Rugby claims Northeast Champs: 20-19 victory over Army gives Big Green near perfect fall season
AMHERST, Mass. For the third year in a row, Army and Dartmouth faced each other in the championship game of the Northeast rugby union. And for the second time in three years, the Dartmouth men's rugby team came away the champs.
Dartmouth qualified for the regional by winning the New England Premier League for the fifth consecutive year. The Big Green advanced to the finals with wins over Norwich and Syracuse. Dartmouth beat Army during the regular season but the Cadets earned their way into the final with victories over Canisius and UConn.
The showdown between the Eastern powers was played in a fierce wind. Army won the toss and elected to go into the wind in the first half. Dartmouth knew they had to use the wind to build a lead to withstand the Army counter attack in the second half.
Dartmouth scored seven minutes into the game. Army was penalized at a ruck and the Green pack ran the ball from 10 meters out. Prop Ray Gilliar '01 ran left, dummied right, and passed to fellow prop Andrew Sweetland '00 who set the ruck just short of the Army goal. Scrumhalf Carlos Escobar '00 dug out the ball and fed co-Captain Kevin Whitcher '99 who went over for the try and a 5-0 Dartmouth lead.
Midway through the second period, Army fumbled the ball at the halfway and Dartmouth recovered. Fullback Scott Whiting '99 ran the ball deep into Army territory. The Green forwards won the ball at the ruck and center Mark Kowalsky '99 went through the Army defense for the try. Whiting's conversion made it 12-0 for the Green. Dartmouth got inside the Army five at the end of the half but Cadets held them out. The question at the break was whether Dartmouth's 12-point lead would hold into the wind during the second half.
The early returns were not promising for the Big Green. Four minutes into the half, Army kicked long and Dartmouth was caught in possession inside their 22. Army recovered the ball and launched a series of attacks from five meters out. Dartmouth resisted but Army finally went over to close to 12-7.
Four minutes later, Army won a Dartmouth scrum, moved into Dartmouth territory, and scored their second try of the half. The conversion gave Army a 14-12 lead and the Big Green had 30 more minutes to play into the wind.
Dartmouth hung on for the rest of the third period and Army was penalized at a ruck on their own 22 early in the fourth. Whiting kicked the penalty for three points which gave Dartmouth a 15-14 lead.
With 10 minutes left, Army missed a penalty kick which would have given them the lead but the Cadets recovered the subsequent drop out. Army sent the ball wide and scored in the corner to take back the lead at 19-15.
As the clock ran down, Whitcher ran the ball to the weak side and passed to winger Jeff Kinkaid '01 who ran down the sideline and passed inside to prop Risana Zitha '99 who advanced the ball further. Zitha passed back to Kinkaid as he was tackled. Kinkaid kicked the ball ahead into the in-goal and won the race for the ball, the try, and the five points which gave Dartmouth the Northeast title by a score of 20-19.
Dartmouth finishes 12-1 on the season. Their only loss was to Bishop's University during the preseason fall tour to Quebec. Dartmouth goes on tour to Italy or Ireland over Spring break and defend their Ivy League championship in early April. Then the Green head to the national round of 16 for the third year in a row.