by Steve Cohen
The inaugural NSCRO South Cup Qualifier was held on the campus of the University of West Florida (UWF) in Pensacola in dry and windy conditions. The participating teams qualified for this playoff event by winning their Conference or Union's Small College league.
When referee Alex Sharland blew the final whistle, Southern Conference Champion Duke University emerged as the South Cup Champion with a hard fought win over the University of North Florida (UNF), the USA Rugby South Champion. In the 3rd place match, 2 late tries by the host club, UWF, the Deep South Conference Champ, gave them a 31-30 win over Sewanee University, the Dixie Conference Champ.
On Saturday in the first semifinal, Duke faced West Florida. 13 minutes into the match a long pass from fullback Dan Turtel to outside center Scott Cara resulted in a try giving Duke the early 5-0 lead. UWF answered right back 2 minutes later when center Michael Parlato stole a ball won by the Duke scrum and offloaded to scrumhalf William Nield who scored. Nate Swartz's conversion gave UWF the 7-5 lead. Midway through the half Duke started to gain more posses and led by 2 tries by flyhalf Tom Cort took a 19-5 halftime lead. Duke kept the defensive pressure on the UWF backs and Scott Cara picked up an errant UWF pass to score 2 minutes into the half. On a broken play a few minutes later, Duke scrumhalf Max Coar scored. Both tries were converted and UWF was down 33 to 5. Winger Ben Cardoza scored for UWF but Duke replied with 3 forward tries. A late UWF try ended the match 55 to 19 in Duke's favor.
In the second semifinal, UNF came out of the gate on fire against Sewanee. Led by prop David Murphy's 2 tries, they took a 14-0 led midway through the half. In the final 10 minutes of the half, tries by Tim Herff, John Hamilton and Joe Eichner gave the Deadbirds a commanding 29-0 halftime lead over the Purple Haze. The second half was much more balanced as Sewanee kept their composure and scored 2 fine tries by Ryan Murphy and Sam Edoung-Biyo. Final score was UNF 41 - Sewanee 12.
On Sunday, the weather was again cloudy and warm, but the wind speed had picked up from Saturday (nothing like Windy Wayne for those who experienced NSCRO in Nebraska in recent years). It was clear the wind was going to be a factor. So tactical kicking could be the key to success. In the opening match for 3rd place, The Purple Haze of Sewanee came ready to play and with the wind at their backs scored just 7 minutes into the match, when captain and fullback Will Oberle picked off a UWF passed and scooted 50 meters for a try. Purple Haze standout wing, Sam Edoung-Biyo, picked up an errant UWF pass and zig zagged 2 defenders for a 30m try. 12-0 to Sewanee. This time the Argos of West Florida responded and 2 minutes later flanker Jake Williams responded with a try. Sebastian Muenchrath notched a PK giving Sewanee a 15-5 lead. Just before halftime, Edoung-Biyo did it again with speed and elusiveness for his second try giving Sewanee a 20-5 halftime lead. The wind was with the Argos in the second half and as expected it played a big factor. 2 early tries by fullback Russell Lee and Jake Williams along with conversions by Mike Parlato brought them within a point of the Purple Haze, 20-19. But Edoung-Biyo had other ideas and utilizing his outstanding running ability scored his 3rd and 4th tries of the match giving Sewanee a 30-19 lead with 8 minutes left in the match. Argo hooker Camden Rogers broke through the Sewanee defense to make it 30-24. With less than 2 minutes to go, replacement Darriel Young scored and with Parlato's conversion UNF was now in front 31-30. The score held up when referee John Colletta blew the final whistle, giving the Argos the come-from-behind win.
The final between the Duke Blue Devils and the North Florida Deadbirds was expected to be a good one. The match lived up to expectations. Playing with the wind in the first half the Deadbirds' flanker Dennis Yarizadeh plowed over from a ruck just 7 minutes into the match to make it 5-0. Most of the first half saw UNF on attack but a stalwart defense and uncommon handling errors kept them from scoring for the rest of the half. Not surprisingly, Duke was able to mount a strong attack with the wind in the second half. When Duke was awarded a 5m scrum, scrumhalf Max Coar used his quickness to score a try to tie the match at 5-5. Less than 2 minutes later Duke flyhalf Tom Cole broke the gainline and fed winger Uki Deane for a try and with Coar's conversion, Duke was up 12-5. The rest of the half found Duke pressuring UNF often and Coar's precision goal kicking resulted in 4 PKs and with their continued strong defense, Duke kept North Florida from scoring whenever they attacked at the goal line, resulting in a final score of 24 to 5.
At the post-final awards ceremony, NSCRO President Steve Cohen presented team and player trophies. Team trophies went to UNF and Duke. The event MVP trophy was awarded to Duke's scrumhalf Max Coar. For the other 3 clubs the NSCRO "Heart & Soul" award of a match ball was given to a senior player who has been an inspiration to his club on and off the pitch.
The recipients were:
Sewanee - Frank Hand
West Florida - Tyler Walker
North Florida - David Murphy
NSCRO wishes to thank UWF, especially Dale Russell and Jake Marg, for hosting an excellent event. Thanks also to referees Alex Sharland, Matt McClure, and John Colletta, along with ARs Doug Jolly, Jason Gruenski, Ray Champion and Steve Gouthro. Event t-shirts were designed and sold by Red Iron Design (www.redirondesign.com).
Duke now advances to the Mid-Atlantic South Region Championship on March 23-24 in Norfolk, VA where they will face Montclair State University in the semifinal. Christopher Newport University plays Gettysburg College in the other semi. The Regional Champion will qualify for the National Small College Championship on April 27-28 at Infinity Park Stadium in Glendale, Colorado. New England College (Henniker, NH) and St. John's University (Collegeville, MN) have already qualified. The final team to qualify with be the PacWest Region Champion. This Regional event will be played on April 6-7 in Glendale.
For more info about NSCRO including playoff details, go to www.nscro.org.
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