Back in 2009, Middlebury beat USF in the quarterfinal of the National Championships 32 – 17. Two years later in the same fixture, the DII National Championship quarterfinal, Middlebury once again dispels a formidable USF side with an almost identical score line: 38 points to 14. The MCRC comes out slugging, with a ravenous hunger and determination that this writer cannot attest to having witnessed before. The defense is doggedly unrelenting – the attack is innovative and turbocharged. The unorthodox, incomprehensible genius that is Head Coach John “Chipolati” Phillips takes another roll of his magic 28 sided die and up pops the idea to move his scrumhalf back to flyhalf–after having moved him from scrumhalf to flyhalf at the beginning of the fall and back to scrumhalf at the end of the fall–the timing of such a change? “Madness”, one might (and some do) say–”lucky”, one might (and some do) refute–”brilliant”, no one can deny.
Captain Brian “Downtown Dagger” Sirkia ’12.5 is once again more than apt in front of goals and has that old spark to his step with ball in hand. Allan “El Naturel” Stafford ’13.5 puts in another m-o-m worthy performance, showing my good friend speed what quick really is; and just in case speed was not convinced by El Naturel, Dane “Juan En Don” Steel ’11 gets in on the velocity act. Hitmakers Sam “Overlap” Harrison ’11 and Zach “Business Casual Jr.” Bills ’11 get the party started on defense and keep the hits coming all game long: the defensive performance by Middlebury, as led by Bills and Harrison, is possessed. All that said, the true orchestrator on offense and defense is scrumhalf Don “Oye Mi Canto” Song ’13 – playing through an early injury Donny directs the team to a definitive victory.
Full match report below:
Early Middlebury Points
Sirkia has an absolute stormer at #10, using his deceptive turn of pace to shatter the USF blitz defense. It is Fager-esque, borderline Volz-esque many will profess. A show of the ball has the defense biting and in the blink of an eye “Tr(e)y Guy” is off to the races. Unafraid to turn the defense with a chip or two Sirkia puts USF under pressure and they send a forced kick into touch on their own 22. From the lineout Middlebury advances. Pick’n'go’s from the pack take Middlebury from the 22 to just over 10 meters out. Song links up with Geoff “King” Kalan ’12.5 on the weak side and Kalan powers through, taken down just shy. A further series of picks leads to the inevitable from an unexpected source: Mike “Renaissance” Pappa ’11. It’s not often the big man rings the bell for try time but he grabs this predator’s try with an eagle eye, and a hat tip to Ross “Bo$$” Berriman ’12 for the rucking assist – a true forwards’ try. The ref takes a moment to consult with his touch judge to ensure Pappa stayed in bounds – no question really: 8 mins in, 5 – 0 Middlebury.
USF tries to bounce back into the game with some immediate pressure. Prop Chris “Calves” Vandergrift ’11 is off the field with a bloody noise and Middlebury seem unsettled as they give away consecutive penalties at the breakdown. USF goes for what appears to be the easy penalty kick but their kicker misses. A few minutes later Sirkia has the pleasure of schooling this kicker on how to split the uprights as he launches a 45 meter bomb to increase Middlebury’s early lead. Unlike yesterday’s beauty this one is center-field so somewhat easier but still a tremendous effort: 8 – 0 Middlebury 15 mins in.
8 minutes later Sirkia hits another one from just outside the 22, at a tough angle: 11 – 0 Middlebury.
On the defensive end, Zach “Billsboard Hits” Bills ’11 goes into beast mode, making dominant tackle after dominant tackle. Between Sirkia’s kicking and Bills’ tackling the usually vociferous USF crowd is being silenced. The USF fullback has shown the speed and aggressive running that Middlebury was warned of but so far the Blue wall has managed to snuff out the danger but he is one to watch, as is their #8 who powers upfield from the base whenever possible.
Middlebury appears to have resolved the first phase issues from the previous day. Jerome Finley Powers ’11.5 throws the ball with precision at the lineout. The scrums are a real battle with both sides dominating their own ball and strongly contesting on defense. The 8/9 Marshall/Song combo link up well at the back of the scrum but in the final 15 minutes of the half the 9/10 link wanes and Song seems out of sync with Sirkia.
As Middlebury begins to give away a couple of penalties USF goes with the quicktap option but the Midd defense is equal to the task leaving the Bulls with few options. Their pacey fullback never looks to kick his way out of trouble and runs into a bad situation when he takes on Harrison and Ben Cmejla ’11 from an isolated position in his own 22. He knocks the ball on and from the resulting restart Middlebury attacks the open side through Sirkia who looks to connect with Stafford for a certain try but Sirkia expects Allan to go wide and Allan looks for the short pop. Nothing fruitful appears but USF fails to clear adequately giving Middlebury a lineout inside the 22. Sirkia sells a dummy or two and out of nowhere Kalan comes crashing through. In a flash Kalan offloads to Cmejla on his outside: clearly try time under the posts…but the ref calls play back as Kalan’s pass is deemed forward. Middlebury had been playing under advantage so the ref brings play back to the site of the penalty infringement: Sirkia hits the 3 pointer from the 22. At halftime Middlebury leads 14 – 0.
From the opening play the USF defense opens up for Sirkia and he slices through the series of holes that appear before him, sends a chip over the top, collects and looks to score a brilliant try but he is held up in the try zone. Some solid goal line defense from USF as they stop a series of Middlebury pick’n'go’s from 5 meters out and produce a turnover.
The boys in blue keep up the pressure and from a lineout on the 45, the pack crashes the ball upfield. From the 2nd phase Sirkia throws a risky lobbing skip pass to “Ctunners” Cmejla, over the heads of several defenders. Ctunners shows amazing hands and at full stretch tips the ball into the air, recovers it and pops it to Stafford on the wing. Allan then educates Sirkia on how to successfully complete a chip ‘n’ chase. Basically starting from a standstill he takes a few quick steps, chips over the top of his opposite number, rounds him and beats another cover defender, collects the ball and touches down. Having duly noted the skills Sirkia converts from a tough angle. 49 mins in: Middlebury 21 – 0 USF.
USF forces a turnover at the halfway line and their 9 man box kicks. A hurried clearance sets up an attacking lineout for the Bulls in the Middlebury 22. Middlebury has the chance to win back the ball but they knock on. From the scrum 9 man Song is called for being offside – from 15 meters out USF quicktap, a Middlebury forward makes the tackle but is called for not having retreated the prescribed 10 meters – another USF penalty. They cannot quicktap a 2nd time but they still look to run the ball. Middlebury makes the tackle but another penalty call goes against them for coming in from the side at the ruck. USF is just a few meters out at this point and they look to quicktap again. Zach Bills ’11 launches to make the hit but from an offside position (according to the referee.) Penalty try to USF, easy conversion under the posts. 54 mins in: 21 – 7 Middlebury.
USF is rejuvenated and Middlebury is down to 14 men after a yellow card. But not to fear just when Middlebury looks in distress and in need of a superhero to save the day “The Man of Steel” steps in. A kicking battle eventually falls to winger “Don Juan” Steel deep in his own 22. Steel looks to pass, thinks otherwise and tucks the ball…and that’s all she wrote…try time magic as he makes the full field surge, carving up the defense like a seasoned New Amsterdam butcher. He rounds the final defender and touches down under the posts. It is impressive how effortless he makes it look though he is clearly exhausted after the run. That would be his last contribution to the game as he is replaced by Zach “Militia” Withers ’11.5. One and done Steel…but a what a one it was! Sirkia converts, 70 mins in: 28 – 7 Middlebury.
Four minutes later the USF winger breaks blind taking advantage of a defensive hole. The flyhalf chips the ball into the 22 from the resulting phase. Middlebury let’s the ball bounce and is punished for this cardinal sin. USF crashes the ball up and after several phases eventually gets the try and conversion. 28 – 14 Middlebury.
Bills returns to the field but only for the technicality of being able to sub him out after the yellow card is served. Rowan Kelner ’12 replaces him. Back to even numbers Middlebury shuts out any further USF attacks. They apply pressure to produce a lineout deep in the attacking 22. A poor USF clearing kick falls to “El Naturel” who catches, throws the audacious spin move and takes an angled run through the defense. He passes to Ben “The Sturgees” Stasiuk ’13.5 who hands off to Rowan a few meters out. Rowan quickly spreads the ball to Harrison who has a 3 man overlap outside him but white line fever grips the young man and he goes for goal solo – thankfully he executes. Sirkia converts the easy kick: 35 – 14 Middlebury.
USF finishes the game a man down as they receive a yellow for an illegal dump tackle. Kalan finds touch and the lineout play finds the power runner, Rowan Kelner. He bursts upfield, breaking arm tackles and when he is eventually brought down Middlebury wins a penalty at the contact area. Sirkia slots this one home to finish the scoring: 38 – 14 Middlebury.
Line-up: Pappa, Powers, Vandergrift (Blood-Sub Mariano 30 – 35), Stasiuk, Harasimowicz, Bills (R. Kelner 65), Berriman, Marshall (Whitaker 75), Song, Sirkia, Steel (Withers 60), Harrison, Cmejla, Stafford, Kalan
- Tries: Pappa ’11, Stafford ’13.5, Steel ’11, Harrison ’11
- Conversions: Sirkia – 3 for 4
- Penalties: Sirkia – 4 for 4
- Blue (5th Competitive Cap): Mariano ’14