Middlebury completes their 13th straight undefeated regular season with a nail-biting win over the University of Vermont 10 – 7. Without an official New England Championship competition anymore The MCRC can be satisfied with the knowledge that they are the New England league winners. Before the game few would have expected such a close score with Middlebury’s dominance of New England and UVM struggling through the season; there is just something about this rivalry that brings out the best, the worst and the bizarre from both teams: amazing chip, chase and recover runs; dropped balls & missed tackles; handbag scuffles; you name it and it happens when these two teams collide.
UVM takes the early lead with a converted try – the first time this year Middlebury has been down at any point during a game. The only Middlebury try is scored by flanker Zach Bills ’11; captain Brian Sirkia ’12.5 secures the win with a conversion and a penalty kick. Middlebury rests regular starters Geoff Kalan ’12.5, forwards captain Rowan Kelner ’12, and scrum-half Ross Berriman ’12. Stafford, flanker Sebastien Damberg-Ott ’12.5 and 9 man Don “The Shoes” Song ’13 start in their stead.
Full report below:
Freezing rain and mud set the backdrop for this game. Middlebury’s riding high on 6 straight victories in the league, while UVM has lost 4 of their 6 games thus far, a far cry from their Northeast Championship winning season last year. This game is an absolute dogfight full of scrappy play, high intensity, pride and courage on both sides. Any structure either team could piece together for a few minutes would crumble through errors leading to turnovers, both unforced errors and those resulting from defensive pressure.
In the opening quarter and for stretches throughout the game UVM appear to be the stronger team as they adapt better to the muddy conditions and work hard to spoil Middlebury’s play at all costs. Not many of the 50-50 referee calls or awkwardly bouncing balls fall Middlebury’s way and the Catamounts are quick to take advantage of whatever opportunities fortune presents, using the quick tap penalties to great effect and recovering many of their own kicks.
Strong performances by the UVM captain and 8 man, Jack Bates (son of Middlebury graduate and UVM assistant coach Charlie Bates) and their fly-half, whose kicking and quick, hard running open up an otherwise solid Middlebury defense. The Blue Wall keeps UVM out for the opening plays by launching up well together and making some great tackles with the usual defensive suspects perpetrating the hard hits: Zach Bills ’11, Ben Cmejla ’11 & Sam Harrison ’11. UVM camps in the Middlebury 22 but cannot seem to find a way through. The crack in the Middlebury defensive armor appears in the form of the loose ball and on a wet day like this one can expect many fumbled passes and kicks to which UVM applies immediate pressure. Their fortitude results in a misfielded loose ball being tapped into the Middlebury try zone: players from both sides slip, slide and dive to get a hand on the ball first: UVM beats Middlebury to the punch and takes the lead in the 8th minute. Their 8 man converts the kick (continuing the somewhat unique string of New England DII collegiate forwards with kicking responsibilities). 0 – 7 UVM.
The Middlebury points all come in the first half. After falling behind and with the backs struggling to find their rhythm in offense the forwards take control. On one of the few occasions in the first half that Middlebury is able to string together several structured phases the forwards are doing great work supporting each other and recycling the ball. Zach Bills punches it home from a few meters out. Sirkia slices the ball but still manages to convert and at 22 minutes in the score is tied at 7- 7.
From there it’s an absolute deadlock each team neutralizing the other. At minute 35 Middlebury wins a kickable penalty and Sirkia does not hit the ball cleanly again but still gets it through the post–sometimes being good means you are being good at being lucky.
Captain Marshall & His Pack:
The MCRC is clearly stirred by this turn of events and works hard to regroup. Their offensive efforts are led by 8th man Chris Marshall ’11 who captains the side for the first time with regular pack leader Rowan Kelner ’12 out. Chris makes several powerful breaks off the back of the scrums and the breakdown areas, and as always, is solid in the tackle. He seems to be everywhere in this game, running great support lines and leading from the front. Marshall also picks up some of the touch kicking duties for the Blue with Kalan out; once again a New England forward with a strong boot. When Marshall is not kicking for touch he is chasing the touch kick and when Sam Harrison ’11 looks to find touch short Marshall sprints up, jumps and snatches the ball out of the air while managing to stay in the field of play.
Historically Middlebury has beaten UVM through their backs play but with the backs struggling to keep ball in hand in the difficult weather it looks to be up to Chris Marshall and his pack to win this game. In the scrums the Blue pack dominates driving UVM off the ball. UVM compensates by their 8th man breaking off the back of the scrum and passing the ball to his fly half himself, bypassing his 9 man trying to dig the ball out from under his retreating legs. Last year UVM totally dominated Middlebury in the lineout battle but this year lock Drew “Mouse Jr” Harasimowicz ’11, working well with his lifters, outperforms UVM both on offense and defense. It’s been a long time since the writer had seen Middlebury steal a UVM lineout, or even win the majority of their own throw-ins: thank you Drew and thrower Danny “DJ” Powers ’11.5 for restoring balance to the universe.
The War of Attrition:
The forwards play in the loose is the key to Middlebury’s win: patiently, powerfully driving the Blue up the field with pick and drives and crashes off the playmakers. The final play of the game sees the Middlebury pack string together fifteen phases of pick and drives all making positive yards. Tireless, relentless Middlebury wears UVM down. Every fifth or sixth stoppage in the second half a UVM player is on the ground, exhausted and sometimes injured from making tackle after tackle after tackle. In the war of attrition Middlebury is the clear winner. The Blue does not escape untouched though: flanker Seb Damberg-Ott has his starting debut of the season cut short when he lands awkwardly on his ankle in the first half. Tough break for Seb who was just beginning to make his presense felt with big hits on the UVM fly-half and with good work in the lineouts complimenting Mouse Jr. Luke Dauner ’13 replaces the injured Damberg-Ott and does a tidy job in the loose making the hits and driving the ball upfield.
Debuting The Man of Steel:
Middlebury makes an early change in the first half to introduce a burst of energy into the team: winger Dane “The Man Of” Steel ’11 makes his debut for the 1st XV. Kenyan try kingpin Ken Mugo ’12 comes off. Until this game Steel had been a regular off the bench for the 2nd XV and always made an impact in those games with his game-changing pace and power with ball in hand. His performance last week turned some heads and quickly bumped him up to the 1st xv bench. Steel is effectively transferring his running back skills to the game of rugby, using his quick step to find holes and where there are no holes “Titanium” Steel makes them as was emphatically discovered by the UVM winger who got between Superman and the try line. Steel is unleashed on this run by another player making his debut for The MCRC, freshman fullback Adam Schreiber ’14. Adam comes on in the second half to replace Tommy Campanella ’12; Stafford slides over to wing. Schreiber fields a deep central kick and runs it back heading towards the corner. He throws a wide, perfectly weighted ball to the attacking Steel who catches the ball at pace. Steel looks like he may be able to round the entire defense but as the space on the outside starts to narrow Steel cuts back in and runs through the first UVM defender, who manages to slow Steel’s run down enough to allow his teammates to make the final tackle. Having two new players linking up like this is exciting for the near and long-term future of Middlebury rugby.
The last of the Midd substitutes is Dylan “Blackwells” Whitaker ’13 at inside center, on for Sam Harrison ’11. Whitaker has been a regular on the 1st XV bench but this is his first time this season he has made it onto the park. Whitaker runs hard and hits harder, fulling in well at inside center.
Lineup: Pappa, Powers, Vandergrift, N. Kelner, Harasimowicz, Bills, Damberg-Ott (Dauner 30), Marshall (c), Song, Sirkia (c), Mugo (Steel 20), Harrison (Whitaker 50), Cmejla, Campanella (Shreiber 60), Stafford
- Tries – Stafford ’13.5
- Conversions – Sirkia ’12.5: 1 for 1
- Penalty Kicks – Sirkia ’12.5: 1 for 1
- First competitive cap: Steel ’11, Schreiber ’14
- First cap of the season: Whitaker ’13
The MCRC 2nd XV finishes their regular season unbeaten – this is potentially the first year in Middlebury’s history that both the 1st XV and 2nd XV finish the regular season unbeaten (need to scour through the records to confirm). Dusty Attwood-Dupont ’13.5 dictates the Middlebury offense with incredible poise and precision, splitting open the UVM defense with his passing and with the boot. Sam Murray ’13 at number 8 is the other contender for the man-of-the-match performance. Murray must have been watching Marshall’s performance in the first half as he emulates his 1st team counterpart with devastating accuracy. Winger John Hawley ’14 scores the Killer B’s 1st try. If Dane Steel is Superman then Hawley is Spiderman as he can catch anything. The backline spreads the ball wide with some great quick hands and Hawley reaches back while running at full pace to snatch up the final pace and touch down in the corner. Winger Jack Maher ’12 converts the difficult touchline conversion but fails to convert the second easier conversion after the second Middlebury try. Final score 12 – 0 Middlebury.