In the Northeast final Middlebury lost to UVM by 4 points. Middlebury comes back from 3 – 14 to lead by 1 point with 20 minutes left. With 10 minutes left UVM scores a good try spreading the ball wide from a turnover midfield just inside the Middlebury half.
Both teams had played tough games the day before in miserable weather, Middlebury beating Stony Brook 11 – 0, UVM coming back in the final quarter to beat New England Champs UMass-Amherst 15 – 10. Beautiful weather for the NRU final and both teams coaches met an hour before the original kick-off time to discuss delaying the game to get a better, playable field. The 3rd clash of these Northeast titans is delayed for 1 1/2 hours.
The game starts off as a kicking contest and credit to the UVM back 3 for fielding the ball well and counter-kicking smartly. The opening try comes fortuitously for UVM during the kicking battle: a UVM player fields a kick just inside the Middlebury half, near the sideline – he counter-kicks and the ball is tipped by a Middlebury player rendering all of the otherwise offside UVM players onside; despite the tip the ball still goes all the way into the Middlebury try zone. The UVM captain and flanker Jack Bates has a head-start on the Middlebury defenders and dives onto the ball in the Middlebury try zone. Unlucky for Middlebury, good awareness by UVM to take advantage. Bates converts his own try, 0 – 7 UVM.
Never count Middlebury out, as they are quick to respond and almost score a try through some great work by blindside flanker Zach Bills ’11. The drive earns Middlebury a penalty kick in front of the UVM posts and Sirkia slots it home as the UVM discipline wanes, 3 – 7 UVM. Unfortunately, Bills picks up an injury on the play and needs to be subbed out. Nathaniel Hall Kelner ’12, twin brother of forwads captain Rowan Hall Kelner ’12, comes on at flank.
Strong running by the UVM backline, incorporating their forwards asks a lot of the Middlebury defense. Middlebury throws everything they have to stop UVM and the MCRC players make some great tackles but their team formation on defense breaks down as they scramble to cover and make the 2-man tackles, as long as UVM keeps the ball in hand they are bound to move the ball up on some of their drives and eventually they score; again Bates converts the easy kick: 3 – 14 UVM. Moments later Sirkia gets a chance to narrow the gap but is unable to convert the penalty kick.
Late in the half two UVM players are sinbinned in separate occurrences; the first for a late hit on the Middlebury kicker. UVM will feel hard done by on this call but several other potentially yellow card offenses were not called. About 6 minutes later the second UVM player receives a card for purposefully stopping a quick tap penalty run by Middlebury’s Geoff Kalan ’12.5 from an off-sides position: penalty try awarded by the ref. Sirkia converts…10 – 14 to UVM at the half. The Catamounts only have 13 men on the field for the final 5 minutes but Middlebury is unable to capitalize.
Chris Marshall ’11 comes out for a blood-sub late in the first half but does not return to the field – great play by the Minnesota native. Middlebury’s most exciting find of this season Luke Dauner ’13 replaces Marshall at #8. Look out for Dauner over the next four years as he has a bright Middlebury rugby future ahead of him.
In the second half Middlebury applies great pressure, the Blue forwards retaining possession, better kicking from the backs and pressure on the UVM back 3 forcing some turnovers. Incredible work by the Middlebury forwards in the scrums against a bigger UVM pack. Fantastic strike by hooker Brett Woelber ’09.5 in his final game of the season assures Middlebury wins 98% of their ball and Dauner anchors well at the back; great technique and form by the rugby debutant. Middlebury also wins several of UVM’s scrums, great work by the props Vandergrift ’11 & Pappa ’11. After camping for several minutes in the UVM 22, Middlebury is finally able to get the try: Sirkia makes the beautiful skip pass to Kalan on the outside who punches it into the corner from 5 meters out. 20 minutes left in the game and Middlebury is ahead for the first time 15 – 14. Sirkia is unable to convert the difficult touchline kick.
As expected UVM comes right back at Middlebury, running hard, bringing the best out of the Middlebury defense. Middlebury is forced into making two further forwards subs due to injury: Mark Caswell ’10 for Drew Harasimowicz ’11, Ben Winter ’10 for Chris Vandergrift ’11. Despite these changes Middlebury is still able to hold their own in the scrums – Woelber’s quick strike the key. Middlebury is only able to attack through kicking and quick tap penalties, led of course by the tenacious Kalan. Captain Ed Cahill ’09.5 is the sole exception as he uses his speed and change of direction to beat several tackles on each run. Contrastingly UVM continues to get past the gainline with their flyhalf and centers running well. With 10 minutes left in the game UVM poaches the ball in a ruck as a Middlebury player goes in isolated near Middlebury’s 10 meter. UVM spins the ball wide, taking advantage of a several man overlap – the UVM winger rounds the Middlebury defense and scores. 15 – 19 to UVM.
It’s heartbreaking to lose in this manner but the Middlebury team must be incredibly proud of their inspiring performance today, a heck of a season behind them and a national tournament qualification. UVM, Middlebury & UMass-Amherst who won their 3rd place play-off will represent the Northeast in the sweet 16.
Congratulations to The MCRC and their graduating seniors for their achievements: hooker Brett Woelber ’09.5, forwards captain Chris Mutty ’09.5 and backs captain Ed “Laser” Cahill ’09.5 – thanks to you we are going back to the big show!
Line-up: Pappa, Woelber, Vandergrift (Winter 70), Hinckley, Harasimowicz (Caswell 62), Bills (N. Kelner 20), R, Kelner (c), Marshall (Dauner 33), Whitaker, Sirkia, Cahill, Cmejla, Leanos, Kalan
Spotted-at-the-game: Robert “Le Bogeaux” Gosney ’09, Max Ryan Levine ’09, Alan “Brown Bear” Lim ’09, Dan Chow ’09, Ward Patterson (former coach)