The Highlanders traveled to McDonald, PA on a cold and blustery day to take on cross town rival and former Division Champion South Pittsburgh Hooligans. The Highlanders, coming off a bye week, looked to improve their 2 – 0 record and maintain first place in the division as well as in the league. South Pittsburgh was coming off a tough loss to Akron and looked to rebound and bring their record back to .500.
After losing the toss, the Highlanders were forced to kick into the wind to the Hooligans. The tone of the day was set immediately as first year Flanker Zack Kochin was able to field the kickoff and take the ball inside the Hooligan 10 meter line before a great defensive play knocked down a sure try setting pass to Wing Patrick Dobbins. Following the Hooligan knock on, the Highlander pack was able to secure the scrum and get the ball out wide to rookie Highlander Wing Brian “BBar” Barnett who set down his first try of the season and of his Highlander career.
Momentum was stalled after the ensuing kickoff and after some penalties and misplays, the Highlanders found themselves deep in their own defensive territory for more than 15 minutes. A score given up to South Pitt would allow them back into the game. Strong defensive play, a timely poach by Flanker David “MK” Gregg and long run by veteran Hooker Arley Cone got the Highlanders out of danger and back into South Pitt’s side of the field. Eventually talented Flyhalf Thanner Hestdalen was able to make several nice moves on his way to his first try as a Highlander. After the Scott Powers conversion, the Highlanders stole all momentum back from South Pittsburgh and led the match 12 – 0. A few minutes later, veteran forward Abe Cone was able to cut through a large hole in the defense to set down his first try of the day and give the Highlanders a commanding 17 – 0 lead.
Even with a lead, the Highlanders had some trouble battling penalties this game and put themselves in rough positions at two points in the game. With less than 10 minutes remaining in the first half, David “MK” Gregg found himself in some penalty trouble which landed him in the sin bin. Even playing a man down, the Highlander defense held and they were even able to score twice. Talented Inside Center Neil Reynolds was able to set down his second try of the season and powerhouse Prop Jarred Frawley was rewarded for his punishing running by setting down his fifth try of the season. After the Powers conversion, the Highlanders took a 29 – 0 lead into the half.
After the half, the Highlanders brought in veteran Fullback Kevin Dell for Powers and exciting rookie Flanker Brandon Benvenuti for Gregg. The weather took a turn for the worse and stalled the Highlander offense. After a few minutes of bogged down rugby, Abe Cone was able to break a long run on the outside to set down his second try of the game. Zack Kochin missed his only conversion attempt of the day before being sin binned himself midway through the second half. Once again down a man, the Highlanders were able to generate offense and hold the Hooligans scoreless. After rookie Scrumhalf Kyle “Calico” Hilsey took a ball into contact, he was mauled by reserve forward Bill Marnell along with Andrew “Lurch” Chapman and David Banta for a try. The score was Banta’s second of the season.
Leading 39 – 0 with just a few minutes remaining, the Highlanders used the opportunity to bring in some great players for additional experience and valuable playing time. Rookie Scrumhalf Zach Powell came in for Hilsey while wing Ammir Ali, Hooker Matt “Doormat” Zackeroff and lock Tim Chapman replaced Brian Barnett, Jeff Muha and Zach Kochin respectively. The Hooligans were able to take advantage of a broken lineout play deep in Highlander territory to place down a score, but the Highlanders were able to answer that in the last minute of the game. Kevin Dell kicked a perfectly placed ball just behind the goal post and was able to capitalize on a Hooligan miscue to set down his first career try on an amazing play. The Highlanders beat the Hooligans 46 – 5 to improve to 3 – 0 and hold on to first place in the Eastern Division. They will open up their home portion of the season against the also 3 – 0 Erie RFC. The Hooligans take their 1 – 3 record into their bye week.