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In an intense game that included six lead changes, the Empire Conference Champion, Stony Brook, continued its undefeated season to win its ACRC Bowl match against the Keystone Conference Champion, West Virginia, 21-20 Saturday at the Rugby Athletic Complex in Charlotte, N.C. The game would come down to who could make their conversions, as the Seawolves PJ Abelein was three-for-three, and Mountaineers missed all four of their chances. West Virginia scored more tries, but Stony Brook was more efficient with getting the most points from their opportunities, which ultimately won the match.
“Great game. Very, very physical,” Stony Brook head coach Jerry Mirro stated. “Exactly what I expected out of West Virginia. They were, big, physical, and fit. It took all my boys to do to hang with them. To our credit, we served a lot of resiliency and we hung with them. I don’t think anyone else has hung with them this year and maybe that surprised them a little bit that we just kept coming back. I was very impressed with West Virginia and very impressed with my boys.”
Each team came into the game with an unblemished record and had already earned an automatic bid into the DI-AA playoffs in the spring. Both teams made it to the ACRC playoff last fall and were summarily crushed by their opponents. The clubs come back this year more mature and retooled for action.
Beyond the conference finals, this would be the stiffest competition either side has faced this year. The Mountaineers beat solid St. Joe’s, 22-17, en route to their second-straight conference title. The Seawolves also won their second-consecutive conference title dispatching Binghamton, 50-15.
The scoring started with West Virginia using good phase play to move the ball out to the backs where wing Logan Reece touched the ball down in the corner. Fullback Chris Mackenrodt missed the conversion and West Virginia took the early 5-0 lead.
Stony Brook responded by repeatedly pounding the ball at the try line, and lock Dan Lyons finally bulldozed in for the try. Flyhalf Abelein, who scored 15 points in the Empire Final, connected on the conversion to take a 7-5 advantage.
As time wound down in the half, West Virginia had a try called back for a forward pass, but scrumhalf Chris Wilson took a loose ball behind the ruck and ran around the edge to score. Mackenrodt missed his second kick, but the Mountaineers held a 10-7 lead at the half.
The second half began with physical play as each side wanted to set the tone. About 17 minutes into the half, the Seawolves reclaimed the lead after Abelein picked off a Mountaineer pass for the try. The captain kicked his own conversion to regain the lead, 14-10.
Stony Brook’s slim advantage would be short lived, as West Virginia scored back-to-back tries in the next 10 minutes. With the Seawolves not contesting the mauls from the lineout, eightman Ryan Blythe made a heads-up play and ran through the set piece for the try. The Mountaineers increased the lead to 20-15 with a try by wing Luke Ellis after getting the ball wide following a quick turnover.
Down by six points with less than 10 minutes left, Stony Brook standout eightman Phil Salter took a quick tap from a five-meter penalty to power in for the try. Abelein’s conversion was good to give the Seawolves a one-point lead, 21-20. West Virginia was not able to respond in the last minutes.
Second row Dan Lyons and hooker Joe Farneti were Coach Mirro’s Men of the Match. The two forwards excelled at, “defense coming off the rucks in guard dog. They were hugely beneficial in setting up that first post on both sides of the rucks. Their defensive paly was excellent. On offense, they were there cleaning up our rucks and cleaning up our rucks.”
“It was a tough one,” West Virginia head coach Richard Glover said when describing his thoughts on the game. “Without being too cliché, it could have easily been won by both teams. The leader changed six times over during the game. We started well and scored a nice try early on and settled the nerves. But we kept on allowing them back in. Our lineout did not function very well so we were kicking. We could not secure our lineout, which was shooting ourselves in the foot. Our discipline, which I didn’t think was too bad, we got very heavily penalized throughout the game. We had a try disallowed just before halftime on a forward pass. It was frustrating.”
“All fair to Stony Brook, they scored that try in the end and they closed out the game. It’s something whether we like or not, we have to take it away, learn from it, and improve for next time.”
On this year’s experience at the ACRC Bowl Series, Glover said, “It was fantastic. To have our boys come down here to a top class facility and play against a top class team like Stony Brook. It was a very evenly contested match. When we look back to last year, we played against Kutztown in a very uneven match where we just got blown away. It wasn’t very productive for either team. This year, we really played a competitive game, a great game to watch. As a club, we are going to take a lot away from year. Yes, we didn’t win, but the fact is that we’re here and we are still competing. It’s all good things for our club. We fully enjoyed the ACRC experience.”
Coach Mirro shared the same sentiment regarding the ACRC weekend. “I’ve been to a lot of these kind of tournaments over the years and Steve Siano did an exceptional job. I’ll gladly go back to anything else he would function or be in touch with. Hands down, it was excellent. Well organized, the timing was good and the referees were good. The facilities were more than adequate. It was well run and well organized.”