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In the next to last Saturday of the fall season in the Rugby East, Penn State, Wheeling Jesuit, and Iona closed out their year with wins and Buffalo grabbed its second win over West Virginia, 45-24. The Nittany Lions completed their undefeated record with a 41-34 win against Kutztown, Wheeling Jesuit blasted Delaware, 65-12, for its sixth victory, and Iona edged St. Bonaventure, 17-12, in its final home game.
In order to preserve its unbeaten season and wrap up the conference title, Penn State withstood a late barrage by Kutztown to win 41-34. With three tries in the last 20 minutes, the Bears only trailed by two points with less than ten minutes to play. A try by fullback Jimmy Haley in the 75th minute was the dagger for the Nittany Lions and earned them the 41-34 victory.
“We had to grind out our win,” Penn State head coach Blake Burdette said regarding his first Rugby East title. “We didn't have our best performance, but the boys found a way to win. In these tight games in the past, we haven't always found a way to win and finish, and we did. It's big for our program to go undefeated.”
The first half ended with a 19-10 Penn State lead as Mike Dabulas, Malcolm May, and Kiefer Kei-Boguinard each scored. For Kutztown, Allan Kaufman and Johan Van Wyk took advantage of penalties for quick tap tries.
The Nittany Lions scored three of the first four tries of the second half. Jordan Crofts, Tyler May, and Selby Niumataiwalu each dotted the ball down for PSU to extend the lead to 36-17. Starting in the 62nd minute, Kutztown grabbed the momentum and ripped off three straight tries to cut the lead to 36-34 with less than ten minutes left. Dmontae Noble, Murphy Lill, and Aaron Gray’s second try got the Bears back in the game.
With Kutztown poised to complete its comeback, Penn State had the last strike as Jimmy Haley scored in the corner. The Bears attempted to make a final push, but their hopes ended with a late yellow card. At the whistle, the Nittany Lions claimed the Rugby East Championship with the 41-34 victory.
This match held special meaning for Penn State as Kutztown prevented the Nittany Lions from winning the conference in 2015. “The boys have put in some good work and this is a great reward for them,” Burdette remarked. “We have a chance to be a pretty special team. We have to have a great off-season and work on some things to get better, but it's a process and so far they have done it the right way.”
While Penn State completed its Rugby East schedule on Saturday, Kutztown has one more home match against Buffalo this weekend.
In Delaware’s penultimate contest, the Blue Hens hoped for an encouraging effort for their last home game, but it was Wheeling Jesuit who dominated the action. With 11 tries, the Cardinals controlled almost every facet of the contest being the more physically talented and experienced side.
Wheeling Jesuit wing Trey Wardlaw set the high mark for tries with hat trick, while Peter Malcolm, Killian Gause and Augie Murphy each scored a pair. Dominic Piazza and Joli Vakasiskakala rounded out the 11 tries for the Cardinals and flyhalf Joe Broderick connected on five conversions. In the loss, Will Baker, John Hand, and Matt Ramierez scored for Delaware.
After winning the Rugby East last season, Wheeling Jesuit finished this year 6-2 behind Penn State and Army. On the other hand, the Blue Hens conclude their season this Saturday at Kutztown.
Iona didn’t just have to deal with St. Bonaventure on Saturday, but it’s own discipline issues that nearly cost it the game. With a yellow and red card, the Gaels played down a man for a total of 35 minutes, including the final 25 minutes of the contest. Even with the disadvantage, Iona survived to win 17-12 over the Bonnies.
Iona head coach Bruce McLane credits the victory to the Gaels defensive effort. “It was a pretty even game. Our defense was great... Outside of the Kutztown game, our defense has been pretty good all year. We just couldn’t get our attack right at all.”
The Gaels were on the board first with a John D’Allara try off a driving maul. St. Bonaventure responded with a cross-field kick from Christian Artuso to Chaz Schwenk to dot the ball down in the endzone. Tied at 5-5, Iona was issued a yellow card, but the Bonnies were unable capitalize before the half ended.
The Iona defense continued to pressure St. Bonaventure in the second half and that pressure produced points as Nick D’Allara recovered a blocked kick for a try. The Gaels built on their lead with a forwards attack finished with a score by John Petteruti.
A potential disaster struck for Iona at the 55th minute when the Gaels were issued a red card for an elbow in a driving maul. About seven minutes later, the Bonnies saw an opening and Schwenk scored his second try after a vicious juke of a defender. The Bonnies continued to attack with the man advantage in the final minutes, but Iona stood tall even when backed up against its own goal line. The defense remained stout and the Gaels won their final match at home, 17-12.
Iona ended the fall 2016 season at 0.500 with a 4-4 record, where St. Bonaventure finished at 3-5.
In Morgantown, W.Va., Buffalo earned its second win of the season with a 45-24 victory over West Virginia. Cody Ratka, Colton Kells, Casey Morgan, John Grasso, Antoine Maisons (2), Maninderjit Singh each scored for the Bulls.
Buffalo head coach Mike Hodgins indicated that deciding factor was the Bulls’ superior fitness. “We were more fit than West Virginia and we had better support, especially in phase play... We didn’t necessarily play sideline to sideline, but we really put number around ball more than anything and played close support lines.
In its final match against Kutztown this Saturday, Coach Hodgins only wants one thing from the team to close out the season. “To be competitive.”