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With at least two DIAA postseason berths on the line in the Chesapeake, it’s a three-team race to the National Playoffs. All three clubs emerged with wins this weekend as Mount St. Mary’s came back to beat Towson, 22-19, James Madison blanked Virginia, 97-0, and Virginia Tech blasted Salisbury, 48-29. Additionally, Mary Washington solidified fourth place with a 33-30 win over Georgetown.
Mount St. Mary’s, James Madison, and Virginia Tech each have one loss apiece and are only separated by the amount of bonus points. The Hokies have two games remaining, while the other two only have one each. The most crucial match of the season is next week between Virginia Tech and James Madison. The winner will be set for the playoffs and the loser will be at home.
In a match Towson had to win to stay in playoff contention, Mount St. Mary’s (MSM) came back from a nine-point halftime deficit to win, 22-19. Each team held the momentum for long periods as the defenses were brutal with their pure physicality and pressure. Ball handling errors and turnovers plagued both sides, but in the end, MSM took advantage of its opportunites to score the last try of the match for the victory.
The first ten minutes of the first half saw Towson threatening inside the MSM 22 with the Mount unable to clear. After sustained pressure, the MSM defense gained possession and attempted to kick the ball out of the zone. Unfortunately, the kick was charged down by Towson’s Matt Clash and Eric Longo recovered the ball for the early try. MSM responded with a Tito Miranda penalty on the ensuing possession to cut the lead to 7-3.
After a subsequent MSM penalty was wide, the Mountaineers' were unable to impact the scoreboard after working inside the 22 for several minutes. The Towson defense didn’t break and once they got clearance and a reset with a scrum around the 40 meter line, the offense found space in the middle of the field where scrumhalf Grant Howe juked the opposing wing out of his shoes for a try. The half ended with Towson up, 12-3.
Needing a spark to get MSM back into the contest, Luis Turbyfield supplied the firepower as he raced down the sideline on a counterattack following a Towson clearing kick. Down by three, MSM used the momentum as reserve wing Nobert Bayelle recovered a turnover and eventually the ball was spun out wide for a try by Jack Spera.
With MSM leading 15-12, it looked as if whichever team held onto possession would ultimately be victorious. In the final five minutes, Towson was once again inside its opponent’s 22 and instead of taking points to tie the game after a penalty, the Tigers went for the try. The MSM defense foiled the attempt, but a heads up play by Vince Francescangeli caused a turnover and Connor Ritter dove for the try and the 19-15 lead.
With precious moments remaining, MSM worked itself downfield setting up a lineout inside ten meters. A maul was shipped out to a few phases and then out wide where Bayelle was the hero with the game-winning try. Miranda tacked on the final points, 22-19, and time ran out on Towson after the subsequent kickoff.
“What we tried to do all day was run our patterns and shapes and that helped us maintain possession of the ball,” MSM assistant coach Jim Bonner said. “What Towson did outstandingly throughout the whole game, particularly in the first half, was shut that down. They almost knew where we were going and put bodies in place to stop us. In the second half, we continued to stick to our pattern and execute it more tightly. As a result, we found a couple of gaps.”
Bonner described the end of the match by saying, “There was a lot of helter-skelter play on both parts as everybody was desperate to get the victory. We saw that everybody was so condensed, the opportunity was there out wide. We finally recognized that and we saw the reward.”
MSM captain Tyler Myles said it was his team’s composure that kept them in the game. “In the preseason, we played Wheeling Jesuit and they came back in the last two minutes. What allowed them to persevere was their composure throughout the match, they never panicked. We constantly had to remind ourselves throughout the match was that even though we were down, we needed to maintain our composure through our patterns and our strengths that we work every day with our coaches. That’s what set us apart towards the end to come back and get that last minute try.”
“It was a very defensive game by both teams,” Towson head coach Don Stone stated. “Whoever had possession was maintaining and starving the other team of the ball. It seemed like anytime a team scored was off penalties, kicks, and field position. If you go inside their 30, good things happened... Our defense was excellent, but you got to get possession and get out of there and we didn’t do that.”
James Madison (JMU) kept pace with MSM with a 97-0 bludgeoning of Virginia for homecoming in Harrisonburg, Va. The Dukes belted out 15 tries with 11 conversions for their fourth victory of 65 on more points this season. JMU recorded its seventh consecutive bonus try point to lead the Chesapeake.
“We were just faster to the ball and we recycled it very well once we were there,” JMU head coach Mark Lambourne said. “UVA played tough all the game, so we just kept working hard and were rewarded with some good forward and back play.”
Four players scored multiple tries as Chris Marcelin (4) and Ryan Maguire (3) led the bunch and Mo Katz and Gabriel Harrison each had a pair. Christian Morreale, Grant Johnson, and Thomas Brown also found the endzone. Harrison connected on ten conversions and Declan Costelloe added one more.
As for the big match against Virginia Tech on Friday, Lambourne remarked, “VT will be very tough, so we will go back to work on Tuesday and do our best to prepare for what they throw at us next Friday.”
For the third part of the front-running trio, Virginia Tech won its third consecutive match with a 48-29 victory over Salisbury. VT head coach Paul Caron commented that his squad was slightly disappointed with the performance, but was encouraged by the hard work of scrumhalf Danny Feldman who earned two tries while keeping the team rhythm up.
The Hokies have already shifted focus to JMU this weekend. “JMU is putting big points on teams and we need to tighten up our defense,” Caron stated. "We need to use this week efficiently. We started as a strongly defensive team and need to make sure we play that was against JMU this Friday.”
“JMU is an all-around well-coached team,” Caron added. “They play both sides of the ball well, but we need to stop their forwards. Meeting them at the advantage line and pushing them back will disrupt their tempo. We hope to battle it toe to toe and come out on top.”
Lastly, the Mothers of Mary Washington scored three straight tries to close out the second half to earn their fourth win of the season, 33-30, over Georgetown. The Hoyas fought valiantly and spent the last three minutes of the game deep in UMW territory before the final whistle blew. The final attempt to win the game by Georgetown was knocked on and UMW kicked the ball out to end the game.
“UMW was very lucky to be able to come back and win the game,” Mary Washington head coach Min Sae Chae said. “The second half saw better ball retention and better territory. Line speed was much improved in second half as well. Captain Tucker Chewning did a lot of dirty work and led from the front. Play was consistent on both sides of the ball.”
Georgetown impressed in the first half building a ten-point lead at halftime, but it was UMW who finished it in the second half. After scoring two unconverted tries in the first half and allowing the first eight points in the second, the Mothers defense clamped down and the offense attacked.
Fernando Meersohn was the top try scorer for UMW with two, while Tucker Chewning, Terence McPhillips, and Andrew Lamarca also dotted down tries in the win. Jake Figg (2), Will Wrotniak, and Stephen Tigani each scored for the Hoyas and Charlie Sullivan slotted two penalties and two conversions.
After an unsuccessful attempt at the tryline in the final moments, Georgetown head coach Scott Zavrel said, “It was very much a heart-breaking defeat. Hard fought and tremendous credit goes to Mary Washington as they inserted true impact subs at the break and fought back successively. We had two key injuries right at half that really took out a lot of our steam. Great match all around.”
Although the Mothers are not mathematically eliminated from the postseason, UMW would have to beat both Maryland and Virginia Tech with bonus points and get some help for other teams to advance.