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In a back-and-forth, highly-contested battle, Tennessee defeated South Carolina, 25-19, in Knoxville, Tenn. Saturday. With the victory, Tennessee clinched the SCRC Eastern division title. The Vols will now enter the SCRC semis as a top seed and face West runner-up Alabama, while the Gamecocks will do battle with West winner Mississippi State. The final is Sunday.
The Volunteers earned the first points of the game before South Carolina scored to cut the lead to 7-5. With 10 minutes left in the first half, Tennessee converted a penalty then added a converted try right before halftime. Going into the break, the Volunteers led 17-5.
“We had really good possession in the first 20 minutes or so and were down on their end knocking on the door,” Tennessee club President and hooker, Logan McNeil told Rugby Today. “When we finally converted one we started to get the hang of things.”
The Gamecocks stormed back in the second half with a try from No. 8 Mike Mahon and the second try for Brian Keown put South Carolina back in front 19-17.
“We started moving the ball to the outside and getting some movement on the ball,” South Carolina coach Mark Morris told Rugby Today.
South Carolina did not have the lead for long as the Tennessee forwards took back the momentum of the game. “Their pack just took and marched down the field on us,” added Morris. Through pick-and-drive, Tennessee methodically gained territory. Prop Jake Murphy had some good running lines and continuously made it over the gain line for the Tennessee pack.
The Gamecock defense held strong on the line but eventually yielded a try to the Volunteers. At 22-19, Tennessee added a penalty. With several minutes remaining, Tennessee’s defense kept the Cocks at bay, and the Volunteers held on for a 25-19 victory.
“We did well in the second half and maintained a lot better defense,” McNeil added. “We huddled together and decided we were going to play solid defense. That was what was going to win us this game.” Ryan Ropert spearheaded the Tennessee defense. “He was all over the field making tackles,” said Tennessee coach Marty Bradley.
With the SCRC playoffs next weekend, one can only hope they will be as exciting as this match. “It was a great game back and forth, back and forth. They had their surge and then we had our surge. Both teams played real well,” Morris said. “It was a dog dog fight of a game,” McNeil added.
The SCRC playoffs will take place with next weekend in Columbia, S.C. It is a possibility that these two clubs could meet again in the final on Sunday. Nevertheless, Bradley warned not to take Mississippi State or Alabama lightly. “Mississippi State or Alabama could have something to say about a rematch. Any one of the four teams are capable of winning it all.”