The Northeast Championship has taken shape for women’s DII colleges, and New York State has been eliminated from the final four. Top NERFU teams Norwich and Bowdoin, and Met NY leaders Rutgers and Vassar won their quarterfinals yesterday.
The most thrilling match occurred between Rhode Island and Vassar, which held off a second-half surge from URI to win 30-22.
The Vassar scrum played a big role in the team’s first-half dominance. The pack pushed URI around, and with the help of Vassar scrumhalf Margaret Kwateng batting down outlet passes, Rhode Island struggled to establish a solid attacking platform. Two minutes in, a Vassar scrum set up wing O’Mara Taylor’s first of five tries. Taylor also slotted a conversion and penalty to account for all of Vassar’s points.
“The score-sheet may read a 30-point haul for one Vassar player but this victory was truly a total team effort,” Vassar coach Tony Brown said. “O'Mara was very appreciative of the massive efforts of her teammates for getting her the ball time and time again. She rewarded them with some good long runs and obviously deserves her accolades, but there were a multitude of valuable contributions from all areas of the team.”
Vassar took a 17-0 lead when Kwateng quick-tapped through a penalty, pinned her defender, and hit O’Mara for try number three.
URI wasn’t without its opportunities, but a good cover defense allowed Vassar to contain some hard-striking backs, who would make their presence known more so in the second half. URI started to break the line, using a 60-meter breakaway to build some more confidence. The home team continued to work the sidelines and finally found some space for their flyhalf to score, 17-7 into intermission.
Rhode Island had the momentum into the break and made good use of it in the second half. Their flyhalf split defenders and then offloaded in the tackle for the try, 17-12. Vassar responded well, and saw Nichelle Jackson nearly dot down in the try zone. Sustained pressure finally broke URI’s defensive stand, and O’Mara was able to notch her fourth try.
The score re-energized URI. With the help of a vocal hometown crowd, Rhode Island picked up its rucking and scrums, while Vassar struggled with penalties. Riding the rally, URI’s inside center darted through the line for a five-pointer, pulling within five once again, 22-17.
But that wasn’t the end of the URI rally. Led by NRU U23 player Sam Luther, Rhode Island kept up the pressure and played some nice phase play ball. Vassar repelled the tryline attempts for some time, but a tying score was finally dotted down, 22-22.
“This was heart-stopping for the fans of both teams,” Brown recalled. “The last 15 minutes was out and out warfare, as every tackle, every ruck and every scrum was fiercely contested.”
The heightened anxiety might have led to Luther’s late tackle on Kwateng, which set up a Vassar penalty (25-22) and one-man advantage.
Undeterred, URI kept up the attack and nearly scored down the left wing. Tackles from Maddie Zappala kept those game-changing scores from occurring.
But O’Mara’s final try finally put the game out of reach, and Vassar advanced to the final four.
“Both teams deserve credit for a wonderfully exciting game,” Brown said. “It was a fine advert for the women's collegiate game.”
Vassar will play fellow Met NYer Rutgers next weekend in the NRU championship. The two last saw each other during league, when Rutgers won 24-22.