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Delaware Finishes Season in Style at Bowl Series

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Delaware Finishes Season in Style at Bowl Series

Delaware Finishes Season in Style at Bowl Series

The University of Delaware Blues Hens finished off their fall with their first win of the season, and perhaps turned a corner.

Delaware, which finished last in the Rugby East, faced off with Empire Conference #3 Fordham Sunday in a U Rugby Bowl Series game. For Fordham, it was a chance to play a high-profile game at the end of the season - desirable especially after they had missed out on the Empire title game. For Delaware, an 0-9 season (0-8 in Rugby East) had been the almost inevitable result of the suspension they had suffered four years ago. The five-year suspension forced players to transfer, and killed their recruiting, and even though the suspension was finally reduced to two years, the Blue Hens didn’t have a large group from the classes of 2017 and 2018 moving in to provide continuity.

But they didn’t play poorly, either. Delaware opened their season with a 15-12 loss to Rutgers, a team that ended up #2 in the Keystone. They scored 22 on Buffalo, 19 on Kutztown, and 24 against both St. Bonaventure and West Virginia.

See Full Game of Delaware v Fordham Here.

That last game against WVU was a real blow, because it guaranteed last place in the conference, Head Coach Struan Murray was displeased with the overall performance in that game, but told his players that for Sunday’s Bowl Game, they just needed to play.

“This was a chance for us to get a win, yes, but also enjoy it, play the way we can play, and enjoy the event,” said Murray.

See Video Interview with Delaware's Tom Abram Here.

And that’s what they did. Against Fordham they weathered a strong first half from their rivals, during which Nathan Fisher made some big plays and Maz Zhitnik was a handful as a runner from the flanker position. Delaware didn’t have the best field position playing against the wind, but managed to get center John McCurdy over, as well as Tom Abram and Matt Ramirez. But Fordham, with a try from Fisher at center, a penalty try when a Delaware player pulled back a Fordham player chasing a kick in-goal, and then a score from wing Vincent Brucculeri, led 21-17 at the break.

In the second half, Delaware started to run a better pattern. No. 8 Will Baker cleaned up problems and turned difficult situations (bad passes, lost balls) into positive yardage. Flanker Joe Osinubi covered a ton of ground, making tackles and using his long stride to cut down space. 

Delaware used their big props Zephir Lambert and Matt Hess to pound it up the middle, and to their credit those players did so for all 80 minutes. When it worked, they retained the ball in contact, or offloaded, and suddenly there was apace out wide. 

Abram moved in from fullback to play inside center, and sometimes first receiver, in the second half after the captain, McCurdy, went down injured. Jack Hand served well as a fullback who could also play flyhalf or center, and they, along with the halfback combination of Leo Bacchieri and Jake Davis, set up tries for Nick Jimenez and two for Ramirez. Fordham was shut out, and Delaware had their win 36-21.

Abram, which his kicking for space and smooth decision-making, helped close it out.

“We definitely felt we were improving all season,” said Abram. “I’ve been playing here - this is my fifth year here and my last game for the University of Delaware. I’ve been around the park a lot and I just know what to do sometimes. Booting it down there and trusting my teammates to get down there and play defense was perfect.”

For the entire Delaware team, this was a game of significance. For the coaching staff, it justified why they play in the Rugby East. It showed they are getting better, and it showed they turned the corner from depending on last year’s seniors, to looking to the future. Murray said he has a strong recruiting class coming in for 2017-18. And while they lose the experience of players like Abram, Baker, and Matt Hess, as well as try-scorers McCurdey, Jimenez, and Ramirez (all seniors), they had freshman Jake Galiani play well on the wing, and Lambert, a sophomore, a force at prop. Jared Wilkins also played well at hooker, and he is a freshman.

For Abram, it was just about leaving the program in a good situation.

“I came here freshman year to play rugby, and sophomore year we got that suspension, and now it’ great to be back out here and having fun with everyone, playing rugby,” said Abram. “I love coming up here [to the Bowl Series]. We came here with the goal to win a bowl game and we did it.”