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St. Bonaventure, Penn State Down to the Wire

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St. Bonaventure, Penn State Down to the Wire

St. Bonaventure take their trophy. Alex Goff photo.

NCR’s D1 playoffs ended the way much of it had progressed, with the game on a knife edge.

St. Bonaventure had come into the game the highest ranked team, having already beaten Penn State and Kutztown in the Rugby East, and then beat Kutztown again in the semifinals. Penn State had escaped two one-point games—would it be another tight contest? Yes, yes it would.

Penn State played against the wind in the first half and likely knew they had to mitigate any advantage St. Bonaventure would have.

Bonnies got on the board early, pressuring from the kickoff, getting a scrum, and a penalty from there. Keelin Coyle pointed to the posts and he was deadly accurate.

Penn State then had the opportunity to follow on after the restart and got a penalty that led to a lineout. The Nittany Lions then mauled it but St. Bonaventure halted the maul, and were later able to get a penalty and boot out of trouble.

Flanker Matt Conroy then broke through, got his side into the Penn State half, where once against PSU committed an infraction. Coyle had no problem and it was 6-0.

Moments later Bonnies was once again close, and Coyle hit his third penalty.

Penn State continued to charge ahead and try to get into St. Bonaventure territory. Moves for either team weren’t especially flashy. They used their forwards to crash ahead and hoped to garner some space later. But both defenses were physical and organized, making this a slow-going, but tense, game.

Once again Bonnies held on desperately in their 22, and then got out of trouble. Freshman wing Sy Mendenhall made a break for St. Bonaventure to get his side into scoring position. 

Both teams were pushing the envelope when it came to the laws and eventually both teams got a warning for too many penalties. This set forth an interesting sequence of events.

St. Bonaventure got a penalty, set up the lineout and maul, and co-captain Rick Rose touched down. St. Bonaventure 14, Penn State 0.

Then right after the restart, Rose was penalized. Warning had been given, so right after scoring a try, Rose was in the sin bin with a yellow card.

Penn State got some momentum. Some kicking errors by St. Bonaventure, such as kicking the ball out on the full when the ball had been passed back into the 22, put them under pressure, and Penn State was only too happy to capitalize. Phase after phase they pushed toward the line. Bonnies bent but they did not break, Flanker Cory Ratka made a key defensive stop, but led by flanker Aidan King and lock Campbell Halloran, the Lions continued to push.

Once again, SBU held on. No. 8 Nikulas Otineru, lock Andrew Bigler, and wing Lorenzo Viliani also made key tackles with their backs against their tryline.

With time up in the first half St. Bonaventure could possibly have kicked to touch and ended the half. Instead they tried to make a move, got penalized, and Penn State flyhalf Dalton Musselman put the kick through off the post.

The half ended with St. Bonaventure up 14-3, but also having missed a couple of try-scoring chances. In addition, while Coyle did well to kick three penalties, Bonnies passed up some other longer-range kicks, opting instead to go for the lineouts. They succeeded once, but might have been better served to have Coyle, with the wind at his back and plenty of range, go for goal.

But that missing try happened, instead, in the second half. Ratka and then Viliani found some space after a massive tackle from center Matt Pietch forced the ball loose. Once again Penn State was penalized, and after the kick to the corner Ratka was over. Not it was 19-3. Could that be enough?


Musselman added a second penalty goal, and then, after a yellow card to prop Juan Pen, Penn State forced the issue. they almost broke through, consolidated, and then spread it wide where wing Gioancarlo Nastasi scored in the corner. Now it was 19-11, and it stayed that way for almost the entire game.

Bonnies held on desperately as Penn State continued to get close, sometimes right up to the tryline, only to have the ball knocked loose or a penalty or jackal happen.

No. 8 Nick Masterson broke through some tackles and looked set to score but he was tackled perfectly by St. Bonaventure fullback Alex Chura.

At 73 minutes Penn State had a penalty right in front of the posts, and since they needed two scores to catch Bonnies, perhaps a shot at goal was warranted. No dice. Instead they chose a scrum. Bonnies continued to hold on, even as they got another card. And finally, with time winding down, Musselman broke through and set up center Jesse Capriotti for the try. Musselman converted and it was 19-18 with three minutes to go.

Three tense minutes in which Bonnies did well to work the phases and run out the clock. They almost did it, but opted to grubber ahead to perhaps finish things off with a try. It didn’t work, and instead Penn State had one more shot, albeit from 95 meters out.

They couldn’t do it. St. Bonaventure got the ball back and that was it.

It wasn’t a wild, open game, but it was dramatic. St. Bonaventure, which had never beaten Penn State before this year, did so twice.

St. Boanventure 19
Tries: Rose, Ratka
Pens: Coyle 3

Penn State 18
Tries: Nastasi, Captriotti
Convs: Musselman
Pens: Musselman 2