored the two tries in the final five minutes of the test to win 34-33.
“In the first half, we were pretty much in control with the wind at our back and ended up 17-5 at the half,” Columbus head coach Phil Payne said. “In the second half, the strong wind was in our face. They did a very good job at playing territory and kept us pinned. We let them get in for three soft tries and it was frustrating. We got two tries at the end, one put us in striking position and a try at the end, both by Joey Sok.”
“None of us lost faith in each other,” Payne said of his team’s second-half play. “We were madder at ourselves for letting an easy try in. Our guys were upbeat and positive with each other, we made some changes and got some fresh forwards in. In the backs, no subs other than Zach Stryffeler at #12. We were able to control the ball, we had nice phase play until we could break the defense down and let Joey Sok finish it for us.”
Metropolis took the early lead with a Carter Beelman try, but Columbus went on a 22-point run with tries from Riekert Hattingh, Alec Janotka, and Tevita Maitavuki and a penalty by Taylor Howden. Trailing 22-5 just after halftime, the momentum swung back to Metro with four consecutive tries by Beelman, Martin Broberg, Chris Marias, and Ryan Gilligan for the 33-22 lead with ten minutes left.
In the final five minutes, Columbus rallied again with Punnarah “Joey” Sok scoring the last two tries and Howden hitting the all-important conversion in the 79th minute for the victory.
Speaking to Rugby Today after the match, Metropolis head coach Rob Holder said, “I think the difference was that they handled the elements better than we did. There was a stiff wind. We had a fantastic season overall and I am very proud of the entire club. 14 weekends in a row is brutal and I’m very happy with our team consistency throughout.”
After finishing the season in third place, Payne was somewhat disappointed that Columbus couldn’t repeat as conference champs but proud of how his squad ended the season. “We didn’t meet our goal of finishing at the top of the table again. From that, it’s a bit of a downer. Good on Metro and Chicago, they weathered this season better than we did, but we have brought a lot of new players into our team and they got a taste of DI Men’s Club rugby coming out of college. I’m excited about our future and they are excited too. Beating the first and second teams was a great way to finish the season.”
Chicago Lions at Cincinnati Wolfhounds
Dealing with injuries and long season, the Chicago Lions have lost four of their last six games, most recently a 31-8 season finale to Cincinnati. The Wolfhounds led 12-8 at halftime and scored three tries in the second half while shutting out the Lions to win the game.
“The Lions did well to hold possession for long periods of time, but I think our defensive effort was the difference in the match,” said Cincinnati captain Mark Viviani. “ The season was a definite grind with 14 games in 14 weeks we had a ton of injuries limiting the size of our player pool so it's a testament of our guys' commitment to getting through the season while steadily improving after a slow start.”
Danny Heistercamp and Derek Jackson gave Cincinnati the halftime lead with a Mungo Mason try and Brady Gent penalty totaling the Lion’s eight points of the period. In the second half, Ryan Grote, Wendall Whitehead, and Sam Mcaninch scored for the Wolfhounds.
The season took its toll on the Lions, but it wasn’t all negative. Head coach Dave Clancy described the season as “very long and a battle of attrition and squad rotation. 14 weeks after a spring run at 15s Nationals and a summer run at 7s Nationals has taken its toll. We are down 12 first-side players with injuries. The massive positive was getting some young guys their first DI appearances over the last few weeks once we had second place secured which will stand to us for future years and those players development.”
Milwaukee Barbarians at Chicago Griffins
Up by 11 with 30 minutes left, the Chicago Griffins looked to be in line for their third victory to close out its season at home. The Barbarians of visiting Milwaukee had other plans scoring in the 60th and 71st minutes to storm back for the 28-25 win.
“It was a pretty hard fought match, both ways,” Milwaukee coach Joe Birdsall said. “The weather was a mix of snow and rain so it was tough to keep control of the ball for both teams. One of the key factors of the game was the weather but, it was a back and forth match all the way with neither teams wanting to give up any control.”
The Griffins built a lead off tries from Matt Najor, Josefa Kafatulo, Jeff Hain, and Luke Stringer and boot of Andrew Suniula (a conversion and penalty). Matt Drzewiecki, Kyle Cwiklis, and Anthony Sims kept the score within striking distance for Milwaukee. A clutch try by Joe Gardener in the 71st minute gave the Barbarians the lead and his four conversions proved to be the difference on the day.
Milwaukee’s takeaway from the season was “Offensively as a team, we have improved,” Birdsall explained. “I think our offense is more potent and we are functioning at a much higher level. Defensively, we have a lot more to work on. Coming down towards the end, the team was starting to understand more about defensive schemes and how to operate and I think the scores started to show that.”
Palmer College Dragons at Kansas City Blues
Needing a victory to finish the season at 7-7, the Kansas City Blues held serve at home beating the Palmer, 32-29. The Blues led 25-5 at the half and survived a furious comeback attempt by Dragons in the second half.
“We knew Palmer would be physical and came prepared for it,” KC head coach Scott Kram said. “Our game plan was to control possession and give a mixed attack which worked very well giving us a sizable lead at half. To Palmer's credit, they stepped up their play tremendously in the second half and gave us all we could handle. Games like these are not necessarily decided by skill, but heart and desire. Both teams showed plenty of that down to the final whistle.”
Kevin Schwartze scored a pair of tries for the Blues and Greg Fry, Dave McDonough, and Kenny Scott also dotted down tries in the match. Flyhalf Kelly Mercer was two for five on conversions and added a penalty as well.
Kram summed up KC’s season saying, “I am sure 14 games back to back with no breaks have been hard on all of the teams in our league. I credit our players with putting in the time, overcoming a long tough road schedule and injuries, while being able to finish on a high note winning our last three home games.”
Pittsburgh Harlequins at Baltimore-Chesapeake Brumbies
It’s been awhile since Pittsburgh has traveled to Baltimore-Chesapeake and left with a victory. On Saturday in Baltimore, Md., the conversions were the difference as both clubs scored five tries apiece. The Harlequins’ Ted Sheedy made four of his kicks while BC only connected on two for the 33-29 final score. The win improves Pittsburgh's record to 6-4 in the Mid-Atlantic.
BC gave it everything it had in search of the Brumbies’ first win. “It was a game where we were hitting hard back and forth,” captain Tyler Barberi said. “It was a dogfight the entire game. The deciding factor, in the end, was possession and Pittsburgh maintained great ball possession in the second half.”
The DI Mid-Atlantic will take a winter break until mid-March when BC hosts the Washington Irish, Pittsburgh is at Norfolk, and the Potomac Exiles travel to Schuylkill River.