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With one week of conference play remaining, Stony Brook, Syracuse and Colgate have emerged as the contenders for the Empire Rugby Conference. Stony Brook remained undefeated with an 88-19 thrashing of Brockport, and clinched a spot in the conference championship on November 7th. Both Colgate and Syracuse won this week, and at one loss each, will play each other next week for a berth in the conference championship.
For most of the season Stony Brook had been spearheaded by strong forward pack. Coach Jerry Mirro had indicated that the backs were coming along and was just waiting for his backline to put it together in a game. The conference saw what the Sea Wolves offense is capable of when they are firing on all cylinders.
“It finally clicked between the forwards and the backs yesterday,” said Mirro. “We played a complete game together.”
Flyhalf Mike Tretola orchestrated the offense and fullback Bryan Michel earned the praises of his coach. “He played a phenomenal game,” Mirro said of his full back. “It was his kicking placement as well as phase attacking with ball in hand.”
Although the backs had tremendous success on the day, Mirro indicated it was all the established by the dominance of his pack and in particular the front row. Daniel Melgar, James Mutino and Joe Farneti provided a strong platform all day.
In upstate New York, Colgate overcame a slow start to defeat the USMMA 44-15. The Merchant Marines opened the scoring a couple of minutes into the game with a try but the Red Raiders methodically worked their way into the contest.
At 7-5, Bernard Rawlins scored 15 unanswered points for Colgate, sandwiching a penalty between two tries. The latter came right at halftime and Colgate led 22-7 going into the break.
Coach David Chapman thinks Colgate should have led more comfortably, and in several instances elected to take quick taps rather go for points. “Our problem was we did not take advantage of a lot of the green zone opportunities that we had.”
Winger Kwame Larbi scored two quick second half tries to extend the lead to 32-7 and finished with a hat trick on the day. “From there we were able to really put the pedal down and take control of the game,” Chapman added.
Syracuse improved to 4-1 with an emphatic 54-0 victory over Binghamton. “We started really well. Got on the front foot and them on the back foot,” said Syracuse coach Bob Wilson. “We didn’t let them get back on the front foot again.”
The Orange turned its penalty count around from weeks prior to control the game. Syracuse used its forwards to control possession and territory. For the Orange, that is revelation.
“That had been a big problem for us this season. We have a very small front row, a very inexperienced front row and we have struggled in the forwards. We have worked hard on that and it’s getting much better,” added Wilson.
While Stony Brook has clinched a spot in the Empire Final on November 7th, Colgate and Syracuse will face off next weekend for the right to compete for a trip to Charlotte and a spot in the ACRC Bowl Series.
Both Colgate and Syracuse are looking forward to the match and expect it to be a tightly contested contest.
“It is very exciting for us to have the opportunity to wins some games and get back into possible contention for a playoff position,” added Wilson. “It has been a really good motivator for us. I am sure it is the same for Colgate. They have had a very successful season. They have played everybody tough.”
“All year they have been playing well. Last year they gave us fits with size,” Chapman said of Syracuse. “We just couldn’t control the ball, couldn’t hold onto the ball and they did a number on us last year. We are hoping to play a little bit better. We know they have a pretty strong backline….If we can hold our own in the scrum, I think it should be a pretty good match on the day.”