Penn State overcame Middlebury’s impressive homefield advantage to beat the Panthers 34-12 in the American Collegiate Rugby Championship semifinals Saturday in Middlebury, Vt. The Nittany Lions’ trip marked the first of any Penn State team’s to Middlebury, and the reception was fitting.
“Pretty much the whole student body was there. It was a great college rugby atmosphere. They have a great pitch, it’s a great little town, pretty campus, and they have a tremendous rugby atmosphere,” said Penn State coach Don Ferrell.
“It was hundreds of people watching the match behind their team. When you kicked the ball on their sideline or had something going on their side of the field, it was tough to hear.”
Middlebury rode the excitement through a solid first half. The Panthers jumped on the board early with a converted Alan Stafford try following a five-meter scrum. Standout inside center Jake Feury put the Panthers in position for the prime set piece with a breakaway run.
Penn State flanker Malcolm May got the Nittany Lions on the board with an unconverted try, and Middlebury put up another try off of a scrum to re-extend its lead to 12-5. Penn State No. 8 Joe Corrado then added a converted try to bring the Nittany Lions level at 12-12, which is how the half would finish.
The second stanza was all Penn State, to the tune of 22-0. While Penn State had succumbed to Middlebury’s dominance in the scrum, the Nittany Lions were better in the lineout, and that helped in the second half. Middlebury would kick for touch and PSU would steal possession, and the Nittany Lions managed to put together a couple of impressive mauls off the lineout.
“In the second half guys really started playing the pattern, started picking things up, and we defended a little better and started to assert our will,” said Ferrell. “They put a lot of pressure on our scrum. I thought they kind of had the upper hand in the scrum, but we had a really good day in the lineouts.”
Flanker Gabe Tupper parlayed one of PSU’s big mauls into a try to open second-half scoring, and wing Ben Janssen scored another. Prop John Hellmann converted a second maul into a try, and lock Dan Metcalf scored the game’s final try.
Penn State came into the contest knowing it had to slow down Feury, whose brother, Blaze, was manning Penn State’s Twitter account during the contest. Blaze, usually the Nittany Lions starting flyhalf, has been injured most of the season. Jake considered playing with his brother at Penn State, but chose Middlebury so he could also kick for the football team.
“We watched some video. [Jake] has seen us play a lot. His parents go back and forth between both games,” said Ferrell.
“His very first touch of the day he went through, broke the line and had like a 30- or 40-meter break but got tackled and wasn’t able to finish the play, which was kind of disappointing in that we knew he was one of their main focus guys and we had worked on that all week, but after that they did a real nice job of keeping him in check as much as we could. And if you’re able to corral him a little bit, they do a lot of playing off of him, so that causes a little problem in their attack.”
Penn State will now face rival Kutztown in the ACRC final Dec. 7. The Golden Bears beat the Nittany Lions 27-26 Oct. 12. Kutztown beat Bowling Green 46-11 Saturday to advance to the final.
Penn State 34
Tries: Metcalf, Corrado, Hellmann, May, Tupper, Janssen
Cons: Baker (2)
Tries: Stafford, Unknown