In the Sweet 16 of the Division II Collegiate Men’s National Championship Middlebury lost a nailbiter to Miami of Ohio. After an error filled first half Middlebury came back from 24 – 10 down at half time to within 4 – final score 23 – 27 Miami. This young Middlebury side played their hearts out and left absolutely everything on the field in that second half – incredible performance by both sides. Miami advances to the quarterfinal – Middlebury will play in an internet broadcasted consolation game on Sunday, April 18 at 10 AM. Match report below:
The Miami inside center exposes weaknesses in the Middlebury defense throughout the game. The Florida heat also appears to take its toll on the Middlebury heat as several players look tired early. 5 minutes in Miami scores the opening try when their big #12 intercepts an open play pop off the ground in the Middlebury half. He charges upfield but is stopped shy of the line. A quick recycle is picked off the base of a ruck – Miami player dives over the try line and their kicker adds the extra points. 0 – 7 Miami and Middlebury appears stunned.
Middlebury skipper Brian Sirkia ’12.5 responds with a penalty kick conversion from the Miami 22; Middlebury down 3 – 7.
Clearly the Miami inside center is their most potent weapon in attack and Middlebury is giving him space to run. Just when it looks like Miami is going to take full control of the game Middlebury wins the ball back and a beautiful tactical kick by Sirkia catches Miami’s back 3 off-guard and winger Zach Withers ’11.5 sprints through catches the ball on the bounce and touches down in the corner. Sirkia makes the difficult conversion and out of nowhere Middlebury is up 10 – 7.
Middlebury wins another turnover from a messy ruck and Sirkia again finds the Miami winger napping who bobbles the ball into touch deep in his half. Middlebury mauls off the lineout – Sirkia pops out to inside center Andrew Durfee ’11 who smashes it up – two Miami defenders go in to take Durfee down and after the big collision all 3 players are left woozy. Durfee appears to be alright and continues the game. Middlebury unable to score off the play but remain in attacking position.
Middlebury has the ball on the 22 and outside center Brendan Leanos ’10 tries to grubber through – a Miami defender makes an illegal hit on Leanos after the kick and receives a yellow card for his troubles. Middlebury elects to go for a scrum instead of a penalty kick recognizing their one man advantage. Unfortunately, they are unable to capitalize. Not only does Miami clear the ball but they are quickly on the offensive again, making great offloads in contact and playing team rugby. All of a sudden the Blue find themselves in their own 22 but despite bending their defense manages to keep from breaking for the moment. Sirkia clears and the Miami fullback is adjudged to have knocked the ball on at the half – he will feel hard done by this call as the ball looks to have gone backwards off his hands then bounced forward.
Open side flanker turned outside center turned scrumhalf Ross “Boss” Berriman ’12 connects with lock Graeme “Spanish” Daubert ’12.5 on the weakside in a lovely move that almost sees Daubert breaking away completely from the Miami defense but he is pushed into touch by the only Miami defender in any sort of proximity. 30 minutes in and the score remains 10 – 7 Middlebury.
Despite being a man down continued intense tackling, rucking and counter-rucking by Miami disrupts Middlebury’s rhythm and Middlebury on occasion look both frantic and hesitant in their decision making and Miami is able to take advantage. A loose Middlebury pass at the halfway goes to no one in particular and the Miami players are first to the ball; the kick through goes into the try zone and Miami again beats Middlebury to the loose ball. Conversion is good. 10 – 14 Miami. To make matters worse Middlebury outside center Leanos gets a yellow card for blocking the Miami player who kicked the ball through. Tough call on Leanos but the ref is at least being consistent in his decision based on the earlier yellow card. Miami now has the man and points advantage.
Things begin to fall apart for Middlebury defensively at this point. Miami wins a free kick and the outside center taps and takes it the distance, passing arm tackle after arm tackle – try is unconverted: 10 – 19 Miami.
Miami is quickly back on the attack but great goal line stance by Middlebury keeps them at bay. Final play of the half is a Miami lineout 5 meters out. Miami brings the ball down and looks like they are going to maul but makes a weakside pop instead to the strong runner who dives in. At first the ref looks to have called the player out of bounds but after consulting the assistant referee he awards the try. Difficult conversion is missed.
10 – 24 Miami at the half - the final 10 minutes of the half were terrible for Middlebury – losing influential outside center Leanos with the yellow card and letting in 3 tries and one conversion – 17 points in 10 minutes.
Several changes around the half for Middlebury bringing on Sam Harrison ’11 for 8th man Luke Dauner ’13 (Chris Marshall ’11 slides to 8th man, Harrison goes to flank), senior Blake Hinckley ’10 for “Spanish” Daubert ’12.5 and Ben “Sturgess” Stasiuk ’13.5 for inside center Andrew Durfee ’11. Outside center Leanos ’11 returns at the beginning of the half from the sinbin.
Middlebury puts Miami under pressure early in the second half with a big kick from prop Chris “Calves” Vandergrift ’11 (you don’t see his tactical kicking too often but this time it worked well). Though Miami is able to clear Middlebury ends up drawing first blood of the second half with a penalty kick from the halfway line – after a less than memorable kicking display against Harvard two weeks earlier Sirkia is loving this mud-free Florida field and this huge kick lifts the morale of The MCRC players. 13 – 24 Miami.
Miami immediately responds, earns a penalty kick in Middlebury’s 22 and they convert. 13 – 27 Miami. That would be the end of the Miami scoring.
Middlebury’s tackling is improved by the presence of the tenacious Sam Harrison ’11 who hits everything in sight despite a size disadvantage in most cases.
In the 49th minute Middlebury is awarded another penalty kick, this time inside the 22 and Sirkia puts it away. 16 – 27 Miami.
20 minutes to go and Middlebury is applying pressure but the Miami defense holds up. It’s back and forth and it looks like either team could score at any minute. Middlebury is awarded a penalty kick but Sirkia is unable to convert – his first and only miss of the day. Score remains 16 – 27.
10 minutes left in the game and Sirkia spins the ball wide to Leanos – Middlebury has the overlap and the senior Leanos sets up paceman Withers on the wing to run it 30 meters down the touchline. Withers scores in the corner – almost impossible conversion for Sirkia…almost…Bri-guy the Try-guy needs to be renamed Golden Toe after he hits this touchline kick. 23 – 27 Miami – all Middlebury needs is one try in 10 minutes to turn this thing on its head.
Miami’s number 5 high tackles a Middlebury player and is given a yellow. One man advantage to the Blue and the tension is mounting. Both teams are pounding each other offensively and defensively – Miami’s #12 still running strong and Middlebury’s backline using their pace and a well worked move that would have resulted in the gamechanging try is stopped on the 22. Miami comes back immediately – players missing important tackles but not Leanos – his gutsy last man in defense stick keeps Middlebury in the game.
Incredible defensive stand from Middlebury as Miami continues to drive the ball up – a penalty breaks their momentum and Middlebury goes for the quick tap taking advantage of the Miami players slow retreat – another 10 meters awarded and Middlebury kicks themselves into an attacking position 10 meters out from the Miami try line. A free kick against the Blue breaks this attacking play.
The players are exhausted on both sides but the players are still working hard and running hard, even if it is on fumes. Senior Ben Winter ’10 is brought on for Mike Pappa ’11 but after 10 minutes of play injures his shoulder and is replaced by Connor Burleigh ’10.5. Middlebury, now moving the ball with greater confidence, appears to have another overlap and Sirkia tries to skipe it wide to Withers ’11 who looks set to make a big run but the ref signals for a forward pass and awards a scrum to Miami midfield – final play of the game.
If Middlebury has any hope of pulling off this incredible comeback they will need to win this defensive scrum and Sirkia and co. will need to work some magic. As you would have it the Blue pack does win the scrum and Sirkia connects with Withers who charges down the sideline but is tackled out of bounds between the attacking 40 and 22. The ball appears to still be live but the ref calls it in touch and blows the final whistle of the game.
Final score 23 – 27 Miami. Middlebury will lament the final 10 minutes of the first half but their work in the second half against a strong Miami side is one for the books. Middlebury outscored Miami 13 – 3 in the second half. A heartbreaker but so many lessons learned and look out for this Middlebury side next year: 1 starter and 2 subs graduating but the return of some great talent from abroad and the injection of new talent in the fall will make for another brilliant Middlebury side.
Lineup: Pappa (Winter 60 – Burleigh 70), Powers, Vandergrift, N. Kelner, Daubert (Hinckley 40), Marshall, R. Kelner (c), Dauner (Harrison 40), Berriman, Sirkia (c), Withers, Durfee (Stasiuk 35), Leanos, Stafford, Whitaker
- Tries – Withers ’11 (2)
- Conversions – Sirkia ’12.5: 2 for 2
- Penalty kicks – Sirkia ’12.5: 3 for 4
- 1st competitive captaincy: Sirkia ’12.5
- 1st competitive cap: Durfee ’11, Stasiuk ’13.5, Stafford ’13.5,
- Final game for The MCRC: Ben Winter ’10 (with this 5th cap Ben earns his Blue)
Spotted at the game: Mike McKenna, Roy & Nina Silverman P’09