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Collegiate Rugby Championship Wrap-up

It is often said that the rugby community is like one big family. This weekend that was as true as ever, and a large portion of the crowd were families. It was a fairgrounds atmosphere, with the requisite food and swag vendors, and the unique sounds of rugby never far off, from the roar of the crowd to the sound of Rhino rugby balls being punted around. Saturday morning dawned under overcast skies and high humidity, and within a couple of hours the first teams and fans began to arrive st the Talen Energy Stadium Complex. All of the first day’s pool play occurred outside the stadium, but on Saturday the teams took the pitch on the big stage as well. And over the next two days, the throngs of rugby fans were treated to non-stop action in both venues, as multiple games were played simultaneously. Post game players, coaches and fans were in constant motion, an endless rotation between the venues. Many of the fans we spoke with planned their arrival to coincide with the start time of the matches of their favorite teams on both  days. Not unexpectedly the crowd grew steadily larger, and louder as each day progressed.

Thunderstorms over spread the region on Saturday night, and Championship Sunday games were played in cooler temperatures and in s stiff wind swirling along the Delaware River. Rugby is contested under all elements, and the players at this level have all had to deal with extreme conditions at some point in their careers. The fields were all in good shape both days, and play was not slowed because of poor footing. However, the higher heat and humidity on Saturday had to take toll on the athletes, and play did seem swifter and crisper on Sunday. Here’s how the tournament played out for our local men’s and women’s squads.

Pool play for the men’s divisions began on Saturday. Three of the more surprising matches involved the men’s teams from three of our service academies. Army played sloppy and looked over matched in most their first round loss to Central Washington, while Air Force, a smaller but much quicker team than their opponent Notre Dame, had no trouble dispatching them. The Fighting Falcons ripped off several long runs against the Irish, and bottled them up with a swarming defense. With the way they controlled the ball and maintained field position, the game did not even seem as “close” as 27-7 score indicated.

In a similar fashion, Navy seemed to be in complete control in a 24-5 win over Maryland. The Midshipmen outplayed the Terrapins in every facet of the game, and made few mistakes. Maryland showed some flashes of why they are here in the first place, but played inconsistently. Navy eventually advanced to the semi-finals with another solid effort as they bested arch rival Army.

Much less surprising was the manner in which Life University dispatched arch rival Penn State. The Running Eagles withstood early pressure from the Nittany Lions and by the second half, the outcome seemed predictable. Life could be the most talented team in the country on paper,  and the way they handed a drubbing to an excellent Penn State Seven did nothing to diminish their status, pitching at 27-0 shutout. On Sunday in the quarterfinals, Penn State played Life again, this time a very evenly matched 12-5 game. But Life had the 12 points, and the Nittany Lions were eliminated.

The results were mixed for other local squads, as on Saturday St. Joe’s fought to a draw in their match versus Wisconsin. But they dropped the Badgers in a re-match on Sunday, moving into the semi-finals in the Plate Pool, where they fell 24-12 to the Army Cadets. It was a great showing overall for the St. Joe’s Hawks in the tournament. Temple and Delaware both suffered a couple of thrashings on Saturday. In the Sunday quarter finals, Air Force eliminated Delaware 26-15, but Temple downed Boston College 21-12 to move to the semi-final round. That’s where it ended for the Owls, as the Air Force held them off 19-15.

Kutztown University also moved into their position in the semi-finals on Sunday after soundly defeating Temple the day before. The Golden Bears were somewhat an underdog pick of a lot of the local fans, including a strong contingent of their supporters in attendance all weekend, and more of the crowd seemed to get on board as the tourney progressed.  And on Sunday, Kutztown lived the dream, beating Notre Dame 20-5,  and running all over Maryland 47-0. And in the Bowl Division final, the Golden Bears won the Championship with a 27-10 win over Air Force!

The most iconic of all college football imagery is Fordham University’s “Seven Blocks of Granite” historic group of linemen. That seven featured among other stars, none other than Vince Lombardi. As of Sunday, Fordham can now boast of a new, modern, rock solid seven on their rugby pitch. The Rams, who topped Philly favorite Drexel 21-0, in the final, won the Freedom Cup, and by that a bid into the main Collegiate Championship pool next year. As to the overall CRC Championship this year, it was won by Lindenwood University out of St. Louis a school with a massive athletic program. Lindenwood, who defeated Life University in the semis 17-7,  made it look easy against UCLA in the final 24-7. Susquehanna, our lone local entry in the National Small College Rugby Organization pool, finished the tournament  in s respectable fifth place.

On the women’s side of things, the local squads from Temple, Drexel, Kutztown, Delaware, East Stroudsburg, Penn State and Bloomsburg squads played their way into the quarterfinals Saturday. Two of the local squads, Bloomsburg and Temple, drew each other for the afternoon play Saturday , The Bloomsburg Huskies prevailed 27-0 over the Owls. On Sunday in a match-up of Philly schools, Temple bested Drexel for 7th place in the Challenge Division.

Delaware shut out Kutztown in the second meeting between our local teams Saturday. The Blue Hens moved on to face Virginia on Sunday and defeated them in a close match 10-5, to make it to the Challenge Division final. Bloomsburg also reached the Challenge final Sunday, with a dominant win over Clemson 21-7, setting up an all local final as well. But it was no contest, as the Delaware Blue Hens were women on a mission, and dominated both halves, scoring a 31-0 victory over the Huskies to secure the Challenge Championship. Their efforts on Sunday placed Kutztown in fifth place, East Stroudsburg in 6th, Temple in 7th and and the Drexel Dragons in 8th in the Challenge Division.

Penn State could do no wrong in their 41-0 rout of Boston University Saturday, and moved on to play NSCRO All-Stars in the semifinals Sunday. Penn State looked unstoppable as they won handily 33-12 to move into the Cup finals. In that game however, the true school of destiny this tournament, Lindenwood, stopped them in their tracks with a hard fought 21-12 victory. The Lady Lions joined their men’s counterparts as 2018 Collegiate Rugby Champions, in an awesome weekend for the school from St. Louis and their fans. It was the first time in tournament history  a school captured the crown in both men and women’s play.

Anyone stepping up to the rugby smorgasbord that was this years CTC, got a good taste of the sport, the fastest growing in the country. If you are a newcomer to the sport and caught the rugby bug at this tournament, you are not alone. Check out your local USA Rugby Union Club, and get involved. Player, coach, fan it doesn’t matter. It is all one big family.

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