Rugby team upsets two-time defending national champion Quinnipiac University

by Evan Morgan | 9/11/17 2:20am


Big Green rugby has arrived. That’s what the team announced Saturday with a 22-17 upset of two-time defending national champion Quinnipiac University. For Dartmouth, a team that has won two straight Ivy League titles but has been eluded by national success, the win announced its championship intentions.

The crowd on hand Saturday filled the deck of the Corey Ford Rugby Clubhouse and carpeted the grass slope above the pitch. A week earlier, the Big Green had scrimmaged Pennsylvania State University, last year’s club national champion, and won 46-17. That effort was the culmination of a preseason’s worth of work.

“We’ve been on campus for about a month for preseason,” Frankie Sands ’18 said. “We practiced five days a week with four lifts a week, so we’ve been out here every day grinding, and when we weren’t practicing, we were recovering.”

The crowd had plenty to cheer during the first half, in which Dartmouth dominated Quinnipiac on the wings and in setpieces. Consistent Big Green pressure forced the Bobcats to spend much of the opening frame defending their own end.

“We’ve talked a lot about our territory game and about how important it is to spend as much time as possible in that area of the field,” head coach Katie Dowty said. “What allowed us to do that is a lot of work on our kicking game, and we also put a lot of focus on our set pieces and we played very aggressive defense.”

Sands, the Sorensen Award finalist who has been a standout since transferring from Norwich University a year ago, drew first blood for Dartmouth.

In the 10th minute, a breakdown just in front of the try zone gave the Big Green its first scoring opportunity. The ball was passed to scrumhalf Kat Ramage ’19, who passed it blind to Sands to go in for an easy try.

Sands would make it 10-0 with another try in the 31st minute. Center Lilly Durbin ’21 threw a bounce pass out to Sands, and Sands beat the Quinnipiac wing to the try zone.

On the ensuing kickoff, the Big Green took control again. Durbin punched in a try in the 34th minute after a Dartmouth quick possession that spanned just three phases of play.

The Bobcats appeared to be on their back foot for most of the half. Part of Dartmouth’s success came from aggressive play in the ruck.

“We have this play called ‘fire,’ where we’re on defense, but we’re basically firing in the ruck and putting as many players in there as necessary,” co-captain Morgan McGonagle ’18 said.

The aggression forced Quinnipiac to advance the ball by kicking, an area of the game in which the Bobcats are not as strong as the Big Green.

“You could see the pressure as the half went on, where they were just kicking out of their half in order to get into our half,” Sands said. “It was an incredible feeling to know that we were putting these two-time national champions under so much pressure that the only thing they were able to do was kick.”

But the defending champions would not go down without a fight. The Bobcats’ Emily Roskopf scored and converted a try in the 47th minute, bringing the deficit to eight.

Dartmouth punched back after the kickoff. As it did for much of the first half, the Big Green kept up the pressure in its attacking third. Dartmouth’s forward pack launched a series of powerful phases of play on the tryline, and finally Idia Ihensekhien ’21 punched in a try. With a conversion from Ramage, Dartmouth took a 22-7 lead.

Late in the game, however, Dartmouth settled into a more defensive posture. After losing a player to a yellow card, the Big Green stepped back in the second half, according to McGonagle.

At the same time, Quinnipiac seemed to regain a bit of an edge. The Bobcats punched in a try in the 66th minute and added another in the 75th minute. That brought the score to 22-17. Another Bobcat try would tie the match, and a conversion would give Quinnipiac the victory.

“At that point, we were feeling it,” Sands said. “I looked to my coach, and she looked back at me and said, “[Sands], there’s seven minutes left.” And I said, ‘You’re right, there’s seven minutes left,’ and I looked at everyone else, and I said, ‘Ball security, guys.’”

Defense has been a point of strength for the Dartmouth program, and as the minutes ticked away, the Big Green defense held. The referee’s watch went off. Flyhalf Camille Johnson ’19 took hold of the ball and kicked away, and the game was won.

Several members of Dartmouth’s latest recruiting class flashed their skills on Saturday. Durbin and Ihensekhien each scored their first collegiate try. Ihensekhien and Rylee Stone ’21, both tight five forwards, were key in Dartmouth’s dominance of setpieces in the first half.

“That’s a really important thing when you’re talking about creating an attacking platform or winning possessions,” Dowty said. “That allowed us to have our strengths out wide shine even more.”

Dartmouth has another difficult test to come. The U.S. Military Academy, its next opponent, was ranked third in the preseason National Intercollegiate Rugby Association coaches’ poll. But with the statement win against the Bobcats, who were ranked first in the country and had not lost a 15s game in two seasons, the Big Green feels confident.

“The past couple years, the team has been building and building, and we have this really good energy, because it feels like we can break through the top teams,” McGonagle said.

After the game, one fan put it differently.

“If you find anyone that does it better than Big Green, let me know,” she shouted.