The Challenger Final in the USA 7s CRC is always an important game, as it rewards teams that perhaps didn’t have the best day on Saturday, but can play.
And learn. Both the finalists Sunday at PPL Park showed throughout the day that they had learned a little about organizing their defenses, playing tactical 7s rugby, and taking scoring chances when they could.
Florida showed they had a plan in mind against Maryland, kicking off deep and working their defense to force the Terrapins into a mistake. But in fact, Maryland got out of it. The Maryland players worked very hard to keep the rucks working, and then the skilled Matthew Quigley was able to burst through a gap and go long range for a try which, with a Matias Cima conversion, put his side up 7-0.
Florida answered right back, and very simply, working a phase and then sending the ball to wing Joshua Nicdao, and he showed another part of the learning process – when you have the corner and no support, keep running as hard as you can. Nicdao scored.
Florida pressured again off the restart, but had difficult containing Quigley, who flyh-hacked a loose ball downfield, and later chipped ahead to start an attack that was stopped just short of the line.
That defensive stand by Maryland produced dividends, and they run through contact up the right side, sent the ball out to Jordan Manning, who offloaded to Nicdao for the speedy wing’s second. Florida 10, Maryland 7 at halftime.
The next lesson learned seemed to be, take what they give you. Maryland bottled Florida up along one sideline, so that’s what the Gators took, trundling up the tramline with Brett Stubbs and Mike Breske working all the way down to the Florida line. They were held up, but from the scrum it was a simple case of inside-outside and Breske capped it off in the corner. 15-7 Florida.
It was ball movement, even in cramped space, that made the try for the Gators.
Ball movement was the issue for Maryland. With the ball they took a little too long to set the ball free to their open men. Eventually that meant too many rucks and a turnover for Florida. No try for the Gators, but Maryland found themselves back in their 22 again.
Florida just kept tackling, and the power of their hits drove Maryland further back, and eventually produced a penalty for the Gators 15 meters out with 75 seconds to go. That looked to be the death knell, and Maryland needed to score in that possession to have a shot. Instead it was Gator time. Lucas Baistrocchi looped around and took the corner to seemingly put the game away 20-7.
Maryland had one more thing to say, as they spun the ball to Karl Rempe, who sped 60 meters to paydirt. The conversion was good, and that made it 20-14. With four seconds to go, Maryland had one more play to try to win it, however, Florida controlled the restart and kicked the ball out.
For Florida the win capped off a tournament where they finished 4-2, beating Maryland twice, Temple and NC State once, and losing to Delaware close and Dartmouth 28-0.
Tries: Nicdao 2, Breske, Baistrocchi
Tries: Quigley, Rempe
Convs: Cima 2