After starting the season in Youngstown for a split side tournament, the Highlanders brought in playoff bound and perennial MARFU powerhouse, Happy Valley to test their legs in the preseason. The weather was bitterly cold, with sun peeking through only occasionally. With a kickoff temperature just 19 degrees and the pitch frozen solid, the Highlanders would need to battle both the harsh conditions and the tough Barbarian squad to pull out a tough victory on this day.
Shortly after kickoff, the Highlanders were able to pressure Happy Valley deep into their own defensive zone. After successfully winning the lineout, the Barbarians attempted to maul the ball forward and test the larger Highlander pack. Pittsburgh was able to stop the maul with only a few forwards and pressure with the remainder. The Barbarians got the ball back to their Flyhalf to attempt a much needed kick to create some space. Talented flanker David Gregg was able to charge down and block the kick, then field the ball cleanly to set down his first try of the 2014 – 2015 campaign and open up the scoring for the Highlanders. It was a great play and rewarded Gregg for his aggressive play. Scott Powers was able to nail an impressive conversion from the near sideline to give the Highlanders the early 7 – 0 lead.
A few minutes later, gifted second year lock Brandon Benvenuti was able to cut through the Barbarian defense to score his first try of the day. Benvenuti has been a rising star on the Highlander squad since joining in the spring of 2014. While still learning the game, he’s impressed coaches with skills on both sides of the ball and is second on the Club with 6 tries after scoring his second during the first half of this match. Benvenuti’s tries book ended a try by formidable Inside Center Neil Reynolds who was able to make the most of a tough day for the Highlander backline. Muddy and cold conditions didn’t allow for many clean balls out wide, but Neil was able to make the most of his few touches by scoring his 4th try of the season. All first half Highlander tries were converted by Powers, including a few from near the sidelines. The Highlanders were able to take 28 – 0 lead into the half.
After the half, the Highlanders started working in some fresh legs onto the field. The muddy field conditions were exhausting to run in and many Highlander forwards were relieved to see fresh veterans Bill Marnell and David Banta enter the game at the 50 minute mark. The Highlander pack continued to dominate the smaller Happy Valley forwards and Rookie of the Year winner Zack Kochin was able to take advantage and score 2 second half tries off convincing scrum wins. With Powers out of the game due to a late first half injury, Kochin took over kicking duties, making 1 of his 2 initial conversions.
Happy Valley did get some life late in the game as the newer Highlander players began committing penalties. Benvenuti and Chapman came out for veteran Brandon Sampson and Rookie Robert Gregg, but a Barbarian prop was able to set down an unconverted try and the opposition nearly scored again before being called back on a failure to release penalty. Powerhouse Prop Jarred Frawley was able to set up rookie wing Sanakla Voce for his first try as a Highlander. Kochin was unable to hit the conversion, but after the final whistle sounded, the Highlanders pounded a talented Happy Valley squad to a tune of 45 – 5.