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The most intense rivalry men’s DII college rugby resides in Maryland, and Saturday, No. 3 Salisbury and fifth-ranked Towson renewed that rivalry in Salisbury, Md. Each team came into the match undefeated with a chance to earn the top spot in the Potomac Rugby Conference (PRC).
In the last few years, the scores have been close, but Salisbury has owned Towson in the win column. Whether in league matches, PRC Championships, Regionals, or National Semifinals, the Tigers hadn't notched their last win against the Sharks since 2011. Under the lights with both sidelines full of cheering alumni and fans, Towson stomped back and won a hard-fought physical game, 32-21.
“I thought it was a very good game. I know [Salisbury] have had some graduations and injuries from last year’s team, but we went down expecting this to be a really tough game,” said Towson head coach Don Stone.
“Doc [Davis] and Bill Creese just do a great job with whoever they have to work with. We expected a good game, and we won the game in the end, because we have a very balanced team between our forwards and our backs. Both groups did an outstanding job with what they had to do.”
The action started nine minutes into the first half when the Salisbury flyhalf John Capobianco broke the line off a ruck and ran untouched to dot down in the try zone. Wing Matt Elsasser converted the kick to give Salisbury an early 7-0 lead. A battle of field position ensued until the 20th minute when Towson flanker Anthony Bria took a pick-and-go and scrambled 30 meters to score to cut the lead to two points.
Five minutes later, the Tigers were on the offensive again with their forwards inside the Sharks' five-meter-line. Prop Bradley Rockstroh powered his way into the try zone off a goalline pick-and-go for the try. Scrumhalf Eric Sweeney split the uprights, and Towson had its first lead of the day, 12-7.
After a penalty kick by Towson, Salisbury responded with another line break for a try by Capobianco following a kick and good phase play. Elsasser made the conversion, and Towson maintained a one-point lead, 15-14. Towson was not finished in the half, as flanker Nick Dipietro received an offload for a try at the whistle. The kick by Sweeney sailed wide, and Towson expanded their lead to 20-14 at the half.
Both teams came out of the half firing with the physical play that you come to expect when these clubs clash, and it wasn’t until the 60th minute that the first points of second half were scored. Towson eightman Pat McKenna set up wing Greg Dreibelbis with an offload, and he got it wide to score in the corner.
Up 25-14 with about 16 minutes left in the game, Salisbury had its best opportunity to get back into the game when Towson’s Sweeney was yellow carded for repeated infringement. The Sharks threatened and played most of the time in Towson’s end of the field, but were unable to come away with points.
Once Towson was back to full strength, Sweeney had a beautiful box kick to advance the ball, where Salisbury’s wing misplayed it, resulting in a five-meter scrum to Towson. From the set piece, fullback Vinny Minso attacked the Salisbury backline, muscling through three tacklers to score at the 77th minute. Sweeney tacked on the conversion to increase the advantage to 32-14.
Two minutes later, with time running out, Salisbury outside center Nick Rodriguez had a breakaway run and Scott Wheeler finished for the try. The attempted comeback was cut short as the final whistle blew and Towson knocked off its bitter rival, 32-21.
Dealing with injuries and players playing out of position, Salisbury coach Bill Creese said of his team’s play, “We were bad in the breakdown. Everywhere in the breakdown it just got sloppy. Towson did a very good job of being physical at the breakdown, which made for sloppy ball getting out with our No. 9. He spent a lot of the day digging and kept him from getting good ball.”
“Because it’s Towson-Salisbury, it meant a lot," said Creese of the loss. "It was more for the pride of the players. We had a ton of alumni on our sideline, and they had just as many on their sideline. Both teams were well represented. It was loud. The referee had to get in the scrum to hear the engagements because they couldn’t hear him.
“Truthfully, for the rivalry, it probably helps because we had beaten them many times in a row and for a rivalry to be a rivalry, it has to go both ways. Even though the games are tight, we always came out on top. Not to take way from the rivalry, maybe it will put a fire under my guys. Hey, you guys just lost to them, at home under the lights in front of all the alumni.”
For Towson, Coach Stone said, “It’s a confidence builder. Nobody has played them better than us over the last couple of years. We have been on the wrong side for most of those scores. I would think this has to give my team the confidence to let them know that we can not only play these guys close, but we can beat them.”
The rematch between the clubs won’t potentially be until the end of the season if both teams advance to the conference championship.