On Saturday March, 9, three days after “ The Blizzard that never happened” in the Mid-Atlantic, The Naval Academy Midshipmen hosted the Hokies from Virginia Tech.
The new bleachers at the Brigade Sports Complex Turf Pitch were filled with vocal Tech Supporters who seemed to outnumber the Navy fans 2 to 1. Kickoff at noon happened under a cloudless, blue Sky with temperatures in the 60s. It was the first perfect day for Spring Rugby this year.
The Va. Tech squad started the match strong, holding the ball for several phases and working the rolling maul before being awarded a penalty kick in Navy territory. Hokie flyhalf Nick Caron made good on the kick and Tech took its only lead of the game 3-0. Later, Navy flyhalf Jack McAuliffe missed a penalty kick moments later, but soon after that, Navy scrumhalf Ricky Feller broke away on a long ramble, setting up Navy’s first good scoring opportunity. But a strong Hokie defensive stand held up Navy No.8 Chris Rixie at the tryline. Feller, who is usually more of a dominant force for Navy, was mostly held in check by Tech's #9, Michael O’Brien. O’Brien played a hard-hitting game and often disrupted the Navy scrumalf's service from the scrum.
At only 10 minutes into the match, Va. Tech suffered its first of over seven injuries on the day, as Caron was forced to leave the game with a shoulder injury. Tech Coach Andy Richards shifted his backline and brought in freshman Thomas Haskell on the wing. Haskell ended up contributing two tries to the Hokies' efforts. This is Haskell's first season of rugby, having been a high-school football standout. His older Brother, Andrew Haskell, is a junior at Virginia Tech and played on the opposite side. He ended up scoring the most spectacular try of the game. Richards said he expects the Haskell boys to be a factor for the next few years.
Navy finally did get a try, using their forwards to overpower a smaller Tech pack. Against they were held up, but eventually Tech was penalized for collapsing the scrum, and Navy send freshman flanker Dan Gallien in for the try.
Despite a strong defensive performance by The Hokies, who also won most of the lineouts on the day, and a good running and kicking game by Tech fullback Bryan Kelly, Navy soon scored again when sophomore flyhalf Jack McAulliffe took it in under the posts after a show -and-go. McAuliffe then converted his try to make it 14-3 Navy.
After Navy was penalized for hands in the ruck, Va. Tech lock Michele Minchelo stepped up to take the kick in place of the injured Caron. He was good on that kick, and Tech was on a bit of a roll aided by an offside call against Navy. Tech kicked ahead and Thomas Haskell fielded the kick and broke away on a long sideline run to post it in the corner.
With just a few minutes left in the 1st Half, a Navy prop, who was warned earlier in the match about a possible dump tackle, was shown a red card by referee Jason Wallach, and Navy was forced to play without him for the rest of the game. Before the end of the half, Navy scored shorthanded when outside center Nick Hancock ran in for the score.
The scoring in the second Half began with another great run by Navy flanker Gallien that set up a try by the Navy forwards and grounded by lock John Thornton. Navy No.8 Chris Rixey then got the try he was denied earlier when he ran straight under the posts through a loose Hokie defense.
Virginia Tech scored next on the most exciting play of the afternoon when fullback Bryan Kelly kicked the ball ahead after a long jaunt and it was fielded in-goal and in the air by Andrew Haskell. The kick after was then converted by Hokies prop Kevin Hurley.
That made it 35-18 Navy.
Late in the second half, the The Academy’s superior fitness levels started to wear down the Virginia Tech defense as Navy prop Matt Kelly and inside center Seamus Siefring each added tries. Virginia Tech then picked off an errant pass which set up another try by Thomas Haskell. Then, just before the final whistle the Navy Forwards muscled in another score with Luke Ohman grounding the ball.
Tries: Gallien, McAuliffe, Hancock, Thornton, Rixey, Kelly, Siefring, Ohman
Convs: McAuliffe 6
Virginia Tech 23
Tries: T. Haskell 2, A. Haskell
Pens: Caron, Minchelo
The B-side game, ended Navy 78-Virginia Tech 14.
After the game Virginia Tech coach Andy Richards said; “I expected just what I got. The Navy guys were extremely fit, very solid, straight ahead running and they did all the basic stuff extremely well. I told the guys we had to front them up and match them and I thought for periods we did that. We’ve got some good runners, some good ball-players and we gave them a game.”
Which they did, despite the lopsided score. The Hokies have spent the last few weeks on the road winning; 71-14 at VMI and 38-32 at Maryland and losing a close match in Clemson; 22-18. Tech is now 2 and 2 in Atlantic Coast Rugby League D1-AA play.
Naval Academy Coach Mike Flanagan said: “This is a good rivalry and it has been for many years. When we thought about coming into the ACRL, we knew we would be able to rekindle some of those. It’s exciting for us to go back and play some of our traditional rivals.”
As for the match itself, Flanagan was pleased with certain aspects of Navy's play.
“I thought our team defense was really good," he said. "We were a little loose with the ball and in our looseness they were able to capitalize and scored those three tries; the first three tries we’ve allowed this spring.”
Both Coaches praised the tough play of Senior Midshipman and blindside flanker Andrew Stillchetto who switched to Prop after a teammate was red-carded. Coach Flanagan called him an “Absolute Warrior” and named him Man of the Match.
After drubbing Wake Forest 100-0 last week and this week’s win, Navy is undefeated in the ACRL.