Middlebury wins a tough pre-season game against Harvard 33-17. Harvard dominated possession in the first half but great goal kicking by captain Brian Sirkia ’12.5 and a 60 meter intercept run by senior prop Christopher “Calves” Vandergrift ’11 kept Middlebury ahead. The blue took greater control as the 2nd half progressed but Harvard stayed in it, always threatening–Middlebury did the better job of capitalizing on their opportunities scoring 2nd half tries through forwards captain Rowan Kelner ’12 and a double salvo from Kenyan winger Kennedy Mugo ’12.
Full match report below:
The Middlebury starting line-up welcomes back seniors Ben Cmejla ’11, Zach Bills ’11 and Drew “Mouse” Harasimowicz ’11 from study abroad in the spring. South African freshman Cameron Wilson ’14 makes a short lived debut at hooker. Full back Geoff Kalan ’12.5 has recovered from an injury that kept him out of the national championship line-up in Florida.
3 minutes into the game Middlebury wins a penalty within striking distance and Sirkia opens up the scoring. Sirkia hits 3 penalty kicks on the day and converts 2 of the 4 Middlebury tries. Brian is unlucky to not put more points on the board by the final whistle hitting the post twice. Up 3 – 0 early it looked like Middlebury was going to cruise to comfortable win confirming the great promise this talented team boasts but Harvard comes back strong with hard running from their loose trio and inside center putting Middlebury on the backfoot.
Middlebury’s 1st try comes fortuitously: Harvard have an overlap on the weak side just inside the Middlebury half and look to spread the ball wide with a skip pass, which is well read by prop Chris Vandergrift who intercepts the floated ball and makes a 60 meter break down the field to score. Vandergrift must be the fastest prop in New England rugby, outrunning several Harvard backline players who tried unsuccesfully to chase down the Seattle senior. Sirkia converts to put Middlebury up 10 – 0.
Middlebury struggles through the rest of the first half off of set plays. Harvard takes advantages of the turnovers and strikes back scoring a converted try with some strong running again from their dangermen. 10 – 7 Middlebury. Harvard looks set to take the lead for the first time with another break but thanks to a try saving tackle by 9 man Ross Berriman Middlebury stays ahead. Several goal line stands are needed to further protect the lead. Great footwork and strong running by outside center Cmejla get Middlebury out of several isolated situations–good work by the senior back.
Middlebury is forced to make two early changes: debutant hooker Cameron Wilson ’14 takes a knock and is replaced by Danny J. Powers ’11.5 20 mins in; 8th man Bills lasts longer into the half but is subbed before the break: AC Jones ’12.5 on at lock sliding Nat Kelner ’12 to blind and Chris Marshall ’11 to the back of the pack. Bills had been dominating the open play around the rucks so his loss is felt by Middlebury.
Sirkia extends the slender lead with the boot hitting two more penalty kicks in the half: 16 – 7 Middlebury, despite Harvard controlling ball possession in the first half. The halftime whistle cannot come earlier for Middlebury as they stage a defensive stand.
One change for Middlebury at halftime: hitman Sam Harrison ’11 on at inside center for Dusty Attwood-Dupont ’13.5. Harrison’s introduction slows down the Harvard attack with some great tackling from the small center. Still Harvard finds a hole in the Blue wall and gets within sniffing distance of the lead scoring a converted try: 16 – 14 Middlebury.
Middlebury winger Tommy Campanella ’12 struggles under several highballs but consistently makes up for any misfields with great tackling and strong running. Middlebury applies pressure through 1st half sub Danny Powers and his injection of energy infects the whole team. Forwards captain Rowan Kelner ’12 and winger Dylan Whitaker ’13 burst onto a loose ball and their combined 40 meter dribbling sets Rowan up for the try: the openside flanker starts off the play kicking through the loose ball, Whitaker kicks the ball into the end zone and Kelner outpaces the Harvard defenders to dive onto the ball for the 5 points. 21 – 14 Middlebury.
Middlebury adds uncompromising pace to their backline by subbing on Kenyan winger Kennedy Mugo ’12 for Whitaker. The speedster had taken a season long break from rugby in the spring before having reached his full potential for the Blue; his return to The MCRC is a welcome one. Prop Vandergrift makes another formidable break into the Harvard 22 and looks set to score but he cuts back in to avoid the Harvard cover defense. Chris is wrapped up by the Harvard cover but manages to pop the ball back to Mugo in support and the Kenyan finishes off the play: 26 – 14 Middlebury.
Harvard convert a penalty but now Middlebury has the wind at their sails and captain Sirkia starts to show off his rediscovered turn of pace slicing the crimson defense like a master chef in his kitchen–a reminder of why he was dubbed “Bry-guy the Try-guy” when he first burst onto the Middlebury rugby scene during the successful 2009 National Championship run. Middlebury catches Harvard asleep in their own half and fullback Kalan throws the outrageous skip pass to winger Mugo to take advantage of the clear overlap. Mugo shows incredible hands to catch the tricky ball in his stride and runs round the defense to score setting up an easy conversion for Sirkia in front of posts: 33 – 17 Middlebury.
As the game wears on Middlebury’s defense improves and they hold off Harvard’s advances and are quick to turn defense to offense. The final whistle caps an ever improving performance by The MCRC.
The Middlebury B side squeezes out a close win over Harvard’s B side 20 – 19. Luke Dauner ’13 raising his hand as a clear man-of-the-match in the B side game.
Lineup: Pappa, Wilson (Powers 20), Vandergrift, N. Kelner, Harasimowicz, Marshall, R. Kelner (c), Bills, Berriman, Sirkia, Whitaker (Mugo 60), Attwood-Dupont (Harrison 40), Cmejla, Campanella, Kalan
- Tries – Vandergrift ’11, R. Kelner ’12 (c), K. Mugo ’12 x2
- Conversions – Sirkia ’12.5 2 for 4
- Penalty Kicks – Sirkia ’12.5 3 for 4
- 1st cap (non-competitive): Wilson ’14
Spotted at the Game:
- Chris Mutty ’09.5 (former MCRC captain, hooker, 2009 national championship winner) now a certified New England referee officiated the B side game–thanks Chris!