There is nothing wrong with 5th place.
In fact, at the national high school tournaments, a 5th-place team can often make a solid argument that they deserve to be ranked higher, especially if their only loss is to the eventual champions.
In eight-team, multi-bracket playoffs, only one team finishes 3-0 (the champions, of course), but three teams come out of the gauntlet 2-1, the team that finishes 2nd, the team that finishes 3rd, and the team that finishes 5th.
Charlotte Catholic is playing for 5th in the single-school after edging a hard-bitten Brownsburg team 11-10 Friday. Like all the teams playing for 5th, Catholic lost their opening match – in this case a 10-3 heartbreaker to Penn, who are now in the final.
“The first thing we talked about after the first game, and we knew we had a lot of young guys who are having their first experience here, that it’s time to stand up,” said Catholic Head Coach Brendan Keane. “After a loss, and a tough loss at that, who’s going to be counted?”
It was a hugely physical game against a Brownsburg team playing for the memory of their coach, Jeremy Strange, who died in March after his truck was hit by a train. The Brownsburg, now playing for 7th, was drained after the match.
“One kick was the difference in the game,” said Keane. “Brownsburg is a very good team, a very tough team. We were beaten by a kick in the semi last year, and we learned from that. We worked on those things, about how to close out a game. I was glad the guys took that on.”
Catholic was led by outside center Jackson Krone, who superb on defense, but the unsung heroes were prop Murphy Swancy, who picked his game up considerably in the second match and covered the field well, and lock Jacob Brannon and flanker Brady Smith.
“You don’t see their numbers very often because they’re usually on the ground, working hard,” said Keane.
Meanwhile on the other side of the single-school bracket, size-challenged St. Thomas Aquinas team came back to beat Snow Canyon 14-10. Snow Canyon, from Utah, looked the bigger and had some very fast kids, but some desperate tackling by the Kansas City-area team held things close, and then Brendan Nachbar scored a try in each half to get the win for the Saints.
“I think they got tired and we started to spread out instead of everyone getting sucked to the ruck,” said Aquinas coach and former USA prop Tim Kluempers. “And our guys may be littler but we’re just one man, one tackle. They manned up and smashed ‘em. That’s what we try to teach them. Get in their face, don’t let them get any yardage.”
Kluempers said it was a team effort on defense, but also mentioned flyhalf Nachbar, and center Zach Martinez as “beasts” on defense.
“Nachbar was by far the man of the match,” said Kluempers.
“Our forwards have a lot of heart, and they’re smart,” said Kluempers. “We try to work on not just ‘you have to ruck’ but also, why you have to.”
And finishing 5th is big.
“Every game you play at this level is important,” said Kluempers. “Not only for the reward for coming in 5th, but also to come away with two wins. Two wins at this level is hard.”
“Winning 5th is big,” said Keane, whose team finished 4th the last two years. “We came here with the goal of winning a national championship, so losing that first game was a big let-down. I told the boys they had two minutes to grieve, and then job #2. The goal we then set was, we’ve never won two games at nationals, so now we have a new goal.”