Buffalo stops Big Green stampede into Nationals
BUFFALO--The Dartmouth men's rugby team had high hopes going into Saturday's first-round playoff matchup against SUNY-Buffalo. After winning two must-win games to finish the regular season and put themselves in the playoffs, the Big Green ruggers felt that they had the upper hand against a Buffalo team they had not faced since last season. But a muddy field, eight hours of traveling and a lack of team cohesiveness dashed Dartmouth's playoff hopes as Buffalo pulled out a 20-13 victory.
"It is always tough to finish the season on a loss," senior front rower Jeremy Lepage said. "It is even tougher when it is in the first round of the playoffs against a team we know we could have beaten. But, the comforting part is that the loss wasn't because of lack of effort."
Rain had poured down the night before and Buffalo's field resembled a mud pit. As the Dartmouth team warmed up, it was clear that their quickness would be hindered in these conditions. "Every time I tried to make a cut I fell on my face," winger Robert Huntington '02 said. "Our strength is in our speed and agility in the back line. That was taken away from us because of the weather."
Throughout the first half, Dartmouth failed to generate any offense. While the Big Green dominated possession and territory it was Buffalo that kicked for points on a penalty twenty minutes into the game for the only points scored in the first half.
"Sometimes it looked like we had feet for hands," center Kevin Reavey '02 said. "Every time we would get some momentum we would drop the cold, muddy ball and allow them to regain possession. The conditions weren't ideal, but you can't blame it all on that. We had to adjust and mentally refocus and we didn't do it."
The second half started in the same manner that the first left off as Dartmouth walked down the field and then got pushed back by a tough Buffalo defense. For a 15-minute span to start the second half, the DRFC failed to get into the try zone. "A lot of times I felt like they had an extra four guys out there," senior flanker Doug Heitner said. "They were very good at realigning and it got us frustrated. When we couldn't score for so long we started to lose patience."
Finally, after nearly 55 minutes without scoring the Big Green ruggers put some points on the board. Off a poached ball, captain and fly-half Matthew Sullivan '02 placed a kick right on the goal line, which Huntington recovered and touched down for Dartmouth's first lead of the game at 7-3.
"I think we scored that try and thought that it would all be easier now," co-captain Michael Linchitz '02 said. "We relaxed a bit and it lead to some slipups on defense, which they took advantage of."
Shortly after scoring, Dartmouth was awarded a scrum on their own 40-meter line. The ball squirted out of the scrum on the left side and Buffalo's scrum half scooped it up and, unopposed, sprinted forty meters to put his team up 10-7.
"It was crazy," hooker Chris Lentz '02 said. "One second we are on top and the next they have scored again, and off our scrum no less. "
And it only got worse for the Dartmouth team. On the following sequence, Buffalo poached another ball and, with good support, worked the ball down the sideline to increase its lead to 17-7.
"They were so quick to the ball," second rower James Colligan '02 said. "Every time we went down they were there first. That is how they scored that last try."
The two teams exchanged penalty kicks down the stretch to make the score 20-13 heading into the last minute of play. "All of a sudden we looked at each other and recognized that, unless we played the hero, this was the last minute of our season," second rower Ryan Mannix '02 said. "At the same time, I think there was also a recognition that we were too late."
With one last desperate push down the field Dartmouth tried in vain to even up the score but as winger Andy Lusk '03 was pushed out of bounds, the ref blew the whistle, ending the game and the season.
The DRFC will resume play in the spring as it prepares for the ivy league tournament.
Jacob Osterhout is a scrum half on the Dartmouth Men's Rugby Club.