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Positioning for the DI Divisional Playoffs is in full swing as the four games in the Atlantic North and Mid-Atlantic were played on Saturday. In the Atlantic North/ARP, Old Blue, who decided not to participate in Nationals this season, blasted Mystic River, 66-20. Meanwhile in the Mid-Atlantic, Rocky Gorge and Norfolk rebounded from defeats from the week prior with wins over Baltimore-Chesapeake and Wilmington, respectively. Lastly, Pittsburgh effectively ended the Potomac Exiles postseason aspirations with a 24-21 victory at Founders Field.
Utilizing some new training methods, Old Blue shellacked the defending DI National Champion, Mystic River, 66-20. Behind an incredible four-try performance from Luke Hume, Old Blue poured on the points and was up 52-6 at one point in the second half. Sebastian Kalm, Mike St. Claire, Rick Kirkland, Tony Purpura, and Nate Augspurger also scored in the team effort with James Bird totaling 21 points with a try and eight conversions. Jared Collinson and Dylan Lubbe scored tries for Mystic in the loss with Spike Armstrong kicking two penalties and two conversions.
According to Old Blue captain Alex Schwarz, “We have a new way we approach our training sessions, so instead of breaking down into set pieces and doing drills, we combine it all into game simulations. We want to simulate game speed and 10% above game speed where we are training harder and making decisions under duress and fatigue. Come game situations, it will be a little bit easier. That showed big time in our game.”
Schwarz commented that Old Blue’s decision-making and skill level has developed as result. “We are thinking a lot clearer even when tired or under stress because we have already been in that situation in the training environment. Our skill level [has improved]. We are more open to throwing the ball around, moving it wide, and running when exiting our own half, which is different to how we were playing in the fall. Instead of putting it to our boot, we are more comfortable running it now.”
Mystic River will look to get better before the start of the DI Regionals on May 20th in Pittsburgh. Mystic plays NYAC on April 22nd before the Boston Irish on the 29th and then the Glendale Raptors on May 6th. Old Blue plays NYAC for the Battle of New York on May 6th then the Chicago Lions on the 13th.
After disappointing losses to NYAC and Wilmington last weekend, Rocky Gorge recovered by keeping Baltimore-Chesapeake under significant defensive pressure all day. After losing their shape on defense and unnecessary penalties, BC crept back into the game with two first half tries. In the second period, BC couldn’t match Gorge’s forwards and backs in the loose resulting in a 56-19 final score.
Rocky Gorge head coach Nick DiMichele has a short memory and a next man up attitude. “Win or lose on Saturday, we forget about it by Sunday. Patch the holes and focus on the next match. We were able to get some continuity and put some phases together [versus BC. Inside center] Cordell Drummond gave us a platform and the forwards recycled ball well. Matias Cima led our backs with an aggressive attack. We have a lot of pieces to this puzzle missing and our goal is to make it right by the end of the month.”
Rocky Gorge started the match with three straight tries by Tony Ayigah (2) and Nick Sylor that were all converted by Nick Kuhl. BC came back with two tries by big Peter Brock, but Gorge responded with Ayigah’s third try and another by Will Miller for the 35-12 halftime advantage.
Gorge increased its pressure in the second half leading to tries from Matias Cima and Kuhl. Brock earned his hat trick late in the game, but a Dustin Meehan try off the restart was the final dagger for Gorge. Kuhl ended the day with the golden boot going 8 for 8 on conversions.
Coming off an inspirational win against Norfolk last weekend, BC was optimistic at its chances against Gorge. “We had moments of good play on our side, but we just didn’t put it all together,” captain Tyler Barberi said. “ Rocky Gorge came ready to play and under the circumstances, everybody played as hard as they could. It was a hard-fought game on both sides.”
In preparation for its test against Rocky Gorge on April 22nd, the Norfolk Blues obliterated Wilmington, 121-0. The rout was on from the first whistle as the Blues starved their opponent of possession resulting in the most lop-sided win this season in DI Club rugby.
Norfolk netted 19 total tries, were up 71-0 at the half, and scored another 50 points in the second after emptying its bench at the intermission. Matt Jerson lead the way with five tries followed by scores from Eric Hagen (2), James Irey, Anthony Kowalski (3), Alex Mavrophilipos, William Jefferson, Herman Sandoval (4), David Paradiso, and Doug Eby. Flyhalf Jake Humphrey was accurate with the kick converting 13 times.
After losing to BC last weekend, Norfolk’s head coach Chris Porter expected more from his club. “We were a lot more patient with our attack. The guys were playing at depth and when it came time to move forward, they moved with aggression. We really focused on that and hitting the gain line at pace. They did a great job with that today not only in the backs, but in the forwards in their pods. Once we got them on the back foot, we kept them on there all day long.”
Norfolk plays at Rocky Gorge on April 22nd for the season finale and then most likely, draw Gorge again in the semifinals of the DI Mid-Atlantic Playoffs. Coach Porter said he will use the same philosophy against Gorge to pull off the upset. “We are going to have to stay patient. [Gorge] is going to make their tackles and they are going to be there for their rucks. We have to be patient with our possession, hold onto the ball, and not get frustrated after six or seven phases where we move only 10-20 meters. Be patient, keep pounding away, and attacking with our forwards and backs. If we do that we control the ball and keep the ball out of their backline and back rows’ hands, then we will have a good chance against them.”
Desperately searching for a victory to stay in the divisional playoff hunt, the Potomac Exiles ventured to Founders Field in Pittsburgh, Pa. to challenge the second place Harlequins. The Exiles kept pace with Pittsburgh and even cut the lead to three points with five minutes remaining. The Harlequins held off Potomac in the final moments for the 24-21 win.
“It was a pretty tight game, back and forth,” Pittsburgh captain Luke Titus said. “Pretty physical game in and around the rucks. The ball didn’t get out wide that much, but when it did it was good for both sides. Both teams made a few mistakes and we were able to capitalize on mistakes inside the Potomac’s territory.”
Asked for his thoughts on the game, Potomac head coach Owen Lentz responded, “we scrummed well, our set pieces were good, we were competitive. We had a good comeback at the end, but Pittsburgh was the better team... Two things [were key in the game.] On defense, it was tackling. We tackled too high and gave them too much momentum. On the offensive side, we just needed to maintain composure, swing the ball, and trust the system.”
Pittsburgh is currently in second place, but Schuylkill River is only three standing points behind it with one less game played. The April 22nd meeting between the two clubs in Philadelphia will utlimately determine the #2 seed in the DI Mid-Atlantic Playoffs.