Philadelphia Whitemarsh Brings Home the Silver
Philadelphia Whitemarsh RFC fell one game short of a perfect season and a national championship. After an amazing second half comeback on Saturday propelled PW past the South Bay Rhinos (CA) by a score of 50-26, and into the USA Rugby Championship Series DIII National Championship Game, they fell to New Orleans RFC (LA) in the final on Sunday, 36-20.
In the National Semifinal on Saturday, PW faced a much bigger team in the South Bay Rhinos. PW came in with a game plan of weathering the inevitable storm that the Rhinos large bodies would bring in the first half and then using their fitness and speed in the second half to go ahead in the second frame. The game plan was executed to perfection. The Rhinos scored first in the sweltering dry heat that hung over the pitch for the first half on a nifty back row move and took a 7-0 lead on Tevita Falevai’s try 10 minutes into the match. After a yellow card was given to the Rhino’s fly half, Tonga Tupou, PW got on the score sheet on a strong maul off of a lineout. Flanker Tim Foley got credit for the score, touching the ball down after the maul crossed the goal line. The rest of the half was all South Bay as they put up two more converted tries from fullback, Vernon Onofia and reserve back Johnny Chang in the first half to lead 21-5 at the break.
The second half went exactly to plan for Philly Whitemarsh. An intentional knock on was called on Tupou, minutes into the second stanza earning him his second yellow card that resulted in a red and the Rhinos had to play the rest of the game with 14 men. For a big physical team that was running out of gas, the loss of their fly half proved costly. PW took little time to take advantage, getting the ball wide to Brian Engle on the wing, who touched down and cut the lead to 21-10. Bob Haller, PW’s captain and #8 came up with the play of the game 5 minutes later. Haller picked the ball off the back of scrum on his own 22, went to the weak side and galloped the length of the field, duping Rhino defenders with a fake kick and then centering the ball under the posts for an easy chip shot from Jim Rosato to cut the lead to 21-17 and opened the flood gates for a PW try party.
PW full back, Louis Tulio was next to score, slipping through the Rhino backline and Rosato converted to put PW in the lead for good, 24-21. Rosato then converted his own try to put PW up 31-21. Rhino hooker, Ian Pula got five back for South Bay to cut the lead to 31-26 momentarily but the relentless attack from PW was too much as PW added 3 more tries in the last 15 minutes from Rosato, Scrum half Brian Oteri and winger Kurt Engle to finish of the 45 point effort in the second half. The final score read 50-26 and Philly Whitemarsh solidified their spot in the National Championship Game against New Orleans RFC who had defeated the Tuscon Magpies 36-8 earlier in the day.
The Philly Whitemarsh boys showed up to the beautiful Infinity Park Stadium on Sunday morning with hopes of raising the D3 Championship Trophy but at the end of the day, their mistakes and the foot of NOLA’s fullback Andrew Quackenbos sent the trophy down south with the team from the Big Easy.
Although the only try of the first half belonged to winger Bennan Conway of PW, Quakenbos was a perfect 5 for 5 on penalty kicks in the half for NOLA. Conway’s try gave PW the lead at 5-3, 11 minutes into the match but Quakenbos took back the lead for NOLA just 2 minutes later at 6-5. The two sides swapped penalties before the NOLA fullback added two more and the halftime score read 15-8 NOLA.
NOLA center, Eric Mackintosh widened the cushion early in the second half, blocking a PW kick in deep in their end and diving on the ball over the line. Quakenbos, who did not miss a kick all day and was named MVP of the tournament, converted to put NOLA up 22-8. PW refused to roll over with plenty of time left. They cut the lead to 7 on a long run from Tulio set up by center’s John Knab and Rosato. Rosato’s conversion was good.
Another mistake from PW however, cost them dearly as NOLA wing, Kevin Ndongi picked up and errant pass and ran untouched to set up another Quakenbos conversion and gave NOLA a 29-15 lead. Tulio got through again for PW in the 72nd minute but the try went unconverted and NOLA still held a two-score lead, 29-20. In the waning minutes, NOLA #8 sealed the championship with a try, again converted by Quackenbos and the final score read 36-20.
While the outcome was disappointing for PW, and the silver medals weren’t what they were hoping to bring home, the experience of being in the national championship provides an excellent springboard going into next season as the club continues to grow.