After 2 weekends of New England rugby only two teams remained unbeaten. This weekend those two powerhouses met in a highly anticipated game, somewhat reminiscent of the classic battles fought between these two juggernauts over the past decade. The MCRC prevailed 39 – 12 in a game that was much closer than the score may suggest. Despite Middlebury always being in the lead Coast Guard never backed down and played an incredibly physical game, hitting and running harder than any team Middlebury has played this fall, maybe harder than any team they will play this season. After an off year in 2010 where they did not even make the New England playoffs, it looks clear that USCGA is back as a force in NERFU. It is also clear that The MCRC were ready for them.
Tries by Kennedy “Let’s Go” Mugo ’12, Sam Harrison ’11, Ross Berriman ’12, Geoff Kalan ’12.5 and Michael Angelo Pappa ’11. The big man Pappa comes off the bench to get his first MCRC try in his final year on the team – hats off to you Mike! Captain and kicker Brian Sirkia ’12.5 hits 4 for 5 conversion but struggles with penalties only hitting 2 on a penalty filled afternoon.
Enough cannot be said about the dominance of the Middlebury pack in the scrums, consistently driving Coast Guard back time after time. Coast Guard takes territorial advantage early but whenever they have a scrum in an attacking position the Middlebury pack either wins the ball back or puts Coast Guard so far on the back foot that their backline struggles to get anything going.
Middlebury takes advantage of their somewhat limited attacking situations with Sirkia converting an early penalty resulting from an infringement at the breakdown. The afternoon is littered with penalties on both sides around the ruck, particularly for offsides, but no cards are shown on the day. 3 – 0 Middlebury.
Sirkia’s boot also comes in handy in clearing Middlebury out of trouble as Coast Guard piles on the pressure, their fast blitzing defense limiting Middlebury’s ability to run the ball from their own half as had become the staple in the past few games. Looking back Middlebury’s kicking game had barely been called upon in their wins over Harvard, Norwich and UNH–good thing Sirkia and Kalan had been practicing in spite of this seeming lack of need. The ambidextrous Canadian shows a touch of class and ingenuity in switching onto his left foot to clear out of his 22 under immense pressure.
Coast Guard continues to dominate territory but has some poor passing amongst the backs that Middlebury should have capitalized on but the hard running of the Coast Guard players causes Middlebury to hold off just a touch to maintain their defensive shape. The Middlebury tackling in the first half is outstanding–talk about a Blue Wall! Great work by Sam Harrison ’11 and Ben Cmejla ’11 at centers–they are easily two of the smallest men on the Middlebury side but they that crucial attacking channel airtight. No one hits lower than Harrison and the Coast Guard wing quickly finds that out, his momentum meeting Sam’s ankle height hit sending the winger airborne. Harrison will feel hard done by as the ref awards a penalty for not rapping in the tackle–the real culprit is the speed of the collision. The Coast Guard player is subbed off but appears to just be shaken up and will hopefully be back on the field this coming weekend for them as he had put in some solid runs and good hits for his team. Despite being within conversion range Coast Guard elects to run the ensuing penalty, which is a staple of their game, on every single penalty they were awarded (and there were plenty) they either ran it or kicked for touch–always hard to tell which one they would do as their big lock was both their main crashing man and kicker–what a boot for a second row player!
The game is being played at a fast, somewhat frantic pace, which is probably the source of a lot of the handling errors and penalties. When things connect on either side it’s a joy to watch but both teams need to grab some composure. Middlebury is most at home scrumming but midway through the half South African prop Cameron Wilson has his leg trapped in a collapsing ruck and is stretchered off the field. Originals fears of season ending injury are allayed once Cameron goes to the hospital–couple weeks off and the young Wilson will be back in action making opposition prop’s lives a nightmare. Pappa comes on and still The MCRC dominates the scrums, even without Wilson. Not only does Pappa make his mark in the restarts but he gets his name on the score sheet for the afternoon soon after getting on the field–his first try for the 1st XV in his now 4 year career. Middlebury has a scrum 5 meters out and some solid Coast Guard defense keeps the Middlebury break out of the try zone off of the first phase but a few pick and drives later Middlebury is just 2 meters out–Mike must be running a temperature as the all powerful “White Line Fever” grips him but he keeps his cool and executes beautifully off the base of the ruck to touch down. Sirkia misses the conversion: 8 – 0 Middlebury.
Coast Guard sprints back out after the kick and attacks quickly–characteristic of their attitude all afternoon–never say die. Nevertheless, the Blue scrum’s great work continues winning a defensive scrum in the middle of the park: Sirkia skips the ball out to Cmejla with the Coast Guard backline caught off guard, Cmejla to Kalan, Kalan draws the last defenders and offloads to Mugo, Try Time! Sirkia converts this one: 15 – 0 Middlebury.
Coast Guard comes right back again and makes strong runs off of the penalties that are being awarded with some liberality. The Blue Wall holds up and stops every attempt. Halftime.
The second half starts off with an early Middlebury try, Harrison spotting the hole and taking it well. Sirkia converts to put Middlebury up 22 – 0.
Allan “The Natural” Stafford ’13.5 comes on for Tom Campanella ’12 and Middlebury continues to add points. Another defensive scrum close to the Coast Guard try line is won by the forwards. Berriman at 9 makes the pick up and crashes the ball home. Sirkia hits his 3rd conversion in a row to make it 29 – 0.
At this point one might think the floodgates were about to open but that would be underestimating the resilience of Coast Guard. Two quick tries by the Bears look to turn the game on it’s head. The first is scored a few meters away from the sideline and kudos to the kicker for striking this difficult kick. This must have stunned Middlebury as the Bears are immediately back on the attack off of the kick-off. Middlebury will feel somewhat unlucky on the circumstances of the second try as Coast Guard takes TWO quick taps in a row on penalties. From this writer’s experience referees usually allow one quick tap and if the defensive team is not the required ten meters the ref awards another penalty at an advanced position but does not allow a second quick tap. Well done to Coast Guard for trying their luck and having it payoff richly–Middlebury only have themselves to blame for not retreating quickly enough on both penalties. This easier conversion is missed leaving the score at 29 – 12.
All of a sudden the wind is blowing full gusto in Coast Guards sails and their die hard fans can smell an historic turnaround. However, the chinks in the Middlebury armor, which have swelled to gaping hole proportions, are quickly filled and the game settles, periodically swinging in Middlebury’s favor moreso than in Coast Guard’s.
Some beautifully patient pick and drives by the forwards set up Sirkia’s backline to execute spreading the ball wide. Kalan looks poised to make another lovely offload to his supporting winger and in one of those moments that either leaves you celebrated or ridiculed he fakes the pass bursts through the parting seas, does a little dance left and right in front of the line to lose the final defender and scores. Sirkia converts to make it 36 – 12 Middlebury.
Don “Watch the Shoes” Song ’13 comes on at scrum half for flanker Zach Bills pushing Berriman from 9 man to loosie. Luke Dauner ’13 comes on for lock Drew “Mouse” Harasimowicz ’11. Sirkia closes out the scoring with a penalty: 39 – 12 Middlebury.
Interestingly enough, if the average passerby saw the two teams after the game as they circled up for the customary “Hip Hip Hoorays”, having no idea of the actual score, one would think Coast Guard had won from their vociferous and pride-filled chanting, accompanied by a loud applause from their bench and supporters. The Middlebury players, physically, emotionally and mentally spent from the day’s battle, may be quieter but the look of exhausted content on their faces gives away their success.
Lineup: Wilson (Pappa 20), Powers, Vandergrift, N. Kelner, Harasimowicz (Dauner 70), Bills (Song 60), R. Kelner (c), Marshall, Berriman, Sirkia (c), Campanella (Stafford 50), Harrison, Cmejla, Mugo, Kalan
- Tries – Pappa ’11, Mugo ’12, Harrison ’11, Berriman ’12, Kalan ’12.5
- Conversions – Sirkia ’12.5: 4 for 5
- Penalty Kicks – Sirkia ’12.5: 2 for [TBC]
- First try: Pappa ’11
Spotted At the Game: Blake Hinckley ’10 (former MCRC president and second row)
Middlebury 2nd XV: A great win for the Middlebury seconds to keep their record at 100%. Great barreling runs by Ben Stasiuk ’13.5 at outside center and shifty footwork by winger Jack Maher ’12. The Coast Guard B side played aggressively but the skill of the Blue B’s prevailed.