By ANASTASIA GEORGIADES
Nov. 8, 2013
Last Saturday, the Allegheny College men’s rugby team faced off against the Robert Morris University Colonials in their first playoff game of the season.
The team finished the regular season undefeated and did surrender a score to an opponent all season long. In a single-elimination round, the Gators fell to the Colonials with a final score of 28-31.
Outnumbered both in players and size, the Gators fought to gain control of the field throughout much of the first half, surrendering two tries and a field goal to the Colonials.
While the Colonials dominated early in the game, it gave the Gators an opportunity to notice a prominent weak spot within the Colonials’ offense—tackling.
“Even though Robert Morris had a team of guys that could run the ball very well, their tackling was something we could exploit,” said Nick Allen, ’16.
Regardless of their disadvantage, the Gators took full advantage of the holes in the Colonials’ offense.
Paul Willison, ’16, aided the team with his strong tackling presence, scoring two of the team’s four tries. After receiving the ball from the scrum, Willison was able to break numerous tackles, pushing the Gators closer toward the try zone.
With the addition of his two tries late in the first half, Willison quickly brought the Gators back into the game, closing the gap to eleven points.
Kicking the conversion on Willison’s two tries was junior Ryan Spinelli. Making both conversions, Spinelli was able to close the gap even further, reducing it to a mere seven points at the half.
The start of the second half brought a promising outlook for the Gators, but it didn’t lead them out of the woods just yet. Fifteen minutes into the second half, the Gators lost Greg Bras, ’17, and Kevin Nowakowski, ’16, to a broken ankle and a possible concussion.
“As a first year rugby player, I wasn’t really sure what to expect,” said Bras. “I had never watched a game before, let alone played one but from the opening kickoff of our first match versus [Penn State] Behrend to my last drive of the playoff game, I loved every minute of it.”
Now down three crucial players with fifteen minutes in the match remaining, the Gators had no choice but to rethink their strategy.
“We had to transition from focusing on our strong forwards to getting the ball out to our faster wings and backs,” said Allen.
If the change in strategy didn’t seem like enough to motivate the Gators, the sheer desire to win for their injured teammates surely did. With six minutes left in the match, Nowakowski re-entered the match, replacing Allen who left with a twisted ankle.
It was Nowakowski’s try, followed by a try scored by Emanoel DeJesus, ’14, that fired up the team spirit, closing the gap to a meager three points. However, the clock ran down before the Gators entered field goal range, ending the game and ensuing a devastating loss for the Gators.
When asked why the Gators thought they were able to clinch a playoff berth, sophomore Nate Webber attributed it to the dedication of the team.
“We came together really well as a team this season,” said Webber. “We worked hard during practice and I think that’s why we were able to win games against teams larger than us.”
The Gators suffered the loss of senior Michael Russin, a crucial player, late in the season due to a leave of absence. However, it seemed that Russin’s absence empowered the team to win even more.
“He’s a great teammate,” said Spinelli. “He motivated the team and was an all around nice guy. It was definitely a collective loss for this team. We’re all missing a great player and a great friend.”
When asked about his time spent as president of the Allegheny College Men’s Rugby team, Russin spoke highly of his teammates.
“I am honored to have served as the leader of the Allegheny men’s rugby club,” said Russin. “I think, however, that the fact we were not only undefeated but also remained unscored on is a testament that every single member of the team was a leader in their own capacity.”
While the Gators didn’t clinch a spot at Regionals, senior captain John Kauffman didn’t discredit the achievements that brought he and his teammates this far.
“All you can ask for by the end of the season is that the organization is in a better place than where it started, and that’s what we’ve accomplished,” said Kauffman.
The Allegheny College men’s rugby team looks forward to coming back in spring 2014 for their exhibition season.