Sweet Sixteen invite calls for a celebration for DRFC
AMHERST, Mass., Nov. 14 -- It was a weekend of unpredictable weather and delays at the Northeastern Rugby Union Final Four, held this year at UMass Amherst. Because of snow that arrived Friday night, the planned two-day tournament was moved to Sunday, so each of the four teams played two shortened matches in a single day, resting for only an hour in between.
In a strong showing, the Dartmouth rugby team split its two matches, beating Boston College in the first, 18-8, but falling to perennial powerhouse Army, 46-0, in the second. Though no doubt disappointed to lose to Army by such a large margin, the Dartmouth players could nonetheless find consolation in the fact that they had finished in second and thus secured the second of two berths to represent the Northeast at the national Sweet Sixteen in the spring.
"This is the best we have done in five years," said captain Erik Richardson '05, referring to the last time Dartmouth reached the national tournament. "Today we had a chance to play the two teams we lost to in the regular season. We couldn't have asked for a better opportunity to avenge our loss to BC."
Victory over BC in the first round did not guarantee advancement to nationals, however, because of the peculiar rules of the Final Four, which stipulate that the team to do the best head-to-head against the overall winner comes in second. While Dartmouth advanced to play Army in the final round, BC played the University of Buffalo, which had lost to Army in the first round. Because Dartmouth ended up losing to Army, if Buffalo had beaten BC, point differential would have determined which team, Dartmouth or Buffalo, would advance to nationals. However, BC beat Buffalo, ensuring that Dartmouth qualified for the Sweet Sixteen, regardless of the outcome of its match against Army.
Dartmouth's first match against BC proved to be a nail-biter, with numerous scoring opportunities for both teams. While BC stuck to their usual tactic of using large forwards to make successive short runs and hammer their way down the field, Dartmouth relied on its fast and shifty backs to make major breaks into the open field, consolidating the offense in their wake.
With two accurate penalty kicks in the first 20 minutes of the game, Dartmouth fullback Andrew Caspary '06 propelled the team to an early 6-0 lead. However, seconds before halftime, the BC forwards answered by stuffing the ball into the try zone after a number of short carries. Because the BC kicker failed to convert the kick, Dartmouth entered half time clinging to a slim 6-5 lead.
Dartmouth's first try came six minutes into the second half, and was the result of hard running by the team's forwards. Richardson and hooker Dave Grey '05 carried the ball to within 10 meters of the BC try zone, at which point prop Joe Boswell '06 picked the ball out of a ruck and snuck it into the try zone, surprising even himself with the deftness and finesse of his gentle movements.
Dartmouth struck again with 10 minutes left in the game as a result of a prolonged multi-phase attack. In the final phase, outside center Brad Hogate '05 broke several tackles to reach the try zone and put Dartmouth up 18-8.
Throughout the match, BC kept pressure on the Dartmouth defense, which improved as the game developed, culminating in a successful goal line stand as the clock wound down.
Only an hour later, the fatigued Dartmouth team faced a tougher challenge in their well-rested Army opponents. In its first match against the University of Buffalo, Army had fielded many of its reserves, allowing several players to rest for the final match. Unfortunately, Dartmouth did not play near the level it had in the first game, and Army was able to capitalize on numerous defensive mistakes in the Dartmouth back line. Dartmouth's defensive letdowns were matched by an inability to execute plays on offense when faced with a crunching Army defense.
"They thoroughly dominated the game," said Grey. "We were stuck in a rut, unable to execute. It's clear we have a lot of work to do." Indeed, Army tallied an impressive 19 points in the first half and another 27 in the second, as Dartmouth's defensive breakdowns accumulated late in the game. Dartmouth, on the other hand, only came close to scoring on a few occasions, before yielding the ball on each occasion.
While disappointed, the team is left with a sense of accomplishment because of how far it has come this fall. It began the season with a loss to BC by a margin of 20 points, and finished it with a 10-point victory over that same team. Sunday's victory was also Dartmouth's sixth-straight win -- an impressive late-season run when, at any point along the way, a loss would have meant elimination from post-season contention. As it stands, Dartmouth will return in the spring as the ninth seed in the national tournament.
According to team leaders, the loss to Army will serve as motivation to work hard over the long winter months. "It gave us a good sense of where we need to be in order to compete at the next level," said Richardson. "Today we didn't compete at that level. I know [coach] Alexandre [Magleby] will work us this winter so that we can be there this spring."