Out of Touch: Conference Championship Rematch Sees No Change in Result.

With fans, friends, family, and former players present; Harlequins Homecoming and Family Day was all set to be a fine success. Even the weather was willing to cooperate. The sky was blue and the sun shined bright, but Rocky Gorge came to play. That should come as no surprise. The reigning conference champs have a strong identity and an uncanny ability to execute. If you bring anything less than your best against them, they make you pay.

The match began with Pittsburgh kicking off to Gorge. Scrum half Evan McNenly did a good job of allowing Pittsburgh to compete for restart kicks all day. The first kick, although competed for by both sides, was fielded by Rocky Gorge and they went to work quickly. They did well to combine a powerful forward pack with a disciplined back line. Methodically, they worked their way down the field, drawing Pittsburgh defenders into the interior of the field before spreading the ball to the edge. They would advance the ball inside of the Harlequins’ five meter line. A strongly contested goal line sequence would follow. Forwards on forwards. Picks from the back of the ruck strung together one after the other with mere inches at stake. Pittsburgh’s defense would persist as the number of phases inside five meters passed the double digit mark. As the phase count grew, the goal line defending took its toll. Gorge capitalized on a gap in the defensive line just wide enough to put them on the scoreboard first.

The next kickoff by McNenly would be tapped backwards by Quins’ hooker Frank LeDonne right into the hands of flanker Timothy Sowa. Now it was Pittsburgh’s turn to play with ball in hand. There were plenty of promising moments for the Harlequins’ attack early on, but the story of the day for Pittsburgh was handling errors committed while in good attacking position. The Harlequin’s lost the ball forward early and often.

Scrummaging remained evenly matched between the two sides with neither Pittsburgh nor Rocky Gorge losing possession of the ball through the scrum. As the day progressed, however, this would give Rocky Gorge the advantage, considering the wide disparity of knock on penalties.

The first half saw three more tries total. Rocky Gorge would score next off of a promising line break kept alive by well-timed offloads.

The Quins’ only score of the first half would come from lock Steve Novacic who put himself in good position all day long. Between his clutch performance in the line outs and his strong support running he would earn the title of Man of the Match.

While the Harlequins’ attack would struggle to put anything more together, Rocky Gorge would not let up. Pittsburgh struggled to compete for field position in the kicking game and Gorge capitalized once more before the end of the half. Halftime score: 21 – 7.

The second half would continue in the same way. Pittsburgh had multiple sequences of play that put them in good scoring position before handling errors stopped them cold. The Rocky Gorge defensive line had good, disruptive pace all day long. Even so the Quins’ back line was able to manufacture space when playing near mid field. But Pittsburgh would continue to be unable to capitalize in their attacking half.

Rocky Gorge scored twenty-two more points in the second half compared to Pittsburgh’s seven. The lone Harlequins’ try of the second half came in the closing minutes when flanker Zack Kochin intercepted the Rocky Gorge #9 to #10 pass for an easy stroll over the try line.

But it was too little too late.

The Harlequins’ have next weekend off before returning to Founders Field on the fourth of November against the Schuylkill River Exiles.

Thank you to all who came to Founders in support. Apart from the actual rugby, Harlequins Homecoming and Family Day was a huge success.

Special Thanks to Harlequins sponsors: Friendly Islander Landscaping, Camp Deer Creek, Hollywood Cafe Sports Bar & Grill, CMX Athletics, Quick Lane at Kenny Ross Ford, and Bonnie Hoolahan for the Howard Hanna Hampton Office.

Thank you as well to Rivertowne Brewing, Black Box Bistro, WISH 99.7, and Emmerling Ice Cream for their gracious support.

Pittsburgh Harlequins vs. Schuylkill River Exiles

The Harlequins’ four plus hour road trip to Philadelphia took its toll on their ability to start strong. Kicking off to the Exiles, Pittsburgh’s chase was unevenly timed and coverage poorly communicated among Quins defenders. Schuylkill would take advantage of open field play all day and that trend started from the opening kickoff. The Quins were down 5 to 0 in the opening minutes.

The next kickoff would be covered more effectively by the Harlequins, but their defensive identity would take longer to emerge at its full strength. The Exiles were keen to find gaps out wide in the defensive line. Spreading the width of the field, the Schuylkill eight-man would cut his run up the field. The Exiles’ support lines were run well. Once through the Pittsburgh line Schuylkill attackers put themselves in good position to keep the ball moving. In the first twenty minutes Pittsburgh would go be down 12 to 0.

The next restart represented an important point in the match. Pittsburgh could not afford to continue letting the Exiles have their way with each possession. Fly-half Ted Sheedy put the restart kick right to one of the Schuylkill River props. It would bounce off of his chest and into touch, putting Pittsburgh in promising attacking position.

The ball came cleanly off the line-out and Pittsburgh’s offensive pattern began to take shape. Well supported one-off runs brought defenders inward before the ball went wide. Pittsburgh would maintain this strategy back and forth across the field all the while gaining vertical momentum. The Quins would reach the opposing five meter line before being awarded a breakdown penalty for an Exiles defender not releasing the tackled player. Sheedy would take and make the penalty goal giving Pittsburgh their first points of the day. Score: 12 to 3.

The remainder of the first half would be evenly matched between the two sides. Both teams would score a try each. The Exiles’ score would come off a kick from the wing. The ball took a Schuylkill bounce and the Pittsburgh deep defense was out of position to defend. Pittsburgh’s score would come in the last five minutes. Another breakdown penalty at the Exiles’ five meter line would allow Sheedy to deliver a skip pass to lock Mitch DePellegrini. In his typical fashion, DePellegrini would carry multiple defenders into the try zone. Halftime score: 19 to 10.

Pittsburgh would claw their way back into the match in the second half with promising sequences of attack built on dominant scrummaging, but defensively the Quins would have a difficult time slowing down the Exiles’ offense in the open field.

The opening of the second half would see three tries in quick sequence. Schuylkill River would score first, Pittsburgh was able to answer with a try from Villiami Siale, and the Exiles would find the try line again. On the next Pittsburgh possession Sheedy would slot another penalty goal.

Scrum-half Timothy Sowa was asked to do a lot this week during his first start at nine, but his ability to manage the game, together with his pace and strength on defense carried his performance. When he came out with an ankle injury the Quins were forced to move winger Brandon Stine to nine. Stine made his presence known early on with a quick take off the back of the ruck. Just inside the attacking twenty-two, a dummy pass would open up his line all the way to the try line.

With the momentum now leaning the way of Pittsburgh, the Harlequins continued to drive down the field on the strength of hard attacking lines from the forwards and good open play as the ball was spread wide. Inside the attacking twenty-two, the Quins exploited space around the ruck with multiple straight forward picks. This moved them all the way into scoring position and lock Steve Novacic took the final pick and go over the line. For the first time in the match the Harlequins were in the lead 34 to 31.

Playing inside their own half, the Harlequins looked to keep possession of the ball for the final ten minutes. A sequence of multiple phases without gaining much ground put the pressure on Pittsburgh to advance the ball off the foot. The Quins’ chase was in good position, but a well-timed step by the Exiles’ fullback gave Schuylkill a lot of space to return the ball. Good support lines kept the ball moving. Just as Schuylkill had done all day they continued to make Pittsburgh pay during sequences of open play. Just like that the Exiles had the lead back.

In the closing minutes of the match the Harlequins would get the ball back and put together an impressive attack. Pittsburgh would get within meters of the try line before three consecutive penalty scrums were awarded. Each one was dominant and capable of driving over the try line. The second of the three was on its way over the try line before an Exile back row forward grabbed the ball. This solicited the final penalty scrum instead of a penalty try. Eight man Siale would pick the ball from the back of the final scrum and take off for the short side in-goal corner. The side judge raised his flag indicating Siale had been taken into touch and the final whistle blew on a devastating loss for the Harlequins. Final score Schuylkill River Exiles 38 – 34 Pittsburgh Harlequins.

Man of the match, Ryan O’Kane would be rewarded for his part in the dominant scrum play as well as a noteworthy forty meter line break.

Your Pittsburgh Harlequins return to Founders Field next week, October 14th for Homecoming and Family Day. 

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