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Minutemen get comeback win in quarterfinals

The Massachusetts club rugby team showed its ability to win close games on Saturday as it beat Bentley in the New England Rugby Football Union quarterfinal playoffs.

The Minutemen (5-1) faced a 12-5 deficit late in the game and the Falcons (3-1-2) showed little sign of relenting. With 10 minutes remaining, after many attempts and with a man down, UMass broke Bentley’s defense with a 17-12 win.

Defense dictated the match as both teams battled mostly between the 22-meter lines. Steady rain dampened the pitch, making scoring temperate and possession a premium. They traded blows around midfield and stifled each other around the goal-line.

UMass took the pitch organized, gaining possession and sloshing its way downfield for the opening score. A missed conversion held the score at 5-0. Bentley came back and muscled its way in for a try 7-5.

Many whistles were blown throughout the course of the afternoon. With each team vying for position, the referee made numerous offside calls as he did his best to uphold order amidst a heated contest.

Points were tough to come by as the ruggers seemed to rally around their own end-line. Bentley’s goal-line presence was more prevalent around halftime when the Minutemen steadily worked their way downfield only to be smothered by the Falcon’s resistance as the whistle blew.

Coming out of the break, UMass relayed its way down Bentley’s half, but its defense would once again weather the attack. The Falcons denied the Minutemen, stripping them of the orb and booting it to midfield. A possession-minded Bentley player sped up-field, confronted a UMass back and deftly redirected the ball to a teammate off the side of his cleat.  

That play led to a turning point in momentum in which the Falcons would build on their scoring advantage. Bentley punched in a try midway through the second half, but a missed conversion left the Minutemen within one score.

With fewer than 20 minutes remaining in the game, and possibly its season, UMass tied the game. A major penalty put the Minutemen’s season in jeopardy, but they prevailed in the end.

The Maroon and White pressured the Falcons’ defense, penetrating deep into their territory. Bentley tried for a clear and rendered a throw-in around its own 22-meter line. Following the throw-in, the Falcons cleared the ball to midfield where Dan Morgan found the sphere in his clutches. Attempting an up-and-under, the senior hooker punted the ball 10 meters towards the goal.

A Bentley fullback fielded the punt and quickly tried to redirect it when Morgan met him with full force. The forward went for a charge down, colliding with his opponent and sending him to the pitch. He was given a yellow card and a 10 minute misconduct penalty.

Playing undermanned, UMass worked to cut the field in half by pushing the ball up-field with its backs and moving the pile with its forwards.

The Minutemen pushed their way to the goal-line, looking for the end-zone. They pried their way towards goal where they met confrontation. After nearly 10 minutes of forceful offense, UMass barged its way through for a try.

The Minutemen needed a conversion to tie the game and would not get it, missing the posts wide-right, leaving them down, 12-10.

UMass received the ensuing kick-off deep in its own territory. The two teams clashed in Minutemen field until a tripping penalty by Bentley gave position to the Minutemen.

As UMass steamed ahead towards goal, each team tried to gain leverage and competition was closely monitored by the referee who was quick to stop play for misconduct. Multiple scrums kept the crowd in suspense as they began to get loud.

With fewer than 10 minutes remaining, the Minutemen breached the Falcon’s defense for the game-winning try.

With the win, the Minutemen move to the semifinals of the NERFU tournament, which will be held on Saturday at Middlebury College in Vermont and an automatic bid to the Northeast Regional Tournament. In its next match, UMass will take on Eastern Conference champions Boston University that boast a 4-1-1 record during the regular season.

Daniel Gigliotti can be reached at dgigliot@student.umass.edu.

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