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It took until week five of the Rugby East schedule to see the contenders to the crown battle for conference supremacy. Penn State at Army and Kutztown at Wheeling Jesuit. Each team was undefeated in league play and now, only Penn State and Wheeling Jesuit remain perfect as they downed Army, 29-13, and Kutztown, 33-20, respectively. Two blowouts highlighted wins by St. Bonaventure and Buffalo as they clobbered West Virginia and Delaware by a combined score of 141-44.
Positioned #8 and #9 in Rugby Today’s DI Rankings, Army and Penn State clashed in West Point, N.Y. on Saturday. The Nittany Lions opened up a 15-0 lead in the first half to which the Black Knights were unable to recover. Two second half tries by Malcolm May completed his hat trick on the day and shut the door on any Army comeback. For Penn State, the win was particularly significant as it was the first victory at West Point in ten years.
“We stuck to the plan and held possession throughout the game,” said Blake Burdette, head coach at PSU. “We overcame their physical style of play and we came away victors... They are a good team, so it was close. We played well and beat a good team.”
The match started with a Jimmy Ronan penalty off the kickoff to give the Nittany Lions an early lead. About halfway through the period, lock Ryan McNulty broke the defensive front and offloaded to Connor Cassidy for the first try of the match. Malcolm May was the beneficiary of consistent phase play soon after to make the score 15-0.
Army did salvage the later minutes to cut the advantage to 15-6 before halftime with two penalties by Jon Kim. The Black Knight kicker had the opportunity for another PK early in the second, but the attempt sailed wide.
Penalties against Army began to mount in the second half and Penn State capitalized to get into scoring position. May took advantage crossing the whitewash twice in the half to give the Penn State the 29-6 lead. A Jeff Malm-Annan try at the buzzer was encouraging for Army, but the day belonged to the Nittany Lions.
Burdette said the key to the game was converting line breaks and the exemplary play of Selby Niumataiwalu, Malcolm May, and Chris Burian.
“It was very physical game with two distinct halves,” Army head coach Matt Sherman said. “In the first half, I though we played very well for the most part. We had the lion’s share of possession and field position. We created more line breaks, but we were very poor at finishing them, a lot of balls on the ground and lost opportunity. Penn State did a great job at finishing opportunities when they got down in our end. In the second half, I think we pressed too much and started to lose our discipline.”
Army has to learn its lessons of the loss and immediately focus on a confident Wheeling Jesuit squad next Saturday. The Black Knights will be on the road to Wheeling, while Penn State and its undefeated record will play at Iona.
After losing to Notre Dame College to start the season, #19 Wheeling Jesuit has ripped off seven straight wins under the tutelage of new head coach Tommy Duffy. After beating its first three Rugby East opponents by an average of 45 points, the Cardinals welcomed undefeated #12 Kutztown to town. After a tense first half where Wheeling only led by four points at the break, the Cardinals scored three tries in 13 minutes to take a commanding 33-10 lead. Two late Kutztown tries were not enough as Wheeling Jesuit remained unbeaten in conference play.
“WJU played a very hard fought match against a very determined Kutztown team,” WJU head coach Tommy Duffy remarked. “The key to victory was our strength of play during the second half, sticking very hard and executing our game plan.”
Wheeling was first on the board with an Allan Hanson penalty to which the Bears responded with try. Two more penalties by Hanson followed to give the Cardinals the 9-5 advatage, but Kutztown came back to take the 10-9 lead. Wheeling was not down for long as captain Hugh McAllister scored his team’s first try at the final whistle to be up 14-10 at the half.
Starting three minutes into the second half, Wheeling used the momentum of the end of first half to score three tries in the first 20 minutes of the second. Peter Malcolm, Orrie Mann, and Cullen Buckley dotted the ball down building the 23 point advantage. Coach Duffy stated that the intercept try by Buckley with 25 minutes to go was a game changing play. The Bears managed to score two late tries, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the deficit.
With Army coming to town on Saturday, Coach Duffy said, “we are expecting another very hard fought match as we get into the grind of our Rugby East schedule.” Kutztown will look to rebound at St. Bonaventure.
The Bonnies earned their second victory of the season with a decisive victory over West Virginia, 70-22. Stephvan Tanner, Jesus Robles, Matt Williams, Matt Bergstol, Alfonso De Falco (2), Charles Schwenk (3), Francisco Herenu, Patrick McCormack each scored for St. Bonaventure and flyhalf Christian Artuso almost outscored the Mountaineers himself with a total of 20 points with a try, a penalty, and six conversions.
Rugby Today spoke with Bonnies head coach Tui Osbourne and he said, “The guys worked hard on possession during the week, which was letting us down. One of the biggest factors was keeping the ball and not causing too many turnovers.”
Osbourne praised the play of flanker Pat McCormack as the Man of the Match. “He was all over the field. His tackling was good and his work rate was the best on the day.”
Similar to the St. Bonaventure result, Buffalo won its first conference match over Delaware, 71-22. Head coach Mike Hodgins was encouraged by the victory saying, “We worked very hard and a long time to get here, so it’s good to get that first win. Our attention to detail and working on small things has started to pay off. Delaware put a lot of pressure on us and is a good team. We just got up in front of them early and kept it on. We scored 11 tries and six were from the forwards and five were from the backs. Pretty balanced.”
With total 31 points, fullback Luca Wrabetz was on fire outscoring Delaware with three tries and going eight for 11 on conversions. Flanker Maninderjit Singh had a pair of tries and Matt Webber, Mike Barkachy, Frank Nugent, Grant Currey, Trent Dingman, and Jason Burgio each scored.
However, Hodgins gave the game ball to captain and #8 Colton Kells. “Colton was outstanding. He didn’t score any tries, but on attack and defense, he was in top form. He created three or four of the tries with his support play.”
Coach Hodgins attributed the win to fitness, athleticism, and the maturation over the last two seasons. “We’ve worked really hard to get better in small increments. It's been frustrating as the scorelines haven’t gone our way, but it was bound to sooner or later. The timing was right for us in terms of putting together a decent tactical game along with having a much more athletic and fit team than in the past.”