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Game of the Year: NDC vs Kutztown

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Game of the Year: NDC vs Kutztown

O'Reilly, Johnstone chase for the ball. Alex Goff photo.

In one of the most thrilling and exciting college rugby games in recent memory, Notre Dame College scored on the final play of the game and freshman flyhalf Lachy McDonald slotted the touchline conversion to secure a 40-39 victory for the Falcons over Kutztown University.

The game went back and forth throughout the afternoon at KU’s rugby field. The momentum seemed to shift every few seconds, and while the defenses worked hard and made tackles, both offenses were clicking.

Back-and-Forth Start

NDC started the game camped out in the KU 22 for much of the first eight minutes. But the Golden Bears hung tough and were able to run out of trouble thanks to the playmaking ability of inside center and captain PJ O’Reilly.

Once they got out of trouble Kutztown was able to get into the Notre Dame College half and with their forwards, particularly lock Riordan Sweet and flanker Cameron Thurtell, made ground and got close. The pack punched it in and Kutztown held a 7-0 lead.

NDC came right back and scored thanks to some good go-forward from their front row and punched one over to make it 7-5.

Both teams had chances after that. NDC secured a well-taken 50-22 through McDonald and attacked wide off that, but the final pass didn’t go to hand.

But finally they did score. The Falcons defended inside their own half and forced a knock-on. From the scrum they attacked, with center Hugh Johnston looping to widen the attack. The move worked nicely and the Falcons broke through on the edge and wing Killiaqn Burns raced in from 50 meters to score and take a 12-7 lead.

Momentum Shift

Kutztown replied with a penalty goal to make it 12-10. As the first half came to a close NDC probed once more. They looked for all the world like they would score. But then Aiden Smith stepped in front of a pass and raced 75 meters to score under the posts. With the conversion that made it a 17-12 Kutztown lead, and a bit of an emotional blow to NDC. But, said hooker Hamish Watson, they brushed it off. 

Kutztown did superbly in retaining their kickoffs, and while NDC seemed to have the better of the open-field kicking game, the Bears’ running in the backline was dynamic.

So when they missed a penalty attempt it wasn’t that big a deal as the 22-meter dropout just put the ball on a silver platter for those dangerous backs.

KU sped back into scoring position and the forwards finished it off for a 22-12 KU lead.

That cushion shrank almost immediately. McDonald executed another 50-22 and from there a grubber into in-goal resulted in a five-meter scrum, and Edward Arens thundered over the line. With the conversion it was 22-19.

Kutztown Pulls Away

Back came KU and once again some effective open-field running, including flanker Gus Dellinger, got them close and once again the KU tight five finished it off, with tighthead prop Rotuk Rahedi scoring the try.

That made it 29-19 and Kutztown seemed to be in command.

NDC Claws Back

Winning that restart became critical. KU fumbled the next one and NDC, pounced, sending it wide. Johnstone looped around and fed Fadzai Mushonga on the wing, and he tiptoed down the sideline to score. McDonald hit the conversion from the left sideline and it was suddenly it was a three-point game at 29-26. 

Now under real threat to lose the lead, Kutztown got into a bit of a kicking contest with the Falcons. That resulted, eventually, into a Kutztown player using his own teammate as a shield—penalty. NDC took the lineout and the forwards worked it over to retake the lead they last had at about 39 minutes. It was now 33-29.

But the game was nowhere near over. Kutztown won the restart in brilliant fashion and within moments were over for a try and to retake the lead at 34-33. Seconds later NDC was threatening the Kutztown line. They got a penalty and, despite having the ascendency in the scrum most of the day, opted for the lineout. They won the lineout and mauled, but Kutztown did just enough to defend it, holding the ball up in-goal. A deep kick from O’Reilly and then a kick out on the full from NDC put the Bears back on the front foot. They sped in for another try and a 39-33 lead.

The Finish

Then comes a little wrinkle. At the beginning of the second half the scoreboard operators at KU had a bit of a glitch and it took perhaps three minutes to fix it. The timer started late, as a result. So when the siren sounded as the timer hit zero, the Kutztown players did not confirm with referee Garrett van Beek how much time was left. They kicked to touch, but the game wasn’t over, and in fact van Beek called a penalty and NDC had one more shot. The Falcons opted for the lineout, set up the maul, and patiently, carefully, worked toward the tryline. Kutztown made a series of tackles, but then the ball was shipped quickly to Mushonga who stayed low and dove in for the try. 

But it was out wide, rather than under the posts. The score was now 39-38 for Kutztown and the conversion was no guarantee. But colly McDonald put it over, the ball kissing the right upright before crossing the bar. Full time was blown and Notre Dame had won 40-39.

“A great game,” said Kutztown Head Coach Gregg Jones. “They’re a young team. They need to know the referee has the time. But they showed a lot of heart.”

“One of the best games I have ever been a part of,” added NDC Head Coach Hanno Van Vurren. “People might say ‘oh there wasn’t a lot of defense,” but the defenses worked hard. It was just a really well-played game and back and forth.”

Had NDC lost they would have been ruing that intercept try at the end of the first half, which was a 12-point turnaround. Kutztown will be ruing needless penalties in their own 22.

Overall, Dellinger, Sweet, and O’Reilly were immense for Kutztown. For NDC, Johnstone worked constantly while the scrum was a huge part of their game. McDonald’s poise and Asher Hannon’s fielding of kicks were excellent.

It was a famous victory for Notre Dame College, but perhaps more it was a perfect example of why the Rugby East is so much fun.