Middlebury turned heads with a dominant 57-3 defeat of Stony Brook in the American Collegiate Rugby Championship quarterfinals Saturday. The Panthers were on the road as the lower seed, but didn’t concede a try and ran away from the Seawolves from the opening kickoff.
Middlebury found its biggest advantage at scrum time, with the Panthers stealing an overwhelming amount of ball from Stony Brook.
“We played pretty well all around, but our forwards just dominated the set pieces and that was crippling to them in the game,” said Middlebury captain and lock Ben Stasiuk, who dotted down two scores on the day. “It’s pretty tough to lose 90-percent of your own scrums.”
While Middlebury’s pack showed up to play, it was sophomore inside center Jake Feury who converted several scoring opportunities into points. He slotted two penalties to put the Panthers up 6-0 early, crashed through two defenders to score Middlebury’s second try and put up several more points with his boot.
The Panthers are bigger and better in the forwards this year than last, but not because of some huge influx of new players. The addition of forwards coach Junior Tuiqere, who’s coached Burlington’s men for some time, has helped, as has another year of maturity.
“This is probably the best forward pack I’ve seen at Middlebury, which is different than the past, because we’ve been a very backline-oriented team, but this year our forwards have really stepped it up,” said Stasiuk.
“Overall, I think guys have just been putting on weight, really focusing. We’ve really been focusing on that eight spines in line, good form, and I think our form really paid off. It’s not something new for us, we’ve been dominant in the forwards all season, but that was definitely our best performance all season in terms of forwards play.”
Up next for Middlebury is Penn State. The Nittany Lions will have to make the trip up to cold Vermont, and Saturday’s result indicates they might be in for a fight.
“We were very excited for the possibility of this happening, and it’s great, because I think we’ll be the only sports team playing at Middlebury that day,” said Stasiuk. “It’ll be amazing to have the opportunity to host Penn State at home. I don’t think that’s ever happened at Middlebury for any sport.”
The Panthers, which lost in USA Rugby’s Round of 16 last year, are benefiting from the fall playoff format, according to Stasiuk. He and co-captain Allan Stafford are graduating in December, so the ACRC has afforded them the opportunity to put a nice lid on their college careers.
“We were pumped to have another go around, so it’s perfect for us. We’re very excited,” said Stasiuk.
“Last season we had a great team as well, a little younger, and we’ve come together. We have some freshmen that have been really showing up, but last year’s team was a bit younger. Last year’s spring was a very, very cold spring. We were beat up. Going into the playoffs, it had been a long year. So it’s been great to carry the momentum from the fall season because we’ve never had the chance to do that.”