MATCH REPORT: April 15, 2017 @ Cleveland Rovers
This past weekend, the Highlanders (10 – 0) traveled to a much improved this spring, Cleveland Rovers. Although only sporting a 6 – 5 record, the Rovers are a powerhouse club with more than 60 players, many of whom have high level experience. Throughout their history, the club has been hard to beat, especially at home. In fact, it was at the Rover’s home pitch, Impett Park on the west side of Cleveland, where the Highlanders saw their worst defeat in over 3 years, a 46 – 10 loss to open the season in September 2015. That season the Highlanders were able split the series with the Rovers, winning at home, but ultimately losing the division to them by one league point. This current season, the Highlanders beat the Rovers 46 – 12 at home and now look to clinch the division and a playoff berth with a win against them today.
The Highlanders traveled with just 23 players on the damp Easter Saturday. They faced a lot of rain traveling from Pittsburgh; however the skies cleared shortly before kickoff, but with the sun came the humidity. Once the ball was in play, the Highlanders were able to get and maintain possession almost immediately, although the club was prone to mistakes in the first several minutes of action. Scrumhalf Zach Powell (Cal U) and Fullback Devin Zangaro (IUP) were able to provide a calming influence on the team and limit those mistakes from turning into scores for the Rovers. After lock Andrew Chapman was held up in the try zone, Zangaro was able to make a fantastic play off the boot to open the scoring for the Highlanders. Scott Powers (UPJ) was able to convert the kick and the Highlanders were off to a lead.
Shortly thereafter, the Rovers were able to take advantage of a defensive breakdown outside and score a penalty try, but Powell, playing fantastic all day, was able to answer quickly and restore the Highlander lead to 5 after Powers missed the ensuing conversion. Ball possession during the entire first half was dominated by the Highlanders mainly due to their dominant performances in set pieces. The Highlander scrum manhandled the Rover front eight and the Highlanders lineouts were impressive, especially defensively. However, all of that possession didn’t lead to nearly as many points as it should have, with the Highlanders making several mistakes near the Rover try line. Finally, shortly before half, talented center Neil Reynolds (UPJ) was able to make a great individual effort to score his seventh try of the season and after the Powers conversion, the Highlanders had a comfortable 19 – 7 lead at the half.
In the second half, the Highlanders would deal with much more adversity than the first. The Ohio Rugby Union referee seemed desperate to keep the Ohio side in the game via phantom penalties or missed calls that even had the Rovers perplexed on the field. The Highlander persevered even as tries from Abe Cone (Cal U) and Patrick Dobbins (UPJ) were called back. On the other hand, the referee seemed to miss an obvious forward pass and clear knock on that resulted in Rover tries. At the 50 minute mark, Jeff Muha was able to hit Brandon Benvenuti with a great lineout throw and Benvenuti was able to free himself and cut through the flat-footed Rover defense for his ninth try of the year. Later in the second half, with the Rovers clawing back into the game, captain and Flyhalf Tyree Massie (Cal U) was able to dot down his sixth try of the season to seal the win for the Highlanders. The Rovers were able to add another try very late to cut the lead to only 7, however at the final whistle, the Highlanders were able to defeat the very tough and talented Cleveland Rovers by a score of 31 – 24.
First XV: 1 – Crifaci, 2 – Eritz, 3 – A. Cone 4 – Benvenuti, 23 – A. Chapman, 6 – Zimmerman, 7 – David, 8 – Rennie, 9 – Powell, 10 – Massie, 11 – Powers, 12 – Reynolds, 13 – Dobbins, 14 – Zapf, 15 – Zangaro
Reserves: 5 – Fazekas, 16 – Marnell, 17 – Muha, 18 – Reaghard , 19 – Vesely, 20 – Hestdalen, 21 – Walton, 22 – Hoellman
Substitutions: 55’ – Muha for Crifaci (TC); 60’ – Reaghard for Benvenuti (TC); 65’ – Hoellman for Zapf (TC); 75’ – Marnell for Eritz (TC), Walton for Powers (TC), Hestdalen for Massie (TC)
Referee: Jared Crist (ORURS)
Tries: Benvenuti (9), Massie (6), Powell (6), Reynolds (7), Zangaro (8)
Conversions: Powers (3/5)
Man of the Match: Zach Powell, Scrumhalf (3)