Middlebury beats St. Joseph’s University of Philadelphia 34 – 5 in the Division II National Championship Round of 16. Middlebury led from the beginning thanks to an almost flawless kicking performance by captain Brian Sirkia ’12.5. In the first half Brian went 5 for 6 including a bomb from 45 meters out and about 10 meters from the sideline – easily the play of the game. St. Joe’s threatened to make a comeback as the first half closes but the second half is one way traffic on the scoreboard. The boys in blue have played better and credit to St. Joe’s for frustrating Middlebury for stretches, not allowing the blue backline much ball. However, in the second half, fitness and patience turns to tries for Middlebury. Geoff “King” Kalan ’12.5, Ross “Bo$$” Berriman ’12 and Ben “Stunners” Cmejla ’11 each touching down.
The writer is not one for handing out man-of-the-match nods but if one is forced to single out a Middlebury player or two Sirkia and winger Allan “El Naturel” Stafford ’13.5 would be on the shortlist. Stafford is key on defense, making several crucial tackles to quell St. Joe’s resurgence and when he’s on the ball he is a spectacle. Stafford is unlucky not to add his name to the scoreboard after he gets the ball near the sideline. He leaves his opposite man for dead with a purely malevolent in-and-out step, he throws a fend-off to finish and it’s off to the races. From everyone’s perspective he does a phenomenal job of staying in the field of play…everyone except the man who counts: the touch judge. He raises a late, controversial flag to end Stafford’s run prematurely.
Full report below:
Try-Guy becomes Trey-Guy
The first half is an education in the 3 pointer (a.k.a. the “trey”) as Sirkia bangs 5 of 6. St. Joe’s gives away numerous penalties at the breakdown, often for leaving their feet as they hungrily search for the turnover and counter-ruck opportunity. “Miller-time” Sirkia converts at the 5 minute mark and misses at the 14 (though he’ll contest that taller posts would show that he also makes this kick.) He then hits one at the 16, 28, 32, and 37 minute marks including the audacious 45 meter dagger from near the sideline. That’s one way to demoralize the opposition and silence the critics who were wondering where the try scoring phenom of 2 years ago had gone – still here – just racking up the points from the perimeter.
DJ Sam “Funkmaster” Harrison
Laying down your favorite hits of 2011 DJ Sam “Funkmaster” Harrison ’11 is on the 1′s and 2′s. Where everyone else settles for the easier more wrestling style drag down tackle, Sam uses his height advantage to cut players at the knees and his formidable strength to pick them up. Ladies and gents, he is not just a DJ but he’s also getting his pilot wings as he takes several St. Joe’s players airborne. Ben “The Sturgees” Stasiuk ’13.5 is definitely grooving to Harrison’s beat as he gets in on the legal dump tackle action.
St. Joe’s Try
Kicking is a great way to pick up easy points but it’s incredible how quickly one try can turn a game around. St. Joe’s often looks to work the ball back inside and their strong number 10 stays up well in contact. He is not particularly dynamic but he is a tough man to get to the ground. This creates time and space for his backline and some great running by their center exposes holes in the Middlebury defense. An offload to a support runner from 5 meters out results in a try for the Philly team under the posts near the end of the first half. Despite Middlebury’s dominance St. Joe’s is all of a sudden back in the game but they manage to botch the conversion from in front of the posts. 15 – 5 Middlebury with a minute left in the half.
The First Phase
Middlebury’s forwards struggle with possession at the restarts for the first time in a long time – a windy day does not help either team throwing at the lineouts and the St. Joe’s forwards give a valiant performance in the scrum stopping the usually dominant Middlebury pack. With limited clean runs from first phase the Middlebury backs play a spectator role on offense and a very active role on defense due to the numerous turnovers against their forwards. There are a few glimmers of the fast, flowing Midd style especially in the final play of the half – a good response to the St. Joe’s try. 15 – 5 at halftime.
Middlebury appears to be missing an aggressive spark and they make some changes at halftime to conjure it. Two of the big boys, regular starters, who appear to have been resting, make their way on to the field: Drew “Mouse Jr.” Harasimowicz ’11 at lock and Zach “Business Casual Jr.” Bills ’11 at flank. Eigthman Chris Marshall ’11 comes off (Berriman slides to 8, Rowan Kelner ’12.5 to openside and Bills to weakside) and a straight one-for-one change between Drew and The Sturg. Drew and Bills are tenacious and aggressive around the contact area and in those crucial 10 minutes after the first half these men give Middlebury the energy boost they need to squash any St. Joe’s comeback. A candidate for the MVP of the corresponding fixture a year ago, winger Zach Withers ’11.5, comes on a few minutes into the half for Kennedy “I See You” Mugo ’12, also adding a creative flair and gritted determination to the team. Withers makes an impossible run down the touchline – it’s as though he is in fast forward and everyone else is in slow motion!
Off You Go
5 minutes into the second half the ref shows a St. Joe’s player a yellow card for a repeat infringement at the ruck. Middlebury is up by a man but not for long. In the four minutes they have the man advantage they are unable to capitalize – good defensive work by St. Joe’s. At the 9 minute mark Bills is also sent for a repeat infringement at the ruck. After the penalty filled first 50 minutes the ref cannot be blamed for showing the yellows but Bills will feel hard done by as he has just come on the field, paying for the sins of others.
With numbers back to even (14 vs. 14) Middlebury starts to win some more phases cleanly and their backline finds more space. Dusty Attwood-Dupont ’13.5 sells the dummy and runs it upfield himself from the attacking 22. He draws multiple defenders and sets up Kalan for the touchdown. Sirkia converts. 13 minutes into the second half: 22 – 5 Middlebury.
14 vs. 15 & More Subs
The St. Joe’s player is back on the field giving them the man-advantage for 4 minutes. Middlebury decides to make some tactical changes. Despite the try they are still not moving as they usually do. Don “Is It the Shoes?” Song ’13 on at 9, Sirkia to 10 – Dusty comes off. Sirkia makes a good transition to 10 making some good tackles and moving the ball well. Song is dynamite at 9, moving the ball and those yellow clad feet with an inspired fervor – all he needs to do is protect the ball a touch better in contact and he’ll be a complete game changer. Middlebury absorb the pressure during this short period of being a man down – a good demonstration of discipline. More subs: 25 minutes in, Dylan “Blackwells” Whitaker ’13 for Rowan Kelner ’12 (Sam Harrison moves from inside center to flank); 28 minutes in, Vince “Chef” Mariano ’14 on for Mike “We’ll Always Love You Big” Pappa ’11 at prop. Blackwells, like Harrison, is a hit-maker at inside center and the young Mariano steps up to take on crashing responsibilities amongst the forwards with his fresher legs.
Final Quarter Means Try Time
The MCRC charges up the field stringing together the phases, mounting the pressure. Another try looks inevitable if they can just avoid the silly mistakes, a dropped ball here, a forward pass there – it’s the final 15 minutes of the game but they are running around with great enthusiasm, almost too much enthusiasm, due to the space they have found in the backs. They are less than 10 meters out when St. Joe’s gives away another penalty at the breakdown. Sirkia is immediately positioning himself for another kick, backing up a few yards, but his playmaking counterpart Song is pulling out all the tricks in his magic fluorescent yellow shoes. Song takes the quicktap, shimmy 1, 2, and pops it off to Ross “Bo$$” Berriman ’12 who punches it home – the perfect combination of finesse and power. Sirkia still gets to add to his tally with the conversion: 29 – 5 Middlebury.
The final try is a testament to champagne rugby. 5 minutes left in the game the blue is 15 meters out; Song launches Sirkia’s backline, who sells several fakes as support players run some textbook dummy lines creating a huge hole at the centers. Sirkia links up with the Stunners man, Ben Cmejla, who takes the ball at a terrific angle and dives over the line. Conversion missed: 34 – 5 Middlebury.
With the game wrapped up Middlebury brings on freshman Adam Schreiber at the back.
Line-up: Pappa, Powers, Vandergrift (Mariano 68), N. Kelner, Stasiuk (Harasimowicz 40), R.Kelner (Whitaker 65), Berriman, Marshall (Bills 40), Sirkia, Attwood-Dupont (Song 56), Mugo (Withers 47), Harrison, Cmejla, Stafford, Kalan (Schreiber 77)
- Tries: Kalan ’12.5, Berriman ’12, Cmejla ’11
- Conversions: Sirkia – 2 for 3
- Penalties: Sirkia – 5 for 6