In 2002, the men’s rugby team lost the division title to the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in a bloody battle that hospitalized captain Matthew Block ’03. This time around, the Bulldogs did not suffer any injuries, but they still felt the pain.
Yale lost the 2003-2004 New England Rugby Union Tournament division title to USCGA in a low-scoring 16-3 match Saturday at the IM fields. For the second consecutive season, USCGA has won the NERU division title. Down but not out, the Bulldogs’ first XV now has a few days to regroup before facing off against Middlebury College Oct. 25 for a place in the North Eastern Championships.
Against USCGA (5-0), the Bulldogs (4-1) exhibited a solid defense, allowing only two tries, the lowest number of tries scored by USCGA in a game this season. USCGA averaged 42.5 points per game entering the title fight against Yale.
Having struggled with slow starts throughout the season, the Bulldogs once again failed to show their aggressiveness against a strong, fast and organized military squad. In the early minutes of play the Elis were sloppy, allowing USCGA to score their first try from a line-out only 12 minutes into the first half.
The opening try functioned as a wake-up call for the Elis, who picked up their pace immediately. Winger Michael Freedman-Aponte ’05 had a solid game at the back with excellent tackles that slowed down the speedy USCGA team at crucial times.
Unfortunately, another Yale turnover let USCGA score its second snitch on the half-hour mark and extend its lead to 10-0.
“It [the loss] was disappointing” Matt Reagan ’05 said. “We beat ourselves in making too many mistakes.”
However, after USCGA missed both of their conversions, fly half Mike Marion ’03 converted a penalty for the Bulldogs right before halftime, cutting the margin to seven and giving the Bulldogs some hope for a second half comeback.
Much of the second half was dominated by “kick and chase” plays from both teams. The Elis matched their opponent in every aspect of the game but failed to capitalize on quality opportunities every time they penetrated into USCGA’s territory. USCGA put the game and the division title beyond doubt when they converted two penalties in the last 10 minutes of the half.
“We played really well in the second half, especially on the defensive end,” captain Matt Pawlowicz ’04 said after the game. “We just couldn’t follow through on our good plays, and that cost us the game.”
During the closing stage of the match, Yale had its best opportunity to score a try when Reagan passed the ball to prop Dong Jeon ’05, but Jeon was unable to score the try even though he was one step away from the line.
Despite the loss, the Bulldogs have qualified for the postseason tournament on the strength of their record. Yale finished the season in second place in the league.
The Elis will travel to Middlebury this weekend to play in the two-game qualification tournament for North Eastern Championships. The top three teams out of four will qualify for the championship. The title winner will then advance to the nationals.
Yale will play its first game against Middlebury, which clinched the Northern division title, on Oct. 18. The Elis will then face off against either Colby College or USCGA on Sunday.
“Middlebury will be just as hard as USCGA, if not harder,” club president Jason Park ’04 said. “But we could’ve and should’ve beat USCGA.”
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