BINGHAMTON, N.Y.— It was a Memorial Day that Harvey’s rugby program will not soon forget as the boys, battling on the pitch on a day of high humidity in Binghamton, May 28, won the 2018 New York State Division 1 Tier 2 Rugby Championship, holding off New York City’s Play Rugby USA (PRUSA) 31-24.
Playing against a highly talented and athletic side that had beaten Harvey by 40 points three weeks earlier, the boys from Katonah came up big. “They showed what determination and commitment can accomplish in the spirit of reaching a goal that the boys so badly wanted,” said Harvey coach Luigi Loiola, whose team won its second state title in four years.
The PRUSA ruggers controlled the match early and looked poised to score first when they found themselves just 5 meters from the Harvey line. It looked like the boys from Katonah were in for a long day, but the Harvey defense, led by Dan Pope and Nielsen Dry, forced a turnover. When Harvey’s Ian Macari kicked clear, his teammates uttered a sigh of relief. The match would again go Harvey’s way when in the 11th minute the PRUSA flanker received a red card for a dangerous tackle and the Harvey boys found themselves a man up for the rest of the match. It didn’t take long for Harvey to take advantage. The Cavaliers’ big fly-half, Ollie Davies, broke through the defense, dragging two tacklers into the try zone, and Macari made the conversion for a 7-0 Harvey lead. Six minutes later, however, PRUSA came right back and touched down to make it 7-5.
With the PRUSA backs looking like they were headed for another score, Mike Martirano made yet another last-gasp tackle in the open field to help Harvey dodge another setback.
Keeping the ball with their dominant senior forwards, the Harvey boys began to take over. Punishing the defenders with Chris Brennan and Sean Puente-led runs and brutal rucking by Matt Rade and Liam McDermott, Harvey scored to make it 12-5 on forward Andrew Bartholet’s dive over the line. The see-saw match continued as the always dangerous PRUSA backs tied the score in the 27th minute.
After yet another break by the PRUSA backs, Grant Doherty found himself as the last defender against what looked to be a go-ahead try for the New York City team. Making a bone-jarring tackle Doherty forced the turnover, picked up the loose ball and sprinted 45 meters to score under the post right at halftime. Macari converted easily and the boys went into the half, not only with a 19-12 lead, but with renewed belief that their goal was within reach.
Starting the second half with newfound energy, the Harvey forwards again took over the match with more brutal rucking and suffocating defense. When PRUSA was pinned in its own try zone after two powerful Harvey defensive scrums, the opponent’s fly-half panicked and floated a kick two meters in front of his team’s own try line. With what seemed like an eternity, the ball hung in midair and out of nowhere, meters from his position, Harvey’s Man of the Match, Doherty, snatched it and pushed forward with a defender draped over his back to score again. The conversion would make the score 26-17 in favor of Harvey at the 35th minute.
But unlike in the semifinal, 40 minutes of clinical, bruising rugby was not enough, and with 20 minutes left, PRUSA came storming back. PRUSA’s fast and athletic backs led their team to scores in the 41st and 50th minutes. It looked like the match was escaping the grasp of the Harvey boys as PRUSA cut the lead to 26-24.
Harvey, determined not to give up the lead, applied attacking pressure and struck again. Receiving yet another penalty for a high tackle, PRUSA lost another player when a second player was sent off. With the Harvey boys determined to hold off their opponent, being down two men would prove too much for PRUSA to handle. Once again it would be Davies who, after a punishing Pope crashing run, dragged in three defenders to score his second try. When Macari hit the post on the conversion attempt, it was still a one-score contest at 31-24.
With one minute left, PRUSA forced a turnover, but the Harvey boys would not be denied this game as they forced their own turnover and won the day’s last scrum. When Macari kicked the ball into touch and the referee blew the final whistle, the Harvey rugby boys were improbable 2018 NYS Champions.
Coach Loiola said Harvey’s boys accomplished what a few weeks ago seemed impossible.
“After that 40 point loss to PRUSA, we made some positional adjustments, but it was the hard work these boys put in that made the difference,” he said. “They believed in themselves and in each other, and, although Doherty was a standout today, it truly was a team effort. From Italy to Binghamton, they believed in each other and they all came up big. From Insolia to Rade, from O’Donnell to Shepard this group earned their title and they are NYS Champions.”