A commanding performance by the Blue today as they defeated Bentley by 44 points to 17 in the Northeast Semifinal. Not only did this win secure Middlebury’s place in the NRU final tomorrow (Saturday, October 14) but it also ensured Middlebury’s qualification for the National Championship sweet 16 in the spring.
The new look Middlebury offense with captain Brian Sirkia ’12.5 at 9 and Dusty Attwood-Dupont ’13.5 at 10 is clicking; this recent change allows Ross “Bo$$” Berriman ’12 to return to the loose trio and means Middlebury has the luxury of bringing forwards captain Rowan Kelner ’12 off the bench–with that sort of depth they should be calling the Blue the Deep Blue Sea. Tries by Nat “Sheed” Kelner ’12, Ross “Bo$$” Berriman ’12, Zach “Business Casual Jr.” Bills ’11, Geoff “King” Kalan ’12.5, Chris Marshall & Sam Harrison ’11. Sirkia converts two penalties and four conversions.
In the opening ten minutes it’s an evenly contested game. Bentley absorbs some early Middlebury pressure and creates some attacking phases of their own. The Boston side is extremely quick to make the steal at the tackle, sacrificing yards in the contact to make sure they are on their feet to contest the ball. The MCRC is able to adjust and present the ball more cleanly at the tackle and clear out the poachers bringing a halt to that aspect of Bentley’s game. Sirkia opens the scoring with a comfortable penalty kick. 3 – 0 Middlebury in the opening minutes.
Bentley immediately responds, applying pressure with some strong pick and go’s. They pick up a kickable penalty and convert. 3 – 3.
Lot’s of running back and forth as both teams look to break ahead with the advantage seeming to tip slightly in Middlebury’s favor. If not the advantage, then certainly lady luck is leaning Middlebury’s way as they pick up the first try: hooker Danny J. Powers ’11.5 makes a break down the blindside and is pulled close to the touchline; the touch judge raises her flag to indicate the ball is out but the ref who is at the scene of the incident overrules the decision. This is a classic example of why coaches tell their players to play to the whistle; as soon as the Bentley players see the flag go up they all stop expecting to hear a whistle. Sheed Kelner takes full advantage of the confusion, making a brilliant pic and breaking away to the try line. Sirkia is unable to convert but what game sense by the second row player Nat to create that try out of nothing. 8 – 3 Middlebury.
From that moment Middlebury takes a hold of the reigns and after the first scrum (some 20 minutes in) that grip is severely tightened. The Bentley prop could not be blamed for thinking he is in for an easy afternoon when he looks up to see the diminutive Vincent Mariano ’14 facing him…little does he know that Mariano is a different breed of savage, a 5′ 5″ powerhouse that dominates the scrum. The MCRC pack dismantles another northeastern scrum despite having regular starting prop Mike “Renaissance” Pappa ’11 on the bench. Once Middlebury shows their dominance in the set play their confidence and execution all over the field only rises.
The forwards crash the ball up with an overwhelming patience that leaves Bentley with limited countering options. Berriman caps off a multiphase pick and go drive with a white-line-fever lunge to touch down just over the try line. Sirkia converts and Middlebury is up 15 – 3.
Sensing blood in the water the Blue pack starts to get a little impatient near the try line, knocking on two clear tries with outstretched reaching dives for the try line from the base of the ruck; setting up another phase would have surely assured the 5 points. That’s the allure and the danger of white line fever: it can propel you through the smallest gap, crowning you with glory, or lure you into a defensive trap and the anguish of a turnover at the try line. 2 for 4 Middlebury on that one today as Zach Bills finds some room from a meter out to squeeze the ball onto the try line. Sirkia converts this kick to make it 22 – 3 Middlebury with a little less than 10 minutes in the half.
For the final ten minutes Middlebury camps in the Bentley 22 but all they get for their trouble is 3 points from a Sirkia conversion. Kudos to Bentley for absorbing the pressure again but this is bound to take it’s toll in terms of fatigue in the second half. 25 – 3 Middlebury at the half.
At the half Middlebury brings on flanker Rowan Kelner ’12 for Bills. Rowan explodes onto the scene with some solid runs throughout the half as he looks to shake off the cobwebs that quickly amass from missing games through injury. Kelner is back to match fitness and should be looking to have a cracker in the Sunday game.
The 3rd quarter sees Middlebury at their finest, stringing together phases between the backs and forwards all under the delicate direction of captain and composer/puppeteer Brian “They Still Call Me Try-Guy” Sirkia. Sirkia started the year with such charisma at the fly-half position but as the season wore on the spark seemed to leave the Canada native. His boot remained sure but his running feet lost their magic. The mad genius of head coach John “How Great is That?!” Phillips to switch Brian to scrum half at such a late stage in the year is paying off like early investments in Google Inc. Sirkia commands the game with such authority and ease and his connection with Dusty “JV Jeff/Geoff” Attwood-Dupont is 4G–not one ball dropped between them. Sirkia uses the open-field boot with great effect and makes some impressive breaks down the field himself–showing the world that he still has wheels and step that earned him his moniker in the spring of 2009.
His playmaking counterpart Dupont has had a roller coaster season that saw him start off as Middlebury’s new hope for a dominant inside center. That hope quickly fizzled as Dupont struggled to grasp the demands of the position, while senior utility player Sam “I Know I Can” Harrison ’11 found a home at inside center. Injury followed this disappointment but good old Dusty the JVJ would not let any of this hold him back. He returned and proved his own preseason prophecy right; the words ring in the writer’s ears: “Coach, I think I should be wearing the #10 jersey” Dupont audaciously declared on the first day of camp…what a ridiculous statement for a player in his second semester of rugby! Hindsight is 20/20 and with forecasting like that they should call him the Weatherman and once he’s on the ball he is bound to make it rain!
Dupont gets a pass from Sirkia, dummies the pass outside and bursts through the half gap, showing a turn of pace that factors 9 on the unexpected charts. He has two players on his outside and a myriad of Bentley defenders closing in on him. With the composure and execution of a seasoned veteran Dupont draws 4 defenders and as contact is made he makes the eye of the needle pass through traffic to his mentor Geoff “Varsity Dusty” Kalan. Dupont takes a big hit that knocks the wind out of him so hard that he does not even see his Kalan storming down the field to finish off his great work. Kalan defies the vociferous critics in showing that he still has the legs to go the distance. Sirkia just misses the conversion, though he will argue it was good. 30 – 3 Middlebury.
The next Middlebury try would have brought tears to the eyes of forwards coach Ben Wells if he had been in attendance and not stuck in a midwest airport trying to get to Maine. The pushover try has been in everyone’s mind since the dominance of the Middlebury pack was established in their first game of the season. Forwards dream about getting that 5 meter scrum and driving the other pack so far into their own try zone that all the 8th man has to do is fall on the ball that he has carefully ushered at his feet. Against Bentley the dream became a reality. All the other team can do is watch helplessly as the inevitable arrives. Chris Marshall ’11 breaks off the back of the scrum and immediately touches the ball down. This is a moment to relish and Marshall will hold onto this one for a while. Sirkia converts this easy kick making it 37 – 3 Middlebury.
In actuality there are about 100 moments Marshall should relish from this game as he puts in a man-of-the-match performance. The number 8 is omnipresent on the field. He can brawl with the big boys and run with the speedsters. He has also managed to pick up an Oscar winning goose-step, probably from watching Ken Mugo ’12 earlier in the year. Multiple Middlebury forwards have been working on their dizzy feet as Zach Bills ’11 leaves 3 Bentley players for dead with a shimmy of his own in the first half. Marshall’s confidence under the high ball is exemplary and his emergence as a true leader this season has greatly benefited the Blue.
Middlebury’s final try comes from inside center Sam Harrison ’11. The small man carries the ball well all game, crashing it up and drawing in defenders. His tackling is, as always, formidable. He torpedoes over the try line to get the 5 points. Sirkia slots it in to make it 44 – 3 Middlebury.
Bentley rings the changes brining on 4 new players at once, potentially resting players for the 3rd place play-off on Sunday which could still earn them a spot in the National Championship (the Northeast appears to have 3 seeds based on the fact that the 3 Northeast teams at the Nationals each had at least one win last year). These replacements also added a spark to Bentley’s game as they never gave up, even with such an insurmountable scoreline deficit.
The Bentley backline applied immense pressure on the Middlebury backs shutting the Blue down in the 4th quarter. Middlebury makes several solid changes with Dylan Whitaker ’13 at inside center making his presence felt on defense. Winger Jack Maher ’12 uses his quick feet to find holes and second row/loosie Luke Dauner ’13 again putting in a solid all round performance off the bench. The final 15 minutes see Middlebury change their frontrow with Vince moving to hooker, and Big Cliff Hanich ’14 and Connor Burleigh ’10.5 on for props. Burleigh marks what could be the end of his Middlebury career with a solid performance both in the scrums and in the loose, securing the ball and driving it up well. Big Cliff continues to move mountains whenever he is around the ball. Adam Schreiber ’14 works to relieve the pressure Middlebury is under in the final quarter with his out of hand kicking, the young fullback has a boot and a half.
The Bentley pressure results in two tries. One from a superman dive charge down off of a Kalan kick. The ball bounces favorably for Bentley landing in a support players hands who has a clear run to the try line. The second is off of a penalty on the Middlebury 5 meter. Both tries are converted, the second try being the last play of the game.
Middlebury will play William Patterson in the NRU final on Sunday, November 14 at Bowdoin. William Patterson will have the wind at their sails after a 30 – 27 win over Iona, a team that had beaten them in a close game earlier in the season.
Line-up: Mariano, Powers, Vandergrift (Burleigh 65), N. Kelner, Harasimowicz (Hanich 65), Bills (R. Kelner 40), Berriman (Dauner 58), Marshall (c), Sirkia (c), Attwood-Dupont, Steel (Maher 53), Harrison (Whitaker 53), Cmejla, Stafford, Kalan (Schreiber 70)
- Tries – N. Kelner ’12, Berriman ’12, Bills ’11, Kalan ’12.5, Marshall ’11, Harrison ’11
- Conversions – Sirkia ’12.5 – 4 for 6
- Penalty Kicks – Sirkia ’12.5 – 2 for 2
- Final game: Connor Burleigh ’10.5