Men's rugby clinches entry into national tourney

by Dana LaMendola | 11/18/05 6:00am

This weekend the Dartmouth Rugby Football Club was the runner-up in the Northeast Championship, clinching a spot in the National Championship to be held this spring. Dartmouth rugby fell to Army in the Northeast Championship Final on Sunday after winning the quarterfinal against the University of Buffalo Saturday afternoon in Amherst, Mass.

In the match against Buffalo on Saturday, Dartmouth opened the scoring in the 11th minute of the contest as a scrum on their attacking 22-meter line resulted in a well-run crash ball that was recycled to junior center Aziz Sayigh '07. Sayigh streaked into the corner of the try zone and was able to center it. An easy conversion from co-captain fullback Andrew Caspary '06 made the score 7-0.

After repelling several effective Buffalo attacks in Dartmouth territory, the men in green took control of the match by marching down the field with several strong backline plays. Ultimately, a penalty in the 17th minute on the Buffalo 10-meter line gave captain flyhalf Jesse Blom '06 the score in the corner, making the tally 12-0.

For the remainder of the half the teams settled in, both trying to run the ball on each other. Both teams played strong defense as the backlines dueled for much of the contest. The University of Buffalo was able to come away with a penalty kick in the closing minutes of the first half to make the score 12-3 at the break.

The beginning of the second half remained a defensive battle as both teams would periodically drive deep into the other's territory only to be pushed back or lose possession. Dartmouth broke the stalemate in the 70th minute when center Scott Penner '06 took the ball to the corner of the try zone on a 30-meter dash for the score. The University of Buffalo was able to punch it into the try zone at the end of the match, as the scrumhalf dashed over a ruck to make the final 17-10.

With only an evening's rest, the championship match was held on Sunday afternoon in Amherst. Army came into the final match with a perfect record and the top seed in the Northeast Rugby Union. Dartmouth came in as the No. 2 seed with a record of 8-1. Dartmouth's only previous blemish on its season record came in a 30-25 loss at the opening of Dartmouth rugby's new Corey Ford Rugby Clubhouse. The teams were set to clash yet again, but this time for the title.

While Dartmouth had great momentum coming into the game, the men in green faced a strong Army side and ended up on the short end of a 37-7 score. Dartmouth looked promising in the opening minutes as the squad managed to retain possession and drive deep into Army territory. But when Army managed to gain possession, it capitalized on a fractured Dartmouth defense and found the try zone.

Despite continued Dartmouth offensive pressure, the Army defense remained a solid wall. Army managed to find the try zone again in the half, and the Army kicker was accurate converting both tries and kicking two penalties. The score was 20-0 at the half and Dartmouth went into the break still searching for a way to break the Army defense.

With the wind now at their backs, the Dartmouth ruggers hoped to find more success in the second half against the Black Knights. However, the half did not open in favor of Dartmouth, as the Army eight-man took the ball from the back of a scrum and the quick recycle allowed Army to find the try zone again early in the half. Another try later in the half made the score 30-0.

With time running out on Dartmouth's chances, Sayigh took the ball after a well-run lineout got through the hands of the backline. He then found a seam in the Army line and was able to turn the corner on their back three.

"We knew that their one weakness was their speed out wide, and on this play we were finally able to exploit that," Sayigh said. Fullback Caspary made good on the try with a kick, making the score 30-7. With about fifteen minutes left in the match, it seemed unlikely that Dartmouth would be able to overcome the deficit in the confines of such a narrow pitch and under the pressure of a blistering Army defense. In the closing minutes of the match, Army was able to come away with a try, making the final 37-7.

While the Dartmouth men were disappointed with the loss, they were pleased to clinch the second Northeast seed in the 2006 Collegiate USA Rugby Championships. The runner-up trophy gives the men in green the No. 11 seed in the round of sixteen to be held this spring from Apr. 21-23 at West Point, NY. Dartmouth will face the No. 6 seed Midwest champion Ohio State in the first round of the tournament.

Dartmouth faced the brawny Ohio State side while on April's spring tour in a tough loss during the first round of the 2005 Cal Invitational Tournament in Berkley, Calif. The Dartmouth men have a strong opponent in front of them -- a fact that they will certainly be pondering over this blustery Hanover winter.