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West End Recovers to Win Boys Tier II at Nationals

HS Boys

West End Recovers to Win Boys Tier II at Nationals

In one of the more entertaining games at the Boys HS Rugby National Championships, West End defeated Pelham HS 19-15 in the Tier II final.

This was one of the better Tier II competitions since the current format was adopted, with the teams involved showcasing some significant skill and rugby understanding, but usually the programs are smaller (fewer players) and often the players are smaller in stature.

That was mostly true this year and certainly true of the two finalists. Pelham showed some of the best ball handling of the weekend, refusing to let wind, rain, and mud stop them from catching passes and, most importantly, getting under kicks and taking them cleanly. It was their clean fielding of kicks that put other teams, including West End, under pressure.

The game itself was back and forth throughout.

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West End played without their well-regarded outside center Dmontae Noble, but didn’t let that both them. They worked their forwards nicely to get over the line. Pelham, led by scrumhalf Luke Persanis’s combination of good passing, running, and kicks, and with centers Whit and Justin Johnson (no relation) moved their way downfield. There they set up a maul from a lineout and peeled off the back to score.

Without Noble, West End still had dangerous players, and certainly one of them was fullback John LeFevre, who dummied and jukes his way for one of the most spectacular runs of the weekend. Pelham replied with the forwards picking and jamming to make it West End 12, Pelham 10.

Then Pelham turned the ball over in the scrum and set up Justin Johnson for the lead with only a few minutes left. !5-12 for Pelham, and one last chance for West End.

One characteristic of the Virginia team is that their forwards have good body position. They need to, given that they aren’t that huge. Pelham, meanwhile, finally made a mistake, trying to run a penalty out of their own 22 when kicking for touch (even with their issues in the lineout on Saturday) would have been better. West End turned the ball over and had one more shot.

It seemed as if they would just slowly work their way closer to the Pelham line using the forwards, but then hooker Ieuan Israel speeded up the process.

“I saw they were pulling out a little in the A channel and I just went through the gap,” said Israel. “We’re coached to stay low and that’s what I did.”

With Israel keeping good body position and pumping his legs, the ever-increasing number of Pelham defenders couldn’t stop him, and over he went for the game-winner, 19-15.

For Pelham it was a tough loss, but an impressive showing in the young program’s first foray onto the national stage. Their skill level was very high - indicative of a team made up of players who started young.  

For West End, this was all about retribution. The team didn’t make the Virginia state playoffs because they got hit by injuries and during that time lost to Prince William. But at the beginning of the year, when they were healthy, they were impressive, and back healthy again, they ran the table in Tier II, beating Kansas state champs St. Thomas Aquinas, North Carolina single-school champs Charlotte Catholic, and then Pelham, probably the second-best team in New York (with Xavier being the top dog).

“We wanted to come here even though it’s been a tough season,” said West End Coach Jeff Rupp. “We knew that once we got healthy we could compete with almost anyone. We knew we had a good team. Some of these kids have been playing together since U8s, and it’s a testament to the youth program, which is what we focus on. These are a great bunch of kids, and I think they showed something this weekend.”