The Rocky Gorge (Columbia/Laurel) Football Club faced a familiar foe in the Division II Mid-Atlantic Rugby Football Union (MARFU) championship game at Founder’s Field in Pittsburgh on April 28.
Facing the Wilmington Rugby Club for the third straight time in the playoffs, the teams were familiar without each other’s style of play.
Rocky Gorge won the first two matches — including last year’s Division II final in rout to a national championship — but this time around, Wilmington prevailed in a physically grueling match, 22-12, to win its first MARFU title.
“We came out and knew it was going to be a hard hitting game,” Rocky Gorge captain Matt Carroll said. “What we didn’t do was play a cohesive game all-around. They played their game plan. We were able to counter it in parts, but they capitalized on our mistakes.”
The rivals advanced to the finals after semifinal wins the day before. Wilmington defeated the Washington Irish, 41-32, while Rocky Gorge used a dominant second half to hammer the Lancaster Roses, 54-12.
Both teams were ready for an intense match when the whistle blew. Wilmington employed a forward-heavy attack almost immediately using their size to their advantage.
In the eighth minute, Wilmington used a rolling maul to gain field position and then off a five-meter penalty, prop Chris Wiggins scored the first try.
Rocky Gorge got on the board to tie the game in the 30th minute when second row Will Miller scored off a ruck set up by a successful run from a lineout. The momentum seemed to be shifting to Gorge when Wilmington stomped back five minutes with another rolling maul that ended with flanker Jarrell Avant scoring the try.
Wilmington captain Kevin Barry converted both the kicks to make the score at the end of the half, 14-7.
The rain and physical play continued in the second half as the teams battled for field position. After the ball held up in the try zone, Rocky Gorge struck first as eightman Josh Brown drove in off the five-meter scrum in the 60th minute.
Wilmington answered back five minutes later when eightman Kevin Wiggins was able to peel away from a maul for a try, making the score 19-12.
Rocky Gorge made efforts to gain momentum and field position, but were unable to mount a second half comeback.
Wilmington stifled every attempt with a sturdy defensive front and well-placed kicks. Kevin Barry added a penalty kick in the 70th minute to put Wilmington up by 10 points, 22-12.
Wilmington coach Struan Murray stated that the game was an “arm wrestle in typical arm wrestle weather. The difference today was we kept our discipline.”
Rocky Gorge and Wilmington will both advance to the east regional of the National 16 Tournament in Virginia Beach, Virginia on May 17-18. Wilmington will play Pitt City, the Midwest No. 2 seed, while Rocky Gorge will square off against Worcester, the stop seed from New England. If both teams are victorious, it will be a rematch to decide who earns the trip to Colorado and the National final four.