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Kutztown Powers Past Army

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Kutztown Powers Past Army

Army and Kutztown scrum down. Alex Goff photo.

Kutztown University defeated West Point 39-26 Saturday at Kutztown, dropping Army to 4-2 in the Rugby East and putting Kutztown up to 5-0.

The game was intensely physical and very tight for most of the game, but a sterling effort from the Kutztown forwards saw the Bears survive.

Army came into the game missing a couple of regular starters, including spark plus scrumhalf Jake Banarhall, who broke a finger during practice this past week. However, backup Farrell Harrison played a strong game and was in the middle of Army’s scoring efforts. And one of those came early. Both teams seemed content to let kicks land on the grass before dealing with them, and that hurt KU early. West Point pressured and the forwards, led by prop and captain Donny Goff (no relation to the GRR editor), powered over.

That made it 7-0 with Thomas Del Pino’s conversion, but KU came back with the same approach, letting their defense force a mistake and Robert Stortz going over in the corner.

Through the next 20 minutes, Kutztown had the run of play, but the Army defense held firm. Filling in at outside center, Andrew Borer managed to do enough to keep Stortz bottled up. Army had one excellent scoring opportunity, but Luke Heun was tracked down and eventually penalize for holding on,

Soon thereafter, Kutztown cleared and sent Stortz through an iffy tackle for the go-ahead try.

But Army rebounded, and after Goff rescued an overthrown lineout, they spun it wide, forced a penalty, tapped quickly, ran, and then then from a lineout they mauled briliantly in from 15 out and  put flanker Andrew Irwin over for a 14-10 Army lead.

Clearly the game was going to be like this all day. Huen made a huge try-saving tackle to preserve the lead for West Point, but as the first half came to a close, Kutztown started really causing problems for the Army lineout.

“Our lineouts were phenomenal,” said Kutztown lock Nick Holt, who had a very active game in the breakdowns and set piece. “We were a little slow getting up [in the air] but once we did we were able to win our ball and disrupt theirs.”

That gave more ball for the Kutztown backs, and twice in the first half wing Vetekina Malafu burned Army for tries, once on the outside, and once up the middle.

“All credit to Army; their line speed was incredible,” said Kutztown No. 8 Wes Hartman. “They came up really fast and made it very difficult for us to get the ball out wide. So we needed to adjust, and our forwards fronted up fantastic today.”

Still those two tries were telling, as Kutztown went into halftime up 22-14.

But Army started well again in the second half, forcing Kutztown to commit penalties, and with Harrison tapping quickly, referee Leah Burard had to march the Bears back another ten and give them a warning. Army pressured on, putting everyone into the rucks - at one points Harrison looked to pass to the open side and saw no one to pass to. But Army did get the ball over, and made it 22-21.

“Our biggest thing today was ball retention and being patient,” said center Jonathan Sage. “We reminded each other that it doesn’t matter how many phases it takes, it’s all about ball retention. We knew going into the game they would score on us. We just needed to have a short memory, and bounce back.”

And that’s what they did. While Army keyed well on the outside attack from Kutztown, and as the intensity of the game ramped up, the Kutztown forwards finished it off. A knock-on in front of the posts by Army set up an attacking KU scrum, and they shoved prop Johan Van Wyk over. It was simple, direct, and cohesive rugby from Kutztown, and later on they did it again, finishing off a movement punctuated by a big break from Stortz.

Army had a nice 2-on-1 that might have closed the gap, but were slow to exploit it. Kutztown then took the ball and worked it all the way down to score one more, this time from Hartman.

The key was they found a way to score, and kept doing it.

“Last week we had a really good day against Wheeling Jesuit where we kept it in the forwards a lot,” said Van Wyk. “Our forwards stepped it up in this game, kept the ball well. The backs got us going forward and we kept up on the front foot.”

Harrison scored on a quick tap to inch Army closer, but that was all. 39-26, Kutztown on, beating Army for the first time ever, and doing it on their home field during Homecoming Weekend.

“We are disappointed,” said Army captain Donny Goff. “The first few minutes we were running at them. But then we started taking too many stupid penalties and being lazy and stressing offside.”

Army seemed to have taken the momentum at 22-21, but Kutztown took it back.

“We stuck together as a team the whole time,” said Goff. “Kutztown seemed to want it more.”

Harrison did well to replace Banarhall at scrumhalf, and Andrew Borer stepped in for the ill Andrew Fargo and made plays. Freshman Torran Raby was also forced into a starting position because of injury. So Army had their backs against the wall a little, but it doesn’t diminish the Kutztown effort.

Locks Holt and Evan Anderson were just where they needed to be, said Hartman, and the front five as a unit powered through. 

“Robert Stortz is always an important player for us,” added Sage. But those two Malafu tries in the first half were important, too.

It was perhaps a watershed victory for Kutztown, which now eyes an undefeated run through the Rugby East and Indiana at the ACRC Bowl Series. And maybe, just maybe, they did enough to get a #1 by their name, too.