MATCH REPORT: October 22, 2016 @ Cleveland Crusaders (D3)
On a cold, damp day in late October the undefeated Highlanders (5 – 0) would travel to eastern Cleveland to take on the second place Crusaders (4 -1). This match was effectively for first place in the division, even though the Highlanders would likely remain on top of the standings even with a loss on the day. With that being said, the Highlanders were looking to maintain their momentum and build a cushion in the division standings at the half way point of the season.
Due to some injuries and personal events, the Highlanders traveled light to the game, missing 3 key starters. Mike Boyd (Cal U), the team’s starting flanker, and Zach Powell (Cal U), the team’s scrumhalf, were both out of town for weddings. Talented flanker Eric David was also missing from the lineup after suffering a shoulder injury from training just two days before the game. With the players missing, rookie Lance Reaghard, a converted football player from powerhouse West Jefferson Hills High School made his first start as a Highlander at flanker and depth players Bill Marnell (Cal U), Sam Zimmerman (IUP) and David Vesely all got starts rather than coming off the bench for the Highlanders.
The opening kickoff went to the Highlanders and was fielded by rookie winger Michael Zapf. He cut through the Crusader defense before being taken down to the ground. The lack of support from the Highlanders gave the Crusaders a penalty for not releasing, but it would be there last such penalty all day. The Highlanders dominated the ruck on offense and defense. Pittsburgh was able to secure possession all day with close and effective support while stealing way possession with quick and crafty counter-rucking. The Crusaders were able to get on the board first with a break – away try, but the Highlanders responded quickly with four first half tries.
First was from talented rookie fullback Devin Zangaro (IUP) who scored his fourth try as a Highlander. He was followed by winger Michael Zapf who scored his first career try after only playing rugby for a little over 6 weeks. The Highlander forwards dominated possession throughout the first half with sturdy set pieces and effective rucks. After a long run from outside center Patrick Dobbins (UPJ), the forwards were able to pound in a try from lock Andrew Chapman and close out the half with a long try from shifty lock Brandon Benvenuti. After missing the first three conversion attempts, winger Scott Powers (UPJ) was able to make the last before the half. The score read: Highlanders 22 – Crusaders 10.
The Highlander forwards continued to dominate set pieces in the second half. After a great play by rookie flanker Lance Reaghard to pressure the Crusader scrumhalf in his defensive try – zone, the Highlanders were awarded a 5 meter scrum. Off the impressive scrum win, Highlander number 8 Michael Rennie was able to touch down his 6th try of the season to lead the team. Following the Powers conversion, the Highlander lead grew to 29 – 10 with a little more than 20 minutes left to play.
The Crusaders would not go quietly, however. They’ve been a tough and fundamentally sound team all season, not losing since week one against their crosstown rival the Cleveland Rovers. They were able to make some half time adjustments and pressure the Highlanders a bit more during the course of the second half. Having the luxury of a deep home bench also helped against some growingly tired Highlanders. Pittsburgh would need to weather some bad luck to get this win.
First, inside center Neil Reynolds (UPJ) would be shown a yellow card after skirmish erupted when Reynolds took exception to one Crusader backliner’s repeated cheap shots against Highlanders. Down a man, the Highlanders would give up a try to the Crusaders to draw the score closer. With about 15 minutes remaining and Reynolds still in the bin, rookie winger Michael Zapf would get red carded and removed from the game for a unintentional, but dangerous high tackle. This put the Highlanders down by two men with plenty of time remaining on the clock. The Crusaders could smell blood and continually pressured the shorthanded Highlander defense.
Getting Reynolds out of the bin with about 10 minutes remaining was a jolt of life to the Highlander defense. With Reynolds back in the game, Flyhalf and team captain Tyree Massie was able to make a great play to time a pass and take the ball back for a try and steal the Crusader momentum and effectively put the game out of reach. The try was his first of the season and could not have come at a more important time for the Club. Although the Crusaders were able to score and convert one last try at the final whistle, the game was no longer in doubt. The final score read: Highlanders 36 – Crusaders 22.
This upcoming weekend, the Highlanders will take their undefeated record to McDonald, PA to play rival South Pittsburgh (3 – 3). The Highlanders won the first exchange with South Pittsburgh by a score of 42 – 26 on September 10th. The Highlanders fully expect the Hooligans to come out hard as this rivalry has grown bitter over the past few seasons. Kickoff is expected at 1:00pm at Hertitage Park in McDonald.
First XV: 1 – Crifaci, 2 – Marnell, 3 – Ab. Cone, 4 – A. Chapman, 5 – Benvenuti, 6 – Reaghard, 7 – Zimmerman, 8 – Rennie, 9 – Vesely, 10 – Massie, 11 – Powers, 12 – Reynolds, 13 – Dobbins, 14 – Zapf, 15 – Zangaro
Reserves: 16 – Sabatini, 17 – T. Chapman, 18 – Fazekas, 19 – Dell
Substitutions: Dell for Vesley @ 55’ (IJ), T. Chapman for Benvenuti @ 60’ (TC)
Referee: Unknown (ORURS)
Tries: Benvenuti (5), A. Chapman (3), Massie (1), Rennie (6), Zangaro (4), Zapf (1)
Conversions: Powers (3/6)
Cards: Neil Reynolds (Yellow), Michael Zapf (Red)
Man of the Match: Devin Zangaro, Fullback (1)