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Oh Yes, It's Big: Norwich Hosts UMass Lowell

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Oh Yes, It's Big: Norwich Hosts UMass Lowell

Jeremy Fleming photo.

It's been a weird season in the Rugby Northeast.

Norwich University hasn't exactly dominated in recent years, but the Cadets, despite some very competitive games, haven't lost since joining the conference. That is, until Week 1 of this seaw0n when Bentley overturned Norwich 11-10.

That result has kept the top three in the conference very, very tight. And now UMass-Lowell goes into this weekend's game 4-0, visiting 3-1 Norwich in Vermont, with the top seed in the conference at stake.

"Yes, Saturday is a big game," said Norwich Head Coach Bob Weggler, succinctly. For Weggler's Cadets, big games are a regular thing. They won the conference last year before losing out to Queens University 29-26 in the Men's DII College Round of 16. The year before they lost in the semis in overtime to VMI, and the year before that they were national semifinalists again. 

"It's a huge game," added Lowell Head Coach Josh Skinner, who pointed out that not only has Norwich not lost in conference play before this year, but the Cadets haven't lost in conference 7s either. "They've been quite a dominant force to say the least. But Lowell has been playing some solid rugby, too.

"I don't think we're reinventing any wheels," said Skinner. "We're just making a concerted effort to get better at the basics. If you look at our scoresheets, it's predominantly the backs who are making their mark there, but I think the strength of our team lies within the forwards and some depth we're trying to build there with young guys. We're a really young team right now, so we're still trying to figure things out in some respects."

Last week Norwich held off a determined Middlebury team 38-24. The Cadets have been playing some good team rugby but got a nice boost from inside center Noah Cook. Cook is a junior but switched to rugby from soccer—he was on the Norwich soccer team. He clearly did that because of the contact, as he's become a force in the rucks and is one of the team's better tacklers.

For UMass-Lowell, the Riverhawks have see Kyle McPhee test defenses all season, and he scored two tries last weekend in a comeback win over Providence College. Scrumhalf Conor Harney and fullback Devon Johnson were also big on the day. But, as Skinner said, it starts and ends with the forward pack.

In the end, this is just a dress rehearsal. Both teams are guaranteed to make the semifinals, so it's really just a discussion at to who will be the #1 seed. Bentley (3-1) takes on Providence this weekend, and if Bentley wins and Lowell loses, then we might have a three-way tie for 1st.

Whatever happens, there'll be plenty to talk about as the playoffs come around in November.

Rugby Northeast stadings going into this weekend (we have already logged Middlebury's forfeit win over NEC):

Rugby Northeast W L T PF PA PD   BL PTS
UMass Lowell 4 0 0 165 34 131   0 16
Norwich 3 1 0 192 67 125   1 13
Bentley 3 1 0 63 41 22   0 12
Providence 2 2 0 99 111 -12   0 8
Middlebury 1 4 0 89 96 -7   2 6
New England College 0 5 0 0 335 -335   0 0