Pittsburgh Harlequins visit Potomac Exiles

Success in the Mid-Atlantic Conference has a lot to do with a club’s ability to travel. That is no secret, but executing a road victory continues to be difficult. That same feat eluded the Harlequins in week one against Rocky Gorge.

If you look at the wins and losses between Potomac and Pittsburgh over the last five years it is split right down the middle. The home team wins. That is the trend and there have been few exceptions. Yesterday’s match, however, was one such exception.

Pittsburgh came out of the gate strong; something the Quins struggled to do last season, but have done well to correct so far this season. The Pittsburgh identity is to avoid getting sucked into a one-off running contest in the middle of the field. The Harlequins let the ball do the work. The first possession saw no more than two one-off runs in a row before the ball goes wide. With the addition of some switches and dummy runs, the ball reaches prop Julian Santana’s hands. With nothing but a winger and green grass in front of him he goes over the line easily.

Maintaining possession of the ball, Pittsburgh continued to move toward the in-goal. Potomac did well to adjust, however. Their defensive line has pace and they make good use of it, putting pressure on fly-half Ted Sheedy and his back line. It would be a while before the ball went wide again, but 8-man Viliami Siale and locks Zack Jessell with Mitch DePellegrini pave the way by taking good lines at full pace. The Harlequins support lines are well run and suddenly Pittsburgh is in scoring position again. Here the offensive identity shifts as the forwards make their way toward the interior of the field. With the goal line so close Pittsburgh allowed one-off running to temporarily be the strategy of choice. There was no stopping Mitch DePellegrini as he dragged three defenders with him for the second try of the day. Score after twenty minutes: 12 to 0.

There would be two more good scoring opportunities for the Quins in the following minutes. A few line breaks built off skip passes and dummy runs opened up the playing field, but handling errors kept the Quins from expanding their lead.

After playing on their back foot for the majority of the first half, The Exiles seized their opportunity to bring the game back within reach. Good kicking from their fly-half and inside-center, combined with a few breakdown penalties on the Quins, put Potomac in scoring position twice. Strong and disciplined Pittsburgh defense kept the opposition from scoring on both occasions. But as the second half came to a close, Potomac’s speed and agility at the wing position was too much to keep them off the scoreboard. Halftime score: 12 to 7.

Momentum is powerful and volatile in club rugby. Going into the half, the momentum went the way of Potomac. As the second half opened up Potomac would run away with it. Once more on the strength of their kicking attack and wing speed, Potomac would score two consecutive tries and a penalty goal. Pittsburgh seemed to have 

 

no answer as fatigue began to set in. With less than twenty minutes to go Potomac had the lead 24 to 12.

A less experienced team would resign themselves at this point. A less motivated team would hang their heads and shrink in the face of adversity. A less conditioned team would be incapable of effecting the outcome so late in the match. Pittsburgh showed their true colors by rising to the challenge.

The comeback began with Zack Jessell and the rest of the forward pack increasing their work rate. In a span of a few short minutes Jessell would break the gain line more than a few times before he found a gap in the Potomac defense. With good pace he broke through, drew the fullback and sent a clean offload the way of Viliami Siale. There would be no one else to stop the powerful 8-man. After the conversion the score would be 24 to 19.

Now Pittsburgh held the momentum and they were not going to give it back. A revitalized Quins side kept digging deep to find their second wind. With the ball back and the objective clear, Pittsburgh went back on the attack. After the Harlequins forward pack had picked up the work rate on the previous possession, the Potomac defense shifted inward to cover the interior of the field. Recognizing this, the Harlequins let the ball do the work. The ball would travel to the hands of center Greg Genovese who, after a well-timed step to beat the defender, had a straight shot to the in-goal. For the first time since the beginning of the second half, Pittsburgh held the lead 26 to 24.

The Potomac Exiles would get one more opportunity to take the day. Indeed their attack was sufficient enough to get them inside the Pittsburgh half, but Quins winger Zack Schell got the beat on a long pass to the Exiles’ winger. Schell snagged the interception and took it all the way for the nail in the coffin score.

Pittsburgh had gone from a strong start, to feeling dispirited, to revitalized, to exuberant. Rugby has the power to turn 80 minutes into a thrill ride worth remembering. Final score 33 to 24.

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