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Binghamton Wins Empire Conference

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Binghamton Wins Empire Conference

SUNY Binghamton is the Empire Conference champion after scoring late to overcome Syracuse 21-20 in a game that encapsulated the conference’s tight, competitive nature.

The Empire was competitive throughout the season, with three of the seven teams 4-2, and the others 3-3. Binghamton finished 1st thanks to bonus points, and Syracuse took second due to a head-to-head tiebreaker. Those two faced off the the championship.

This game was decided by a single point, and in fact, counting the final, nine of the 22 games played were decided by a try or less.

In Saturday’s matchup, Syracuse took an early 3-0 lead with Matt Hoalcraft punishing a penalty for a ruck infraction. The teams battled back and forth for several minutes but then Syracuse captain Angus Bishop surged forward and set up John Tucker for the try. Hoalcraft added the extras for a 10-0 lead. Binghamton continued to get into penalty trouble and Hoalcraft punished them with another penalty and a commanding 13-0 Syracuse lead. 

Binghamton scored through Greg Lenane to make it 13-7, and that was a key score as it kept Binghamton within a try at the break.

“We were getting a lot of penalties at the breakdown,” said Binghamton Head Coach Kevin Dublin. “It took our captain talking with the ref at halftime to find out what we needed to do to stop getting penalties. We decided to get our hands out of there and not try to counter-ruck or poach so much. That worked.”

Dublin said his team had a lot of nervous energy early, and tried to play too much rugby from inside their own half. But eventually they settled down. Lenane’s try, said Dublin, “was fairly critical. It settled the guys.” 

In the second half, Binghamton started to put Syracuse under some pressure, and started to get kickable penalties. Flyhalf Brandon Healy kicked one, and then another to tie it, and then he added a third to give his side the lead for the first time in the match, 16-13 at 55 minutes.

Syracuse didn’t wilt, though. And right after the restart Jake Smith broke a tackle and was in from long range. Syracuse led 20-16, and it stayed that way until the final five minutes. Then Binghamton got a penalty, took the lineout, drove, and ran a series of pick-and-goes. Eventually, wing Hunter Reiter picked up and dove over, and that try won the game.  

For Binghamton, Healey was crucial in his kicking, not only for points, but from the hand. The plan was to pin Syracuse deep, and in the second half the Devils did just that, and the tactic produced points.

“Brandon’s been working on his kicking for over a year and he was huge for us,” said Dublin. Also huge was big prop Nick Coppola, who put in a full day’s work and was relentless in his rucking and set piece efforts.

“We’re excited to win the championship,” said Dublin. “This has been a really competitive conference. We’re excited to see how we do in the playoffs.”

With the victory, Binghamton earns a place in the DIAA playoffs.