Middlebury books a place in the Northeast semi’s with a win over Hamilton 51 – 5. The win is a great bounce-back for Middlebury after suffering their worst loss in recent history to UMass-Amherst the previous weekend. This young team worked hard all week to correct their mistakes and bring new players up-to-speed. With injuries plaguing the team some exciting new talent has emerged including 8th man Luke Dauner ’13 and 9 man Dylan Whitaker ’13. This combined with the return of influential starters, Drew Harasimowicz ’11 at lock and Rowan Kelner ’12 at flank, and high impact sub Nat Kelner ’12, made for a great day of Middlebury rugby!
The Middlebury tackling is vastly improved after the defensive collapse against UMass – the return of the brothers Kelner and Harasimowicz sparking the Middlebury defense. The scrumming is also back to its winning ways despite missing front row starters Brett Woelber ’09.5 (hooker) and captain Chris Mutty ’09.5 (loose head prop) through injury. The game begins as a ping pong kicking battle with the Middlebury playmakers looking for holes in the Hamilton backfield but often finding the Hamilton fullback whose hefty booted response makes for a strong counterattack. Territorial control of the game falls to the team with the better decision-making and execution in the kicking battle. Hamilton’s strength comes from their fullback’s distance kicking & counter-kicking; as the game progresses Middlebury learns to keep the ball away from him and varies their attack to make for an unpredictable and exciting attacking force.
Middlebury opens the scoring with a poacher’s try by Daniel J. Powers ’11: Middlebury crashes the ball up within inches of the try line, setting up a ruck; as the Hamilton defense tries to set up Powers takes the pick and breaks blind, diving into the end zone. Solid game for the former winger turned flanker, starting this game at hooker! An unpredictable character who runs hard all day Powers highlight reel contribution included a 20 meter run from deep within the Middlebury half, cutting back & forth so fast that a Hamilton defender is turned and trips over his own boot-straps - “And 1″ mixtape special!
Dylan Whitaker ’13 recently took over scrum half responsibilities, this is his 3rd game for Middlebury in the position and he is beginning to find his stride under the tutelage of former Middlebury scrum half Max Levine ’09. Whitaker brings an aggressive presence that few teams carry at the 9 and the two tries he scores in this game highlight his attacking threat. The first comes a few minutes after Powers opens the scoring: Whitaker takes the pick off the base of the ruck from 8 meters out and breaks to the open side splitting the Hamilton defence and touching down between the posts – easy conversion for Sirkia. At the end of the game Sirkia is 5 for 7 from conversions and 2 for 2 from penalty kicks. Whitaker’s second try is a top contender for play of the day and credit must go to 8th man Luke Dauner ’13 for creating. Dauner breaks blind from a scrum just inside the Hamilton half. Dauner beats a tackle or two and makes the perfect offload to Whitaker in support who uses his power and pace to finish. Whitaker could have had the hat-trick after he aerobatically charges down a Hamilton kick with his foot in the Hamilton try zone but the defense is quicker to the ball on this occasion.
Sam Harrison ’11 on the wing also picks up a try in the first half and is a consistent finishing threat throughout as the Middlebury backline gets back to the “champagne game” they have become known for across DII collegiate rugby. Great work by Sirkia, Kalan, and centers Ben Cmejla ’11 & captain Cahill ’09.5 to work the ball wide to Harrison. One or two forward pass calls could have easily gone in Sam’s favor and seen him pick up one or two more. Great tackling by Cmejla all game long, showing that technique and courage are more important than shear size at inside center. This writer can never say enough about captain Cahill – just put the ball in his hands and watch him work some laser precision magic.
In the second half Kalan and Sirkia are able to better pick apart the Hamilton back 3. Possible play of the day features a Sirkia cross-kick to right winger Colin Meany ’11 who snatches the ball out of the air and shrugs off the defender. He breaks away, running towards the corner to draw the last man in defense wide before passing back inside to Cmejla who finishes confidently under the posts – how great is that?! Two more tries in the second half round up the scoring, Kalan grabs one. Sirkia ends the night with 16 points from the boot.
Hamilton grabs a well deserved try in the second half highlighting their never quit attitude – good, hard running and recycling the ball – well played Continentals.
Line-up: Pappa (Danner 72), Powers, Vandergrift (Winter 65), Hinckley (Blood Sub: Caswell 45), Harasimowicz (Caswell 65), R. Kelner, Damberg-Ott (N. Kelner 60), Dauner, Whitaker (Hodge ’60), Sirkia, Harrison, Cmejla, Cahill, Meany, Kalan
1st Haka lead: Ben Winter ’10
1st start: Damberg-Ott ’12, Dauner ’13
1st cap: Danner ’10 (important to note that Danner’s first touch of the ball in the final play of the game is a crowd pleasing jedi run down the touchline, cutting inside and leaving the Hamilton defender on his back without even making contact – in fact other Hamilton defenders seem to part ways like the red sea allowing Danner by untouched)