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A wild weekend in the Rugby East saw Notre Dame College score the biggest victory in D1A this season and Penn State and Kutztown continue to rock the competition before their head-to-head clash this Saturday.
Army at Notre Dame College
Celebrating homecoming in South Euclid, Ohio, NDC brought their fans what they wanted, a big win versus a top-ranked opponent. Army ventured to Ohio looking to remain unbeaten in the Rugby East and left with a 31-26 loss. Capitalizing on the Black Knights’ mistakes with stingy defense, the Falcons scored late to take the lead and held on for the victory.
With four of their top players back in the lineup (Marcus Tupuola, Zack Forro, Cian Grendon, and Cullen Barelka), NDC head coach Jason Fox keyed on stopping and disrupting Army’s attack. “Our defense was coming up pretty quick. Against Penn State we were playing on our heels, I thought if we were going to have a chance against Army, we had to play tough defense and come up fast to take away space. I thought we did that pretty well.”
Army made a statement early in the match with a Chris L'Amoureux rolling maul try, but NDC responded with back-to-back tries by Ro’Neil Reynolds and Tarik James in the 13th and 20th minutes. The score remained 12-5 until halftime.
Similar to the first half, Army started quickly with another L'Amoureux try and kept their foot on the gas as Nathan Brooks and Jacob Ericksen scored to push the tally to 26-12 with 24 minutes left. Down by two tries, NDC refocused and Marcus Tupuola and Cory Graham cut the lead to two points.
With two minutes remaining and Army down a man with a yellow, NDC threatened the goal line, but a penalty gave the ball back to Army. On the ensuing scrum, the Black Knights attempted the clear with a kick, but the pass was mishandled. Reserve Corbin Williams pressured the exchange inside the tryzone and recovered the loose ball for the game-winning try.
With time still on the clock, Army mounted one last effort to win the game. When Black Knights gained possession off the kickoff, Fox said, “We thought here we go again. We made a mistake on the kickoff and didn’t get it. They drove it down and once again, one of their ball handling mistakes was a knock-on and it was the end of the game.”
For Army, head coach Matt Sherman was critical of his squad, “We had some pretty good moments here and there, but those moments were riddled with errors in between and we weren’t able to string together many solid passages of play or find a rhythm. Overall, our performance was patchy at best, a step backward, and not what’s required to beat a quality team on the road.”
Sherman boiled down the match to what happened in the final quarter. “We were outscored three tries to zero, we committed seven penalties including a yellow card, got held up in goal, failed to execute our exit strategy twice, and started tackling up high. While the final 20 minutes were especially troublesome for us, I think the entire performance, including the first 60 minutes when we broke the line eight times and only finished one, had disconnected and porous scrum defense, and were often beat at the breakdown, were also deciding factors.”
While the Black Knights have to clean up their game, NDC will celebrate the win. “It was a team man of the match,” Fox concluded. “It took all 23 guys and it was a total team effort. Defensively, we had a lot of guys step up and play big and guys on turnover ball played well.”
The Falcons will fly to Buffalo on Saturday for their next Rugby East test, while Army takes a break before playing St. Bonaventure on October 7th.
Penn State at St. Bonaventure
After beginning the season with three straight wins by doubling up their opponents, Penn State repeated the trend with a 61-23 cracking of St. Bonaventure. After the Bonnies scored the first points of the match, the Cougars went on a tear to lead 31-11 at the half. Penn State continued the onslaught in the second half with four tries and two penalties despite incurring a red card in the middle of the period.
Brian Stella (2), Rob Irimescu, Labi Koi-Larbi, Thomas Capriotti (2), Malcolm May, Oren Patel-Champion, and Mike Jennings dotted down tries for Penn State. Jimmy Ronan chipped on four conversions and reserve Brendan McCabe added two penalties and a conversion. In the loss, Chris Starkweather, Joe Hawthorne, and Colin Susteric scored with Christian Artuso connecting on two penalties and a conversion.
On the win, PSU head coach Justin Hundley said, “The team stuck to the system and built numerous phases to score. We had a slow start to the match and gave up a few early penalties, but once they had settled in they played very well...[I have learned that my players] are good at working through a little adversity, which has seemed to be how we have started most matches. They are improving every week and the transfer from training to match day is really good.”
The most significant test of the early season comes this Saturday when Kutztown comes to town. Hundley commented, “[We have to] continue to improve, which is our goal every week. We will have to make fewer mistakes and commit fewer penalties because Kutztown will punish us for them.”
Kutztown at Buffalo
Like Penn State, Kutztown has enjoyed early season success and used the road game versus Buffalo as a primer for its date with Penn State on Saturday. Even though Kutztown took care of business and won 48-17, the Golden Bears have plenty to work on.
“KU was hampered by turnovers and penalties in first half,” Kutztown head coach Gregg Jones said. “We were inside Buffalo’s 22 numerous times in first half, but just kept turning the ball over. It was 24-17 at halftime and once again, settled down in second half and shut them out.”
“The KU set pieces were dominating and possession was a big factor in the win,” Jones added. “Buffalo has improved dramatically and must be commended for their stellar play. They never stopped going forward and were very physical up front. Our defense was and has been a big factor in these last two wins.”
Inside center was Dmontae Noble notched a hat trick and freshman second half replacement Ryan Nolan from Leinster, Ireland has an immediate impact with two tries. Brandon Boon, Joe Kaufman, and Tyler Valovcin also found the endzone, but it was the sophomore flyhalf that caught the coach’s eye. “Once again, very impressed with KU Sophomore #10, Jackson Clark's composure and tactical kicking to manage our attack.”