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UNC-Charlotte Win Jolts Southern Conference Pecking Order

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UNC-Charlotte Win Jolts Southern Conference Pecking Order

UNC-Charlotte is peaking at the right time. Photo Furman rugby.

It was a big shakeup in the Southern Rugby Conference with #1-ranked Furman getting unseated by UNC-Charlotte.

The result, a 30-18 win for UNCC, made the Southern Premier West a bit confusing with three teams at 3-1 and only two spots available for the semifinals. The way that works is this: 1st off, bonus point (four tries or close losses) are only used in the Southern Conference to break ties. In this case, UNC-Charlotte had four bonus points, which was more than both Furman and Belmont Abbey.

The Southern's other tiebreaking rule is that in a three-way tie, if one team is deemed 1st among three, then the other two are judged by the two-team tiebreaker. So, UNC-Charlotte was taken out of the equation because they were #1 already, and Furman beat Belmont Abbey on the head-to-head tiebreaker. Belmont Abbey, 3-1, doesn't make the conference playoffs.

UNC-Wilmington and UNC-Chapel Hill, both also 3-1 in the Premier East, also are in the semis.

As for the game between UNC-Charlotte and Furman itself, it was a physical contest in which Furman kept getting into penalty trouble. Charlotte, meanwhile, was without four starters and yet put together a really impressive defensive display. They held Furman out of the try zone for the first 60 minutes and allowed the Paladins tries only after the game was well in hand.

"They are a quality side, well-coached and well-drilled, and with seemingly limitless numbers. Props to Coach [Mike] Miller there," said UNCC flyhalf Jacob Etringer.  "However, our side has maintained a strong 30-man group throughout this season with only six players having experience with the team before the pandemic."

With coaches Jonathan Basnett, Genaro Fessia, and Alex Pardy they have been improving every week, and the alumni have been getting behind the program.

"Having lost the first week against Belmont Abbey College, a team with probably every player having previous playing experience, I believe we have certainly made ourselves out to be the best team in the West side of the Premier division," said Etringer.

Charlotte got on the board first when No. 8 David Grant tapped quickly on a penalty and was over. Fullback Khassan Hodge then chased down a grubber from Etringer to score the second try. UNC-Charlotte then took advantage of the 50-ss rule and got an attacking lineout in Furman territory. They then won the lineout, set up the maul, and hooker Ivan Graves-Howard was the man to touch it down.

Tries from center Avery Gottlob up the middle and flanker Cameren Mckinnion on a tap penalty move (set up by a poach and kick from Gottlob) capped it off. Etringer added a penalty and a conversion.

For Charlotte, this was proof that they have made strides and after chasing the standings all fall they go into the semis with the #1 seed from the West. Meanwhile, Furman has to be shaking their heads. Head Coach Mike Miller said the penalties prevented them from getting any rhythm going and they just made too many errors (missed kicks, dropped balls, indiscipline).

"When it's all said and done," said Miller, "we just under performed and UNCC was alert and hungry for the win."

Interestingly, had UNCC not been able to get four tries, not only would they not have finished first, but due to the way the tiebreakers work, Belmont Abbey would have been 1st and Charlotte would have dropped to third. So keeping on the pressure was crucial for them.

The top two teams in the Southern will move on to the national playoffs, with Southern #1 facing the winner of a playoff between Great Lakes #2 and MCRC #2, while Southern #2 meets Great Lakes #1.