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NDC celebrating win over Salisbury. Evan Lappen photo

Salisbury’s four-year streak of advancing to the Final Four came to an end Sunday at the hands of Notre Dame College in a nail-biter, 18-15. NDC utilized a ball control strategy to slow down the game and stifle the potent, fast-paced Salisbury offense. Ultimately, the Falcons made their kicks and the Sharks missed a costly conversion and two penalty kicks, including one with no time left in the game.

“It was a battle all the way through. 80 minutes of hard play by both sides,” NDC head coach Brian McCue said. “Ball possession, ball control, and slow down. That was our gameplan from the get go, along with an impenetrable defense. We knew that we had to have line integrity all day. [Salisbury was a] fantastic opponent. One of the better hard fought college matches I’ve seen in a long time. Nothing but sincere respect for Salisbury and the match their boys played.”

With the victory, NDC earned its first trip to the Final Four in the program's three-year existence. The Falcons beat Furman in a tight game Saturday and looked more determined and focused in the match against Salisbury. NDC came out with intensity and a solid defensive effort to limit the Sharks’ possession.

Salisbury’s first chance to get points came right off the opening kickoff. NDC knocked on the kickoff right outside the 22, and wing Matt Elsasser missed the uprights on the penalty kick. The Falcons had their first opportunity to score when Sharks eightman Scotty Wheeler was yellow carded for a high tackle. When Salisbury was called for not releasing just outside the 22, NDC decided to go for the points, but the penalty kick was just wide right.

The Sharks killed off the rest of the man advantage and Wheeler came back into the game as Salisbury was on the doorstep with a five-meter lineout. The Salisbury forwards attempted to pound the ball with pick-and-goes at the goal line, but NDC’s defense would not break. After multiple phases, the Falcons were called for offsides, and Salisbury’s Elsasser kicked for the first points of the game in the 29th minute.

About 10 minutes just before the end of the half, NDC’s flyhalf Ronan Forrestal connected on a penalty kick from 15 meters away after a coming-in-from-the-side infraction. The half ended with the clubs tied at 3-3.

Three minutes into the second half, Salisbury retook the lead after a pick-and-go by prop Garrett Rodan for the try. The conversion was no good and the Sharks led 8-3. The advantage would not hold for long, as the Falcons’ Forrestal scored off a pass from scrumhalf Mike DeSoto following a stolen scrum. Forrestal would miss the kick, tying the game at 8-8.

At the 55-minute mark, NDC took its first lead of the day when Forrestal made a penalty kick from 20 meters away. About 11 minutes later, the Falcons extended their lead when Forrestal had a breakaway then offloaded to reserve eightman Tom Walsh to storm through would-be tacklers for the try. Forrestal made the conversion to increase the lead to 18-8.

Down by 10 points with less than 15 minutes to go, Salisbury got the man advantage when NDC flanker Everett Smith was yellow carded for a late hit on the kicker. At the 74th minute, Sharks outside center Nick Rodriguez scored off an offload from the scrumhalf following a five-meter penalty. With the conversion, Salisbury cut NDC’s lead to three points with less than five minutes remaining.

Under intense conditions, the Sharks won possession and moved the ball down the field. NDC was called for an offsides penalty, and Salisbury decided to go for the tie to send the game to extra time. The penalty kick was from about 35 meters away and eight meters left of the posts. Elsasser lined up the kick, the ball sailed a foot wide of the right post, and the referee blew the whistle immediately after.

“It was exciting. It was back and forth, said Salisbury coach Doc Davis. “3-3 at the half. Great defense and both teams gave a great effort. 15-18, it could have gone either way. It could have been 15-18, us. We could play this game 10 more times and it would be a 5-5 at the end of it.”

“They had us in the weight. They had some very good power runners, and likewise we had some good ball-in-hand getting it out wide and quick thinking. It was two different kinds of teams. We are a fast moving team and they kept better possession and some very good power runners.”

 McCue’s man of the match was Smith, as he was all over the field making tackle after tackle and shutting down the Salisbury attack. “I personally think that one of us played our hearts out and played to the max,” said Smith. “I couldn’t ask for anything else from this whole team or the staff. [Salisbury] was a great opponent. They didn’t play dirty. They played tough. They really gave us a run for our money, I thought they were awesome.

"We knew that they had strength out wide and we wanted to contain that. So we wanted to keep it in our forwards a lot and run it down their throats. Just stay in their face because we saw how they played the other day when they were getting a lot of aggressive defense, they were shutting down and we did that today.”

Looking forward to the Final Four, McCue stated, “We got a lot of work to do. We need to stick with our gameplan, come in mentally prepared and ready with the discipline to win another championship.”

In the consolation match, Furman scored six tries to defeat Roger Williams, 36-12. The match was full of turnovers and penalties, including  four yellow cards and one red card for talking back to the referee. Outside center Matty Newman, prop Adrian Marcogliese, wing Conner Regan, eightman Patrick Musau (2), and inside center Turner Morches scored tries for Furman and lock Derek Barton and lock Colin McSweeney scored for Roger Williams.

“It went great today,” said Furman head coach John Roberts. “I told the boys at halftime that I thought we had a better team than they did and that we could beat them in the backs if we got the ball out there. Today, the elements were much kinder to us and we were able to play our style of game. We like to spread the ball and attack at all angles. Our set pieces were great, our scrums were awesome. We were able to string together some things that we couldn’t yesterday.”