It wasn’t pretty, but the Chicago Lions escaped Pool D unscathed Saturday at Founder’s Field in Pittsburgh, Pa. Denver, Schuylkill and Old Mission Beach Athletic Club provided tests, and the Lions scored when it counted.
In its opening game against Denver, Chicago faced a tough, organized defense. Still, Chicago managed two first-half tries and a 12-0 lead at the break. Tanner Barnes scored both, and they were well earned.
In the second half, Denver found a little more success on offense. Lacking much of a line-breaking threat early, Kyle Hitt provided some punch off the bench. It was his long break that led to a Lions penalty and a Maximo de Achaval try. Unconverted, the Barbos trailed by just one score. Denver got possession again with an attacking lineout near Chicago’s 22, but the throw was not straight, ending the Barbos’ final threat.
Both teams adhered to their patterns pretty well in that game, and Denver continued to most of the rest of the day, while Chicago regressed. The Barbos were dominant in the restart in a 24-7 win over Schuylkill River – a loss there would have ended Cup Quarterfinal hopes for Denver – and they poured it on OMBAC in the final round, 35-7.
Chicago barely eked out a 12-5 win over OMBAC and needed a little bit of extra time and some luck to oust Schuylkill River in their Day One finale. Skill, 1-1, needed to beat the Lions and secure a good point differential to hold onto hopes of reaching the Cup Quarters. A tie might have worked, too, if Denver lost to OMBAC. Of course, the Barbos won that game, but that was not known during the Chicago vs. Skill match and the drama was thick.
Thanks to a 19-point run on either side of halftime, Skill led 19-12 with two minutes to play, and then Dan Wright slipped in under the posts for what seemed like the tying try, pending a conversion. Peter Tiberio quickly lined up the easy kick and hurriedly banged the ball off the right post, leaving Chicago down two with little time on the clock. It appeared then that Tiberio had left the door open for a three-way tie atop the pool table to be decided by math.
But, it wouldn’t end that way, as time rolled uncomfortably past 14 minutes, with set pieces being allowed to go on, before a stroke of luck hit. 18-year-old reserve Sondai Adjei scored a fortuitous try.
“A ball gets passed to one of our players and it was a bad pass and it hit his shoulder and it rolled off the back of his shoulder and into my hands and I’m just like oh, snap,” said Adjei, describing the play, “and I just started taking off. A guy tried to tackle me, I stepped him and ran until I got past that try line.”
Chicago won the game 22-19, knocking Schuylkill out of Cup contention.
The Lions know they weren’t on top of their game on day one, and that they won’t be able to rely on the bounce of the ball on day two.
“We talked about staying with our system, because today we strayed away from what we normally do when we’re on the field,” said Adjei of the post-game discussion. “We tried to focus in that last game on playing our fundamental rugby that we practice every time.”
Sunday’s first test for the Lions is Atlanta Old White, one of Saturday’s surprised. Atlanta pressured teams into mistakes Saturday, and Chicago would do well to be wary of them. Denver draws defending champs Belmont Shore in their quarterfinal match-up. The Barbarians will have to win the battle at the lineout and keep possession away from Belmont’s many weapons.