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Two Points In It. Virginia Tech Over Louisville in NCR D1AA Final

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Two Points In It. Virginia Tech Over Louisville in NCR D1AA Final

Anduaga on the way to try #1. Olly Laseinde photo.

Virginia Tech defeated the University of Louisville 24-22 to claim their second straight NCR D1AA championship and putting an emphatic stamp on the value of a difficult schedule in honing good rugby players.

The Hokies, who went winless in the Rugby East, a conference made up entirely of D1A or NCR D1 teams (except for Virginia Tech), used that experience to work their way through a supremely difficult playoff series.

They beat Tennessee 38-34 in the quarterfinals, St. Joseph’s 17-15, and then Louisville 24-22. 

The game itself was fast-paced and played at a high level. The intensity of the tackles made for a game where points were at a premium, and Virginia Tech’s defense in the final 20 minutes was astonishing in its ferocity.

In the opening section of the game the Hokies were the ones on the front foot, running through phases but finding few gaps in the Cardinals’ defense. But eight minutes in flyhallf and co-captain Fernando Anduaga, who is also the club president, spotted a little mismatch, cut through the gap and sidestepped his way past two other defenders to get over the line. Down 7-0 Louisville took the fight to Virginia Tech, but it was slow going. The Cardinals passed up a kickable penalty to tap and run, and it paid off. Flyhalf Aaron Stevenson slipped around a tackler and offloaded to center Brennan Morton Strauss and the freshman was over for Louisville’s first try.

The conversion was good and we had a tie ballgame.

The wind was certainly a factor in this game and Louisville was playing into it. The breeze wasn’t especially strong but it did hold up clearance kicks. One such kick meant for touch stayed infield and Virginia Tech wing Will Richey weaved inside and outside and took off for the tryline. He was dragged down before the line but both tackler and tackler carried their momentum to the line, and Richey reached out and scored. Back and forth they went. Virginia Tech was right at the line but somehow were held out.

Louisville edged closer after a chip-and-chase by Stevenson. The Hokies managed to hold onto the ball, but eventually infringed and a penalty goal from scrumhalf Cameron Donlon made it 12-10 at halftime.

Second Half

In the second half it was not much different, except perhaps Louisville had a bit more possession. Virginia Tech scored moments into the second period when Stevenson’s attempted clearance kick was charged down by scrumhalf Robbie Hamberger and the #9 chased it into in-goal to score.

One factor for Louisville throughout the game was that they wanted to be absolutely sure of the possession and their platform. As a result, ball was slow and the Virginia Tech defense had time to organize and evaluate. In this case, Stevenson needed more distance to kick or needed to kick faster.

Up 17-10 Virginia Tech looked to press their advantage but Louisville lock Danny Bombard picked off a floaty pass and just stretched his legs to go in for a key try. The conversion was missed, but it was now 17-15.

There followed a long series in which Louisville tried to break through the Virginia Tech line, and Tech, led by Frank McGuire, Jack Murphy, and Hunter Danesi in the back row, and centers Caspian Bailey and Luke Crytzer, shut them down. There really wasn’t any way through, and Louisville did not want to speed up their ruck ball to try to catch the Hokies unawares.

At 65 minutes the Cardinals looked to get to pay dirt and take that go-ahead try with a two-on-one out wide. They were stopped there but sent the ball infield, where Anduaga stepped into a bit of a no-look pass and took it 80 meters the other way. With Danesi’s conversion the game seemed sealed at that point with Virginia Tech up 24-15.

But there was still plenty of rugby to play. A long series of phases finally ended with hooker Carter McAlilly battling his way through several tacklers to score. Donlon’s conversion was good and it was a two-point game again.

Virginia Tech’s restart didn’t go 10 and Louisville got another shot at it with less than five minutes to go. They worked their way into VT territory and worked to just keep the phases going. A penalty goal would do it. But with time up but Anduaga ripped the ball free out of a Louisville ballcarrier’s hands, set the ruck, and the Hokies kicked to touch to end the game.

It was played hard until the end, intense if not always pretty, and it’s interesting to note that three of the six tries scored were not the fault of the defense. 

Louisville, MAC champions for the first time and NCR D1AA finalists for the first time, should not hang their heads. They were right there and with a bit of better fortune might have pulled it out.