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Wild Finish as Tennessee Wins SCRC

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Wild Finish as Tennessee Wins SCRC

Tennessee is the SCRC conference champion after a tense, wet, and dramatic final played during the ACRC Bowl Series games at the RAC in Charlotte, NC.

In a game that saw multiple lead changes, Tennessee won on the final play of the game, with lock Kerry Roberts scoring the winning try as time expired.

Both teams signaled early their desire to play wide and challenge their opponents on the outside. But with the rain coming down at times and the field and ball a little wet, this was a challenge. In the end, it was often errors or defensive pressure that led to scores. 

USC got on the board first, when the ball squirted out of the back of the Tennessee scrum and the Gamecocks pounced on it.

Andrew Sayers replied with a nicely-taken penalty goal for UT, and he added another later in the first half - the Volunteers working the ball downfield using flyhalf Nick Duklewski and centers Charlie Jacobi and John Via to stretch the defense, and the tight five to work it in tight.

The Gamecocks could use their forwards, too, with scrumhalf Brian Keown marshaling the pack. The forwards worked it for Ben Mather to pick up and go over. Keown converted, for USC to regain the lead, but UT replied and Roberts was shoved over the line by his teammates to make it 12-11 South Carolina at halftime.

A thumping tackle from Jacobi jarred the ball loose to set up a try for Via early in the second half to put Tennessee up by four, but USC answered with some good works from backs Michael Rudzinsky and captain Chris Harrell to grubber the ball through and chase it down. That put USC back within a point at 18-17, and then the Gamecocks, with their fans yelling themselves hoarse, worked one of their best multi-phase movements of the evening. 

The game got increasingly physical and both teams fell into penal tie trouble in the rucks. But USC stayed patient and put it over to retake the lead 22-18.

And so it was down to the final minutes. Tennessee had a couple of opportunities to kick for points, with perhaps time to try for the win after that, but opted to stay pressuring the Gamecocks in their 22. On an evening where lineout execution was difficult, the Tennessee lineout started to function right when they needed it. The Vols caught and mauled out of trouble, and repeatedly had attacking lineouts set them up for scoring opportunities. 

One such lineout and maul put Tennessee right on the USC line, and then a series of forward drives inched them closer. Duklewski had a chance under the posts but was stalled. Somehow he was able to get to ground to set the ruck. The Vols then went right, where Roberts offered the suggestion of the pass, which shifted the position of one defender, and he went over.

Pandemonium. Tennessee 23-22.

The key for the lineouts was Logan McNeil, usually the team’s captain, he had injured his knee in the SCRC semis, and was held out of the starting lineup. But late in the game Head Coach Marty Bradley sent McNeil in the settle down the set piece and finish off the game. His throws in the lineout at the end of the game were right on the money.

“It was just execution for us all at the end of the game,” said McNeil. “It took us 79 minutes and we finally did it.”

Before that, Tennessee had been able to get into scoring position when they earned a penalty in their own 22. The kick to touch was just kept infield by USC, but the Tennessee chase almost saw Duklewski come up with the ball and score. At the very least the Vols were now on the front foot.

“We don’t give up on a play,” said McNeil. “We’ve worked to hard to let up on anything. On the lineouts we got an attacking platform and we used it.”

And then Roberts took it in.

“I am very tired,” said Roberts, who got over the line before his game-winner but was held up. “I saw a gap and I knew I had someone next to me but I was reading it, knew he was waiting for the pass, so I took the gap.”

Heartbreak for South Carolina, who played hard in a difficult game, but Tennessee emerged champions, and unbeaten in SCRC play.