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Dramatic Marist-Vermont Game Finalizes Men's D2 Bracket

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Dramatic Marist-Vermont Game Finalizes Men's D2 Bracket

Marist is ready for the Round of 16. Photo Marist Rugby.

There were four play-in games scheduled for the NCR men's D2 playoffs, and here's how they all ended up.

Virginia's game with Bucknell wasn't played as Bucknell suffered too many injuries from the previous week's MARC playoffs and couldn't field a team. So Virginia advanced.

Marquette had no trouble shutting out St. Louis University. With excellent goalkicking and counter-attacking from Cormac Gallagher at fullback and a really strong season from Ben Vanhandel at scrumhalf as well as the front row of Matt Mier, Brian Cooke, and Joey Artinian, Marquette was able to handle missing a couple of regular starters and controlled the game from the outset, winning 43-0.

Marian had to battle with Central Michigan but got through 32-22. Marian took an early 14-8 lead but CMU clawed back to make it 24-22. Both teams got yellow cards late and played 14-on-14. Marian was able to pull away with a penalty goal from Tommaso Lorenzetti and then a late try from back Ben Kompar sealed it. Marian played without 10 starters due to injuries and cards.

And finally, perhaps the biggest surprise, as Tri-State Conference champion Marist beat NEWCRC #3 Vermont. While Vermont was not a conference champion, they have traditionally done well in the national playoffs and Tri-State teams have struggled somewhat. (The 2019 Tri-State champs William Paterson lost in the Round of 16 to Furman; the three current NEWCRC playoff teams were in the playoffs in 2019, with Norwich making the top four, UMass-Lowell making the quarterfinals, and Vermont losing in the Round of 16 by two points to eventual finalists UW-Whitewater.)

Mother Nature Intervenes

The first half of this clash was hotly contested. Vermont's inside backs, led by flyhalf Keegan Bliss, were effective at getting past the gameline. However, twice Vermont made it deep into the Marist 22 only to see the Red Foxes steal possession and get out of trouble. With prop John Schneider, lock Josh Mrozick, and fullback Nate Turner making gains, Marist started to put UVM under pressure. Vermont defended well and the game was played mostly between the 22s.

Finally, a big rom from Schneider put Marist on the front foot and wing Dan Sawyer capped off the movement in the corner. However, that try was called back because lightning had just started. The game was suspended for 45 minutes and resumed with a scrum for Marist. The Red Foxes showed the scrum forward and flanker Danny Peters scooped up the ball and ran through three defenders to touch down. Federico Gubana converted and it was 7-0 Marist. A few moments after the restart the game was halfted again because of lightning. The game was officially suspended when the officials left around 2:15PM, and Vermont made the long drive home.

The Marist team offered UVM Rugby $1,000 to offset their additional travel costs.

Sunday afternoon the game resume with Vermont getting an attacking scrum just inside their own half. After some tight phase play, Bliss chopped the ball over the Marist defense. However Turner covered the kick for Marist and eventually hoofed the ball deep downfield, rolling toward the Vermont goaline. The Catamounts got back but ended up touching down in-goal. From the ensuing goalline dropout, Marist ran some phases and set up center Enrique Pesantez, who cut back and beat three defenders to touch down neat the posts. Gubana converted and it was 14-0.

UVM countered well with a good restart and a Marist penalty. Eventually another penalty near the goalline led to Bliss tapping quickly and scoring to make it 14-5. Gubana answered moments later with a penalty. 

Vermont initiated a bit of a kicking contest, and got to better of that as Marist was penalized. Bliss kicked to the corner, and the forwards drove the ball over to make it 17-10 at halftime.

UVM Closes the Gap

Early in the second half Marist scored a key try with wing Shemar Phillip making big runs and going over to make it 22-10. Vermont replied once again through the forwards: 22-15. But Marist responded with a Gubana penalty.

UVM kept coming, winning a scrum against the head and going weak to score and converted. Now it was 25-22 with 11 minutes left.

After a key poach from Gubana Marist got an attacking lineout which led to No. 8 TJ Finegan charging 20 meters into the UVM half. Schneider again and then Tucker made inroads before Gubana took the ball just outside the 22 and stepped three UVM backs to go in under the posts. He converted his own try and Marist was in control 32-22.

Vermont kept on the attack but couldn't through. 

For Marist, this was a massive win. to beat a team of Vermont's caliber was a big victory for the conference as a whole. 

Pasentez was named player of the game, while Gobana, Schneider, and Turner were all hugely influential. For the Red Foxes overall, it was their desire to move the ball and work three, four, five passes rather than one pass and truck-it-up that made the different. Their big forwards set a good platform and in the backs they have players who can score from almost anywhere.

That game finalized the NCR Round of 16 (the numbers next to each team are the NCR rankings, not the GRR rankings)