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For the second consecutive week, Navy escaped with a one-point victory in the Penn Mutual Varsity Cup. The Midshipmen won 24-23 over Clemson Saturday in a tight contest for their third victory over the Tigers this year.
Aaron Keers opened the scoring for Clemson, giving the Tigers and early 3-0 lead. Navy responded with a converted try from lock Cade Pope, but Clemson mauled over a score to retake the lead, 10-7. Jack McAuliffe evened the score minutes later with a penalty for Navy.
Clemson retook the lead with a penalty and made the game 18-10 when outside center Dylan Goulding darted over the line. The Tigers swung the ball wide, exploiting the outside space after Navy received a yellow card a few minutes prior. The score was right at the 40-minute mark, and Clemson went into the break with an eight-point lead.
Navy struck first in the second half off a five-meter scrum. In the 56th minute winger Ron Helms dotted down, and the successful conversion left Clemson up one. Helms and Ben Umpingo both had very good outings on the wings, and Dakota Raymond at outside center was stout defensively. Navy coach Mike Flanagan indicated that the stellar backline from the Midshipmen was the probably the difference this afternoon.
The Tigers stemmed the Navy momentum thanks to another strong play from Goulding. The center broke through the Navy line, and after a series of offloads Ryan Gilroy finished the play with a score in the corner. With the conversion sailing wide, Clemson led 23-17.
Clemson clung to a six-point lead and defended valiantly despite a yellow card. The Midshipmen punched in a try off a break, however, and with the conversion, took their first lead since early in the first half. After several phases Kevin Kirchmer picked up the ball and rambled in for the score in the 72nd minute.
The visitors pushed into Navy territory but were unable to get any more points on the board. The final whistle blew with a 24-23 score.
Overall, it was a very clean game for Navy, as they committed very few turnovers. “I thought that our contact skills were good. We didn’t lose a lot of balls in contact and we kept the ball in our hands pretty well,” Flanagan added.
Navy continues to play well from behind and very easily could have lost the game. Flanagan praised the play of Clemson and the Tigers' evolution through the season.
“Its hard to beat a team three times, and they got better every time we played them,” Flanagan said. “This was no exception. They were solid as a rock.”
For Clemson, it's a team on the rise and will ultimately be happy with its performance in the tournament, but the Tigers are currently disappointed with the final result.
“We were in position to win that game, and to lose it late like that is tough to take,” said Clemson coach Justin Hickey.
With only a handful of seniors and a group that now believes it can compete at the Varsity Cup level, Clemson will a be a team to look out for in future Varsity Cups.
Navy, however, will travel to Berkeley, Calif. to take on vaunted Cal next weekend.