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After hammering the Potomac Exiles in the quarterfinals, the New York Athletic Club (NYAC) intensely competed against Mystic River in the semifinals of the DI USA Club National Playoffs at the Rugby Athletic Center in Charlotte, N.C. After 80 minutes, Mystic River gave NYAC everything they had, but ultimately, the ARP side won 38-32. With the win, NYAC has earned their spot in the National Championship against the Austin Blacks in Glendale, Colo. on June 13th.
Each team took their shots as the lead exchanged hands five times and NYAC was really disrupted with the way Mystic played not expecting them to be that physical. The Eagles on NYAC proved to be the difference as they got stellar performances out of Toby L’Estrange, Mike Petri, Justin Hundley, and Troy Hall. NYAC was the better-drilled team, but seemed to get out of their game plan and get sucked into playing Mystic’s game. Mystic has a smash heavy style and took advantage by taking points from every penalty behind the boot of Mike Armstrong.
“The result was really good in the end,” NYAC head coach Phil Bailey said. “Yesterday was tough and this was even tougher... It was a great show of character from our boys. They did it today and were very scrappy. Mystic was a very good side that knew a clear cut way how to play and how to play us and they executed a lot of the time. They really tested us and it showed in the score.”
“Harrison Edwards, our No. 8, was phenomenal. He dug us out of so much. He was in everything, covering tackles, picking and going, digging us out of scrums going backwards. Pat Fiffe was once again magic around the field, he is the heart and soul and does everything noboby sees. James Denise played really well. I’ll give everyone in our scrum a fantastic day, they just help up.”
Mystic River got points on the board first in the third minute with a penalty kick by Armstrong for not rolling away. NYAC responded three minutes later with it’s first try by Troy Hall as the ball was worked wide to the wing from a five-meter penalty. Armstrong hit his second penalty kick on the subsequent possession and then his third at the 15th minute mark to retake the lead at 9-5.
Twenty minutes in, Mystic extended it’s advantage to 16-5 as it utilized a fast ball and crashed it’s inside center Vinnie Daley on a backs play to score a try. NYAC kept pace two minutes later when lock Colin Murray charged down a kick inside the five and then offloaded to wing Kyle Granby in support for the try.
Not phased, Mystic’s Armstrong joined the try scorers with a second move after being tackled at the line following a line break from a five meter lineout. The wing made his own conversion for the 23-10 lead.
In the final minutes of the half, NYAC stepped up the pressure and mounted a come back. First, flanker Stephen Sanchez scored off a flat ball on the 22 to a line break and then at the 40th minute, the referee awarded a penalty try to NYAC for obstruction of the offensive play. Granby sent a short chip kick inside the 22 and was obstructed by three players on the chase. The penalty try was assessed and Mystic’s fullback Jared Collinson was yellow carded. Justin Hundley made both conversions to take 24-23 halftime lead.
At the half, Bailey didn’t need to have the pep talk to his men. “We didn’t have to, they felt it. Nothing went our way in the first half. To start the second half one point ahead just through pure tenacity, aggression, and adversity, they were ready to go. Mystic had real good guys and put a lot of points on us. To come into halftime only one point up, that’s hard for them and good for us. I think we felt that and we carried that on for the rest of the half. The 50/50s then started to become ours.”
NYAC wasn’t able to take advantage of the card as Mystic killed off the penalty without suffering any damage. Once at full strength, Armstrong added another penalty kick, but the lead bounced back and forth as NYAC’s Harrison Edwards scored in the 55th minute. Unfortunately, Mystic was dinged again for a yellow card for diving over and NYAC scored on the next possession when quick hands got the ball wide to Hall for the try.
Soon after, it was NYAC’s turn for a yellow card as L’Estrange was sent off for not rolling away and it was 14 on 14 rugby. Mystic was able to tack on two more penalty kicks by Armstrong in the 62nd and 65th minutes, but were unable to make any significant strides for a try. At 38-32, a single try could take the lead, but NYAC clamped down on defense and held on for the victory.
“Obviously, a tough way to go down, especially after going up early,” Mystic River head coach Josh Smith said. “The penalties, the cards, and the ill discipline in the second half [was the difference]... When we ran out of structure and were rolling in attack, we were good. When we got outside of the structure, we started struggling.”
“We really hurt ourselves by not finding touch a lot in the second half and not executing inside the 22. The penalty try right before the half was, needless to say, a real killer. Seven points with no time left. I thought we responded and got ourselves back in in the second half... We knew NYAC pretty well. I thought we did a decent job matching them physically, which could have hurt us early. You can’t give a class club like NYAC all of those penalties and win.”
With a date with Austin set for June 13th, Bailey said his club would savor this win and this experience before looking forward to the next round. “This is such a big weekend with two rugby games back to back in the heat is such a tough thing. Yesterday we weren’t looking pass yesterday and today we haven’t looked past today.”