By Liam 'Poach' Madigan-Fried
PHOTO: Judy Tesdale Photography
Houston, Texas: On Saturday afternoon, a few hours before kick-off from Sugarland, I told Grant Cole on his weekly pre-game podcast this was one game that I WISHED was going to be live streamed. Well, anyone who was listening to that broadcast Saturday night can now confirm that sentiment. That. Was. Awesome.
Before the players of NYAC or Houston even took the field, the night began on an exciting note, with the men and women of PHI Med-Evac delivering the game ball by way of a helicopter LANDING ON THE FIELD! Seriously, in the young life of professional rugby in America, how cool is that?
Eventually, after all members of the game day crew had gotten their opportunity to snap a few pics in front of the large mechanical beast, the real action of the night was ready to get underway. And get underway it did.
The match began with a few quick possessions by both teams, and we saw an early exchange of kicks between Houston winger Sam Windsor and NYAC’s Jack Fitzpatrick. However, NYAC was able to keep their own attack’s momentum going. A pass from Quentin Pradere to big-man Anthony Parry allowed them to gain some significant ground before they settled for the match’s first points of the night via the leg of Harry Bennett (Captain).
Not wanting to fall behind early to a squad that came within inches of a National Championship last year, Houston stepped up the pace of their attack, but NYAC wasn’t going to budge an inch without a fight. A near try by Josua Vici was saved by Fitzpatrick touching the ball down, a smart rugby play and a clear insinuation of NYAC’s plan to neutralize Vici.
However, an intercepted pass by Esdale, and a few well timed passes from Murphy and Vici later, Sam Windsor was able to break through the NYAC defense for Houston’s first try of the match. But still, NYAC kept coming back strong, and were able to stay in the game early thanks to two Pangelinan misses on penalty kicks (not a good night for the Houston fullback all around, who was also seen with a sleeve on his kicking leg during the second half).
Although there were still hints of work needing to be done within Houston’s lineouts, it sounded as if there had been significant progress made in the area that has hindered this squad the most. On multiple occasions, Hooker Diego Maquieira successfully got the ball out to the back and into the waiting arms of Cecil Garber, who at one point got an amazing jump over Greg Voigt, setting up a phase that ended in a Zach Pangelinan try and subsequent conversion, extending the Houston lead to 14-3.
NYAC would continue to display brilliant physicality on defense while trying to apply pressure through certain phases on both the SaberCat forwards and backs. However, the home team was able to hold the line long enough to get another try by way of Connor “Quick-Tap” Murphy (Seriously, can we make this stick?).
If NYAC had pulled out the victory tonight, the Man of the Match honors would no doubt have gone to Harry Bennett, and that shone through when he was able to get NYAC’s first try of the match. It sounded as if it was an incredible reacher in the corner, as the line judge on the scoring side had to be consulted. But it was meant to be, and the score stood at 14-10.
As the first half wore on, it was more of the same, but luckily that ‘same’ was anything but dull and bland, even by radio broadcast standards, this sounded like some crazy a** sh**. The highlights of which would probably have to go to Josua Vici (who somehow didn’t take home his trillionth man of the match award). Josua would go to put down two more tries before 40 minutes was up, topped by a metaphorical cherry when he was able to reel in his own team’s kick off with an Odell Beckham Jr. style one handed layout.
Luckily for the heart palpitations of fans listening in the Empire State, NYAC would keep the game within reach by netting one more try before the half’s end, executing a beautiful maul that would see Penn State alumni Kirkland Hamilton get the credit. Teams would head into the locker room with the score at 33-17, well within reach for the NYAC men.
Unfortunately for the fans clad in red and white (and one young man in the stands who was even sporting a full on Spartan helmet), you know how this story ends. Well, I’m assuming that, considering you read the title (Or did you? Lazy sh**, either way keep reading, you’re not done yet).
The second half began with the clear intent of both teams to start fast. The SaberCats were out to test the NYAC backs early, but penalties on both sides were responsible for quelling a few potential big breaks. An intense few series came about when Seamus Kelly came within a hair of securing the try after some broken tackles, but was held up in the try zone by a swarming pack of SaberCats (sounds cool when you say it like that, huh?). That resulted in a five meter scrum, which once again resulted in Parry getting held up.
A third attempt at five points would prove more fruitful. NYAC went for a few pick and drives at Houston’s forwards, drawing the home team in just enough for a Walsh to connect with Parry for pay-dirt. With that, NYAC pulled even closer at 33-24.
A kick at the post by Player-Coach Sam Windsor would extend the lead a little, but all semblance of comfort was lost by the ‘Cats when NYAC’s Seamus Kelly was able to finally break through an otherwise rock solid Houston goal line defense for a try to bring the score even closer at 36-31.
Going into full protection mode and playing a man down due to a yellow card, you could imagine the sweat pouring down the faces of the Houston faithful, and it wasn’t just that southern humidity. Then there came the defining moment of the night, when Sam Windsor came through for the ‘Cats one more time with a 50+ meter kick to put the score for Houston at 39.
One more try for NYAC by Parry would come after a gap-slicing quick tap, but not with enough time to hope for anything else. The ‘Cats would get the win 39-38. Harry Bennett would end the game perfect on conversions and penalties, which definitely could not be said for Pangelinan (0/3 on conversions, 2/3 penalty kicks).
There were several occasions where the SaberCats could have more or less put the game away, but then a few bad passes, a knock-on here and there, and an ill-timed obstruction call by Vici in the second half especially would drain the sink on it. Same goes for NYAC, in that they could have got this game way closer earlier or even taken the lead at a few points, but a plethora of not releasing penalties saw them lose quite a few possessions.
If Houston hopes to make this two game stretch into an official win streak against NOLA next week (the first all-MLR matchup EVER), then the needless penalties are going to have to be cut down upon. Even players like Josua Vici could learn a thing or two from some time in the film room, especially when it comes to timing the passes with when gaps are appearing. Or when you’re, you know, actually behind the ball instead of five meters ahead of it, slow down just a bit ‘kehd.
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Penguin Tundra Sports Blog was created in 2016 by a very bored college student who was obsessed with Rugby and Football. That same college student knew how to write pseudo-intelligently, so what better way to show off than to create a blog. Along your journey though the Tundra's domain, you may come across outlandish opinions, horrible spelling errors, and some shit that is just outright wrong. Well then, you should comment, give my blog more attention, and we will have our day in internet court. Otherwise, I hope you enjoy talking about sports as much as I do.
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