MATCH REPORT: November 4th, 2017 v. Fort Wayne Rugby
With the competitive season being condensed into just Fall games, the lead up to playoffs was a lot shorter this year. Just like last season, the Highlanders had gone through their regular season undefeated. The prior week had been the tightest game of the season with a “cross-over” game against the winner of the northern sub-division. In wet and cold conditions, the Highlanders had eked out a 10-5 win over the Cleveland Crusaders. This meant that the Highlanders were back to the Midwest Playoffs!
The boys traveled through to Toledo, Ohio where the first rounds of playoffs were to take place. #1 seed Toledo Celtics were taking on #4 Dayton Flying Pigs, while the #3 seed Highlanders were coming up against #2 Fort Wayne. The conditions were cool and dry, with the field in pretty good condition.
Fort Wayne came out of the gates hard. They utilized straight running by their forwards, but their real power lay in their backs. They spread the ball wide, and often, with a strong running midfield and fast outside backs. The Highlanders weren’t doing themselves any favors early on as they were repeatedly penalized for being offside and losing their own ball. Fort Wayne carried this momentum hard and scored twice within the first 20 minutes to go up 14-0. Not only this, but inside center Neil Reynolds (UPJ) received a yellow card for repeated offside infractions by the team.
With a man in the bin, the Highlanders were finally able to get the hands on the ball. Brandon “Noodle” Benvenuti carried the ball strongly throughout the day, and made meters on the Fort Wayne defense. With strong support from Michael Boyd (Cal U) and Andrew Chapman in the tight, the Highlanders were able to get some go forward ball. From there, flyhalf Devin Zangaro (IUP) split the defense open and with a well-time pass, found winger Nate Hoellman. Hoellman out-ran the cover defense and was able to touch down in the corner. With a great kick from the ever reliable scrumhalf Zach Powell (Cal U), the score was reduced to 14-7. Fort Wayne kicked a penalty for yet another offside infringement, but the Highlanders were able to match this with another from Powell, going into halftime down 17-10.
The Highlanders kept their foot down hard at the start of the second half. Nick Eritz (Cal U) carried the ball strongly in the forwards, with Tyler Sparkman constantly there in support. The Highlanders were so close to scoring again, but lost the ball forward right on the Fort Wayne try line. Soon after this, Powell kicked his second penalty to narrow the score to 17-13. The second half see-sawed as Fort Wayne kept running strongly and spreading the ball wide. Thanks to great scrambling defense from outside center Patrick Dobbins (UPJ), winger Nate Hoellman and fullback Bill Battistone, the score remained close.
The penalties started to mount against Fort Wayne as the Highlanders kept the momentum on. However, basic mistakes were extremely costly. The Highlanders couldn’t get their lineout to function, repeatedly losing ball at the crucial times and deep within Fort Wayne territory. The Highlanders would also knock the ball on again right at the tryline, along with being held up over the line twice. Fort Wayne kept fighting, and kept spreading the ball wide. After another penalty by the Highlanders, they were able to spread the ball wide and find space, resulting in another try. 24-13.
The Highlanders didn’t give up though. Substitute forwards Dan Andrus, Abe Cone (Cal U) and Lance Reaghard all dug in deep and took it to the Fort Wayne team. However, Fort Wayne were able to hold on to their lead and rode out everything the Highlanders threw their way, the final score 24-13.
It was another disappointing playoff loss. With too many penalties, missed lineouts, knock-ons and being held up, it was hard not to think “what-if”. With better execution, it could easily have been a different result. That’s the joy of rugby though, there’s always next season and plenty of room for improvement!
A big thank you to all of our supporters and everyone that has contributed to the team this season. We look forward to a fun spring schedule and hope that we can get some new faces into the team. Forward with Honor!
First XV: 1 – Crifaci; 2 – Eritz; 3 – Muha; 4 – Sparkman; 5 – Chapman; 6 – Boyd; 7 – David; 8 – Benvenuti; 9 – Powell; 10 – Zangaro; 11 – Zapf; 12 – Reynolds; 13 – Dobbins; 14 – Hoellman; 15 – Battistone
Reserves: 16 – Andrus; 17 – Cone; 18 – Shearer; 19 – Reaghard; 20 – Vesely; 21 – Hebert; 22 – Powers; 23 – Marnell
Substitutions: 40′ – Andrus for Crifaci (TC); 51′ – Reaghard for David (IJ); 53′ – Cone for Eritz (TC); 61′ – Shearer for Chapman (TC)