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Penn State and St. Bonaventure to NCR D1 Final

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Penn State and St. Bonaventure to NCR D1 Final

St. Bonaventure Head Coach Tui Osborne makes his feeling known. Photo St. Bonaventure Rugby.

Two Rugby East teams will face off in the NCR D1 final December 11 in Houston after Penn State and St. Bonaventure both won semifinals on Saturday.

Penn State's game was yet another tense encounter—it seems like the Nittany Lions are determined to give their Head Coach Justin Hundley an ulcer. Having endured scores of 33-30, 19-15, 45-42, 22-14, and, two weeks ago, 27-26, Penn State was tested once again, this time by Queens University Charlotte.

Penn State got an early penalty goal from captain and flyhalf Dalton Musselman, but Queens answered with a powerful charge down the tramlines to ut the forwards over. It remained 5-3 for quite some time as the Queens kicking game took hold and Penn State started committing penalties. After a warning to PSU another penalty, this time for trying to collapse a maul, earned them a yellow card. Right after that center Thomas Keay cut through a gap and was over.

Scrumhalf Hilton Olivier converted and Queens led 12-3. But a brilliant take of the restart, in the air, by wing Brian Stella put Penn State right on the Queens tryline, and after some pick-and-goes and a penalty, flanker Aidan King pushed off a tackler and was over. Musselman converted and it was 12-10. It was that kind of game. Both teams committed several penalties and Queens opted not to take a couple of straightforward, if somewhat long-range, kicks at goal. One of those decisions paid off as a break on the wing set up a lineout, a penalty, and then hooker Marshall Frank crashed into paydirt. 

Olivier converted for a 19-10 lead. Penn State found themselves pinned in their own half again, but got out of it and worked their way down the field. A break from Mussleman got them close and then fullback Giancarlo Nastasi scored. Musselman converted and it was 19-17 Queens at the break.

Musselman's goalkicking has been outstanding all fall and he got his team points once more early in the second half with a penalty goal that nudged PSU ahead 20-19. But Queens got a penalty in the scrum, got full value for their kick to touch, and from the lineout lock Chester Stanyon powered over. That made it 24-20. 

Penn State came back with a very well-executed counter off a box kick. That put the Nittany Lions in the Queens 22 and after a short period King just bulldozed his way through tacklers to score. Musselman was good on the kick, of course, and it was 27-24. Queens replied. Some three minutes later. A good counter off a kick was followed by a Penn State error in fielding the booted ball. That allowed the Queens forwards to make some ground and, after a quick tap on a penalty prop Doyle Hedgepeth picked up and scored. Kick good and the lead had changed for the fourth time in the second half.

With the score 31-27 now there was still about 14 minutes left. Penn State spent much of that time in the Queens half but little errors hurt them. Finally some good work from the Penn State forwards, especially prop John O'Toole, got them close and sub Tristan Sommerville took a flat pass and had a fairly big gap right on the tryline and scored. For once Musselman didn't get the kick but the lead was enough, 32-31. Still there were seven minutes to go. Queens had their chances and took a tough-angle penalty attempt with about two minutes to go, but Olivier's attempt hit the post. Penn State's King managed to grab the ball. But it wasn't over. A knock-on gave Queens a scrum just five meters out. They went weak; Sommerville and Stella made a key tackle on Olivier, and then King held the Royal up in-goal. And that was the final play—Penn State had survived.

St. Bonaventure had never beaten Kutztown before this fall, and then made it two wins in a row, beating the Bears 27-15. Kutztown took an early lead with some excellent backline work and then a quick tap. Kutztown held a 7-3 lead until midway through the first half. Then prop Ethan Doumbe of St. Bonaventure made a break that put Kutztown under pressure. After a scrum and several phases, SBU got a penalty and Doumbe was over. Flanker Matt Conroy added another and Bonnies led 17-7. they didn't really look back after that.

Kutztown kicked a penalty in the second half but two minutes later lock Andrew Bigler took a nice flat pass from Conroy and galloped through. That made it 24-10, and Bonnies closed it out from there—Kutztown scored with about seven minutes to go but could not get any more.

“I was a little nervous. It’s been a while since I’ve been in playoff rugby,” St. Bonaventure Head Coach Tui Osborne said. “But just the way the men prepared this week gave our staff a good feeling about today. Our defense was relentless today and that gave us a good platform to convert opportunities in attack,” Osborne said. “Keelin Coyle’s boot was on point today and that put us in range to launch some good set piece attacks.”

Penn State and St. Bonaventure battled to a 19-15 SBU win back on October 16. They will get a rematch in Houston during the NCR Championship Weekend.