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Rocky Gorge team picture. Evan Lappen Photo

Two unbeaten clubs clashed Saturday to decide the DII National Championship at Breese-Stevens Field in Madison, Wisc. Rocky Gorge emerged 27-5 winners over Tempe, claiming the club’s second title in three years.

“Unlike the first time where we were riding this train by the seat of our pants, this year was a calculated march to the championship,” said Rocky Gorge captain Matt Carroll. “We knew exactly what we had to do, we knew exactly who to beat and we took the hardest road to get there.”

To advance to the finals, Rocky Gorge, the winner of the eastern bracket, defeated defending champions Wisconsin and won a close game against New Haven. In the west regional, Tempe reeled off a total of 96 points against Glendale and Little Rock.

In Saturday’s final, each club tried to set the tone with crunching hits and tough physical play. Tempe had the first opportunity to get on the board; however, their penalty attempt pushed left.

Gorge then put up the first points of the day when flyhalf Peter Ressler converted a kick from a not-releasing penalty in the 10th minute.  14 minutes later, Gorge had the game’s first try when No. 8 and match MVP Josh Brown scored from a five-meter lineout. Ressler made the conversion to increase the lead to 10-0.

Gorge turned up the defense and forced Tempe into errors and miscues all day. In the 35th minute, Tempe tried to get the ball to the wing, and an errant pass turned into a 40-meter dash by Gorge’s wing Jay Benedetti, who dotted the ball down in the corner. The conversion was missed, and as the half ended, Gorge widened its lead to 15 points.

By Gorge applying defensive pressure, Tempe couldn’t establish their open style of play that allowed them to pile up the points throughout the playoffs. With their big and physical forwards, Tempe looked to go into contact for intimidation and Gorge was happy to meet them at the gain line.

Tempe struck first in the second half with a try at the 45th minute when inside center Chris Iosefo scored following a forwards ball within the five meter line. Tempe missed the conversion to cut the score to 15-5. Tempe continued to threaten, but the Gorge defense, led by props Bryan Perez and Tony Ayigah and flankers Dustin Meehan and Nick DiMichele, never broke.

Gorge scrumhalf Nick Sylor joined the physical forwards play inside the five meter line to score twice in the 54th and 61st minutes. Reserve flyhalf LJ Pijnenburg converted one of the kicks to make the score 27-5.

“Any level of rugby when you get to the national finals and you make a lot of mistakes, you’re going to have to pay for it no matter how good your team is,” said Tempe coach Junior Fa’asoo. “Credit to Gorge today who were sound, they were very fundamental, and they capitalized on our mistakes. We can’t operate for 80 minutes by making mistake after mistake.”

“I thought our team stepped up to the challenge. We played the best defense I’ve ever seen us play. We capitalized on their mistakes,” said Carroll.

“Tempe is a great club, but on this day, we played our game and won. They had an explosive offense, and down to the final two minutes we were scared that they could just come back on us. A team like that who could swing the ball wide with good individual athletes, they can score and make those plays. Our whole game plan was around taking those plays away.”

“Our opponent really lived up to their billing. Rocky Gorge came in with a relatively simple game plan and they delivered,” said Tempe captain Danny Bell. “Our day was a story of mistakes. We beat ourselves.”

Rocky Gorge 27
Tries: Brown, Benedetti, Sylor (2)
Convs: Ressler, Pijnenburg
PKs: Ressler

Tempe 5
Tries: Iosefo

Match Details

06.03.14 Madison, WI
Final Score
Rocky Gorge