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901 Holds Off Raptor to Win Tennessee

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901 Holds Off Raptor to Win Tennessee

William Toy works the attack for 901.

The Tennessee State Championship went to 901 this past weekend after the Memphis-area team held off Raptor Rugby 24-22.

These two teams were meeting up for the second time in two years and also faced off in the fall, 2022 7s final.

In the first several minutes, both sides were finding it difficult to get momentum due to defensive line speed from both clubs. Miscues from both backlines saw turnovers, leading to many set pieces. One of 901’s biggest Achilles heels in recent years had been lineouts. They lost their first two lineouts in this game, but both times it was in Raptor territory so it didn't cost them much. After that, however, hooker Duncan Hornsby found his timing with the jumpers, and 901 didn’t lose another lineout all game.

Around the 8th minute, senior outside center Brady Weatherly was able to crack the Raptors backline and score from 15 metes. George Vezina slotted the conversion, putting 901 up 7-0.

A few minutes later Weatherly intercepted a Raptor pass and ran it in for a try from 35 meters out. However, as he touched it down he was penalized for taunting the opposition. No try and Raptor Rugby was able to clear. More bad news for 901 as captain and scrumhalf Caleb Schmidt appeared to fracture his wrist. He was off and backup Mason Green came on.

Green hadn't played in many high-pressure situations but he had performed well on the team's tour to New Orleans, during which he went 8-for8 on kicks for goal. Green handled the pressure extremely well, delivering quality ball the entire match and kicking to touch effectively. 

Shortly after the disallowed try, the Raptors got front foot on the ball and scored twice to take the lead 10-7.

The second half saw lead changes, momentum shifts, and plenty of impressive rugby. Captain and Naval Academy commit Ian Bullock took multiple Raptors for a ride before offloading to Garret Hagan, who drew a defender and then passed to wing Andrew Macy for the try.

Now 901 led 12-10. Minutes later, Raptor regained possession on a try awarded in the corner. A Raptors player dotted down the ball as 901 senior Landon Seward was tackling the ballcarrier into touch. It was a bang-bang play leading to a discussion between the referee and his assistant referee. The try was eventually confirmed resulting in a lead of 15-12.

The next several minutes produced several possession changes in the middle of the pitch. Then, 901 broke the stalemate after winning a holding-on penalty and then got another 10 meters for Raptor delaying the tap.Bullock popped a perfectly-weighted kick over the Raptors defensive line. He chased it down and regathered at pace and was through for the try. Another lead change and 901 was up 17-15.

Off the restart, Vezina replied with a kick-and-chase of his own. The 901 support was able to apply pressure and steal the ball; after that 901's forwards bashed forward while Raptor held firm. Finally Raptor was penalized and Bullock tapped quickly and was under the posts for a 24-15 lead.

Raptor kept going, getting under the restart and forcing a penalty by 901. No. 8 Nick Orefice tapped quickly and charged in under the posts. Scrumhalf Lars Curlin converted and it was a two-point game.

Raptor got the ball back shortly after the restart and once again attacked. However, 901 defended doggedly, led by Gram Nichols and Ben McCall, and their tackles led to a Raptor knock-on. The final whistle was blown.

There were plenty of big performances, including fullback Jack “Sip” Sipniewski, who made several try-saving tackles and countered well on his kicks. Green, thrust into the scrumhalf role, was excellent. Center Will Grant was huge defensively, while game MVP was Bullock, who scored the game winning try, was a force with ball in hand, and had a handful of dominant tackles behind the gainline.

“Our boys played some of their best rugby of the season against Ravenwood," said Head Coach Rob Reetz. "We tested them early this season with matches against Bixby and St. Thomas on back-to-back days, then a tour of New Orleans where we played Brother Martin, Jesuit-New Orleans, and Woodlands on back-to-back-to-back days. The coaching staff challenged our players with over 500 miles of out-of-practice running this season, and their acceptance of all the challenges paid off. I want to thank Kevin Roedel, Director of 901 Rugby, for giving me the opportunity to coach this team and entrusting me with the team after he stepped down from the head coach role. A big thank you to our players and their parents. Our club wouldn’t be what it is, without you all."