Three players pick up their first competitive caps as Middlebury improves to 2 and 2 with a 7 point victory over the University of Albany. Despite only scoring 2 tries versus Albany’s 4 tries, Middlebury picks up their first road win in Division I. This hotly contested battle goes down to the wire with Albany leading at half time and Middlebury rallying to take over control in the second.
Captain Brian Sirkia ’12.5 scores one of the Middlebury tries, hits 5 penalty kicks and 2 conversions – his boot is the real difference on the scoreboard. Amongst the forwards flanker Devin Risinger ’14 has a stormer creating turnover after turnover at the breakdown. Substitute flanker Sam “Fireman” Murray ’13 scores what ends up being the winning try, capping off the play of the game.
Full match report below:
Middlebury looks to be in control early in the game taking advantage of penalties Albany gives up. Sirkia misses his first attempt at goal 1 minute in but slots home the second 4 minutes in. 3 – 0 Middlebury.
Captain Rowan Kelner ’12 steps up to the challenge of leading an inexperienced pack with several of his more senior forwards out through injury including twin brother and club president Nat “Sheed” Kelner ’12 and DII All-American Ross “Bo$$” Berriman ’12. The blue pack dominates the lineouts all game stealing much of the Albany ball. The godsend return of hooker Daniel Jerome Finley Powers ’11.5 who has been out all season working on Middlebury’s Solar Decathlon, is an injection of energy, experience and unrelenting determination.
The scrums are an area of concern throughout the game for both sides. Physically Albany appears to have the upper hand but they commit multiple infringements at the restart that is in many ways the source of their demise as it gives Sirkia more opportunities to add to his tally. When the Albany forwards get the ball back to their strong number 8 and crafty 9 man they cause issues for the Middlebury defense and 10 minutes in they score their first try. With the conversion the score is now 3 – 7 Albany.
Sirkia quickly brings Middlebury back within arms reach with a penalty: 6 – 7 Albany 12 minutes in. A few minutes later he has a chance to give the Blue the edge but he misses his fourth attempt at goal.
Middlebury’s tackling is a little wanting at times but Kenyan winger Kennedy “ICU” Mugo ’12 bolsters his teammates confidence around contact with two textbook tackles that earn him the “Sam Harrison ’11 Hit of the Game”. On both sides of the ball Ken looks to be having an absolute cracker but halfway through the first half he limps off with an ankle injury; Zach Withers ’11.5 replaces him.
Shortly after the substitution Middlebury is on the attack getting their skilled backline into play but Albany’s efficient drift defense limits Middlebury’s speedsters outside attack. 15 meters out Sirkia spots an opportunity for a touch of trickery as he notices the ruck fringes exposed and the fullback napping. He sells the dummy pass, kicks into another gear and shows a great sense of balance to stay on his feet despite a heavy ankle tap. Try time under the posts, which Sirkia easily converts. 13 points for Brian and 13 points for Middlebury, 25 minutes in: 13 – 7 Middlebury.
The game is poised to take a turn – either Middlebury is going to put a stranglehold on the day’s affairs and start running up the points or Albany is going to bounce back. Unfortunately for the boys in blue it is the latter. At 30 minutes and 36 minutes Albany scores two unconverted tries. Their attack is expertly hinged around their 8, 9 and 10 and the hard running 8 picks up the final try of the half. 13 – 17 Albany at half time.
Just before the end of the half Middlebury brings on flanker Sam Murray for Astor Nummelin Carlberg ’13.5. This was Astor’s first start for the 1st XV and can be proud of his performance. The change, which is forced on Middlebury through an injury, is one which will prove to be surprisingly and gloriously fortuitous.
The second half sees a tactically more sound Middlebury side take the field. The first half saw some great running from their backline but it was painfully predictable. In the second half fly-half Don Song ’13 mixes it up more and puts pressure on the Albany back 3 and winger Jack Maher ’12 is tenacious in his pursuit. Albany sees very little of the ball in the 3rd quarter. Sirkia slots home 3 penalty kicks in a row as Albany struggle to keep to the referee’s parameters around the ruck and scrum. Middlebury’s dogged poaching, mostly by Kelner and Risinger, leads to Albany’s infractions around the contest area. 52 minutes in and Middlebury is back in the lead 21 – 17.
Shortly thereafter Sirkia almost stretches the lead further with a fourth penalty attempt of the half but narrowly misses. Freshman Geoff Genova ’15 makes his debut for The MCRC at second row when he comes on to replace Nick Derrico ’12.
Then comes a real moment of Middlebury rugby brilliance. A well worked backline play off an nth phase possession gets the ball out wide to Withers who fires the afterburners and blazes past several Albany defenders on the touchline. He is finally brought down 10 meters out but not before he passes back inside to fullback Geoff “King” Kalan ’12 who offloads to Murray running a terrific support line. With all the defense in the vicinity sucked in by Withers and Kalan, Murray has a clear path to the try line. Champagne rugby! Sirkia converts and it’s 29 – 17 Middlebury with 10 minutes left.
In dramatic fashion Albany amps up their play and Middlebury lets unforced errors seep in, all setting the stage for an epic finale. Tempers flair on the New York side when calls do not go their way; still they have the presence of mind to finish off a strong move and score the final try of the game, meaning they pick up a bonus point for four tries – that could make a significant difference when everything is tallied at the end of the year. They fail to convert the try and a few minutes later the game is over. The writer is unsure what happens at the end of the game but the Albany scrumhalf picks up a yellow card on the final play and then a red card in his heated protest. 29 – 22 Middlebury full time.
The Middlebury 2nd XV loses a very close game that they led all the way until the final play when some poor tackling lets them down turning a 20 – 15 lead into a 20 – 22 loss. Great game nonetheless by fullback Emile Landers Carnal ’12 who has speed to spare and an out of hand bomb of a boot. Middlebury will be excited by the development of their young players: the standout performance is by scrumhalf Alec Mackenzie ’15, whose quick step and passing on attack sparks the scoring and he does not miss a tackle no matter the size advantage of his opponent.
Bye weekend coming up so a chance for injured players to return. Two weeks Middlebury will take on U-Conn at home.
Line-up: Wysota, Powers, Hoffman, Hawley, Derrico (Genova 60), Carlberg (Murray 38), Risinger, Kelner (c), Sirkia (c), Song, Mugo (Withers 22), Norton, Schreiber, Maher, Kalan
- Tries: Sirkia , Murray
- Conversions: Sirkia – 2 for 2
- Penalties: Sirkia – 5 for 9
- 1st cap (competitive): Hawley, Genova, Carlberg
- 1st try (competitive): Murray
- Sahir Iqbal ’08, Sam Tormey ’09, Mike McKenna