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Republic Of Doyle: Air Force SH Sparks Championship

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Republic Of Doyle: Air Force SH Sparks Championship

Photo Air Force Women's Rugby

Thanks in large part to three tries from co-captain and scrumhalf Devin Doyle, Air Force repeated as women’s DI college fall champs with a hard-nosed 26-10 victory over Service Academy rivals Navy.

While Navy lost, they can take some solace as being the only team this year to come close to handling the USAFA’s offensive power. No other team this year has held Air Force to less than 67 points.

The game started out as a bit of a grind, and Air Force was on defense most of the early minutes. The Zoomies hit hard but were guilty of being offside, and that penalty allowed Navy to get out of their half. With two strong runs from No. 8 Sarah Skinner and a darting carry from wing Clara Enninful, the Midshipmen were able to pressure the Air Force line, and finally send it smoothly through the hands for wing Haley Creech to finish in the corner.

Air Force was guilty of indiscipline on defense, but would control that as the game went on.Down 5-0 they looked for all the world like they would score, but little errors crept into the Zoomies’ game. Then fullback Jacqueline Hamby seemed to have the angle to the corner, but she was caught by Enninful to preserve Navy’s lead.

Missed Opportunities

Then it was Navy’s turn to get a scoring opportunity. Prop Nicole August’s quick-tap took her over the line but somehow Air Force stopped her and stripped the ball, clearing away to survive a few more minutes.

Defensive pressure following another clearance kick allowed Air Force to attack off the scrum. Running a move that probably would produce a try against anyone else, the Zoomies were stymied by the Navy defense, which held firm for a good five minutes with their backs against the wall. But eventually, a not-releasing penalty set up three more phases before scrumhalf Devin Doyle saw a tiny gap and dove over.

Hamby converted and Air Force led 7-5. That’s how it stayed for about 20 minutes, well into the second half. For the most part the game was played in Navy’s half, but with Navy in possession trying to break free. Navy’s defense, led by the interior backs Abbie Ebersole, Grace Stevens, and Katelyn McKinney, prevented the dynamic Air Force attack from breaking through, while Navy on attack just wasn’t quite as dangerous.

Navy didn’t opt to kick out of trouble, but couldn’t run out of it, either.

Scrumhalf Snipes Again

That approach started to work a little better in the second half, as Navy mixed in a kick or two with some forward runs, and worked their way downfield. But then Air Force center Adrienne Yoder, a former flanker, counter-rucked effectively leaving the ball just sitting there on the Zoomies’ side. Doyle picked up and and took off. 

She outpaced three players and had no one in front of her and the scrumhalf raced 50 meters to paydirt.

Hamby converted and Air Force led 14-5.

Soon it was 21-5. Once again defensive pressure forced a turnover, this time a knock-on. From that ensuing scrum, Air Force launched. They sent the ball sideline to sideline, and with some key carries from Yoder and her center partner Elizabeth Laboe, got close to the line. That’s when flyhalf Rhiannon Townsend, who had been passing all day, faked the pass and slipped past five defenders and touched down amidst the attention of four more. 

Navy went back on the attack but it was slow going. The Midshipmen lost their next best scoring chance, but also managed to avoid Air Force scoring what would have been a killer blow. Finally August powered over for Navy and with 17 minutes to go and the score 21-10, USNA had hope.

But they needed to score quickly and Air Force wasn’t going to let them. Aggressive and hard-hitting, Air Force took time and space away from Navy. Even when Yoder was sin-binned for killing the ball, Air Force held on. 

And then some superb work from Hamby and Stinson got Air Force close and Doyle once again picked up and took a gap.

Air Force got its victory roll, and Navy could only take solace in being the champions’ toughest opponent.

Heroes All Around

For Navy, Skinner was their most effective runner at No. 8 and also made several key tackles and steals. Hooker Victoria Pestano was tough all over the field, while the aforementioned Ebersole, Sevens, and McKinney played critical roles on defense.

Meanwhile, Air Force’s vaunted backline was dangerous, but not perfect, and their biggest contribution was on defense and in the breakdown. Hamby made some crucial kicks and was strong on attack, while Callan Madeiros was very strong at prop, carryingthe ball with power, making key tackles, and hitting the rucks with force and frequency. The entire pack worked very hard, but they also know they had Doyle, who was superb, at the base. Her three tries were all due to the work in tight, but also due to her heads-up play. 

Air Force 26
Tries: Doyle 3, Townsend
Convs: Hamby 3

Navy 10
Tries: Creech, August