Four lead changes in the span of 10 minutes and 15 total tries scored ensured that the DII league derby between the Denver Harlequins and Northern Colorado was an action-packed crowd pleaser as the sides battled Saturday at Infinity Park South turf field in Glendale.
After an initial period of forward activity between the 10-meter lines, an unfruitful NoCo clearance found Harlequins fullback Dave Jaeger instead of touch, and he countered well, bearing pressure on Northern Colorado’s interior defensive wall. Ball spun from the loose piece found No. 8 Joe Vitapa, who flippered his way into space inside NoCo’s 10-meter line and fed hard-charging center Steve Klaus at the 22. The speedy five-eighths outdistanced pursuit to touch down, and with Jaeger’s conversion, Denver led by 7-0 after five minutes.
A Denver lineout infringement caused the Flamingos to be awarded a free kick. which flyhalf Mike Staab used to pin the hosts deep in their own end. NoCo was able to turn ball over at breakdown and No. 8 Nick O’Connell scooped the ball from the loose five meters out and bulled his way across for the grounding, and it was 7-5 with seven minutes gone.
Each side exhibited difficulty in securing their own possession at lineout, and with a volatile wind impinging ball grips, the ensuing offensive schemes were scrambled and unsteady until a Staab corner kick had NoCo on the front foot within 15 meters of goal. And it was O’Connell again who angled powerfully off the ruck and dove over for the try, giving Northern Colorado had its first lead, 10-7, at the 17-minute mark.
The Quins came back directly two minutes on. After a turnover at the traveler’s 10 meter line, inside center Alan Kloss burst through a gap and stepped neatly inside a defender en route to a touch down ‘neath the sticks. With the conversion by scrumhalf, Bruce Hook, the Quins had retaken the lead at 14-10.
Slow maulwork by NoCo’s forwards, yet in the correct direction, had them surging with ten to go when scrumhalf Dave Wright finished well a pack rush to goal by touching down and the Flamingos had gone back up, 15-14 at 24.
Three minutes later NoCo was pinged for failure to release at breakdown thirty meters out from goal on the left post. Hook was deadly from that distance and it was 17-15 as the home side regained the lead.
The contest was full-on now with each side making significant ground gains, though turnover ball was affected by blowy gusts and their handmaidens, the knock-on and forward pass.
Harlequins got another from Kloss as the crafty speedster employed dips and jinks for thirty before crossing for the dot and, with Hook’s conversion, it was 24-15 at 37. Denver’s backline began to click and it was Jaeger who corkscrewed through the visitor’s defense to touch down at the whistle for a score of 29-15 Quins at break.
Quins extended their lead at minute 46 when wing Mike Boyle touched down in support of a fluid backline movement and the margin was 36-15 and things seemed a bit desperate for NoCo when flyhalf Shane Milek touched down in corner. With Hook conversion, the numbers were 43 and 15 at 57.
O’Connell got a third and then a fourth try and Wright picked up a brace for the Flamingos, but it was Harlequins who had this day with Boyle and Jaeger each touching down a second and replacement wing Gordon Westmont who got the last for a final of 64-30 to Denver as the clubs go into 10 weeks of winter break.
“Our forwards were committed in loose play and defense, and our backs came to run,” said Harlequins head coach, Mark Price. “Northern Colorado always brings a good team and the competition is always tough.”
Tries: Klaus, Kloss (2), Jaeger (2), Boyle (2), Milek, Westmont;
Con: Jaeger, Hook (7)
Tries: O’Connell (4), Wright (2)