Out of Touch: Crusaders in Pittsburgh

Cleveland travelled to Pittsburgh yesterday. They brought more cold weather with them. Both teams are more than familiar with cold temperatures so it was only fitting that the the beginning of the day saw snow fall.

At kick-off, however, things started to heat up. Cleveland began strong after receiving the opening kick-off. They would run several phases back-to-back; little by little moving the gain line forward. Then an off-side penalty went in favor of the Crusaders. A quick kick to find touch and suddenly Cleveland was in good attacking position. From there a solid combination of strong runs from forwards and agility from the backs and the Crusaders went up 7 to 0.

Then it was the Harlequins turn. In similar fashion the Quins moved the gain line forward led by fly-half Brandon Stine and center Simione Nacaucauceva. In the end it was Simi who put Pittsburgh on the scoreboard after a huge line break took him all the way to the in-goal. Hooker Frank LeDonne tacked on the conversion kick to tie the game at 7 all.

An even first half continued to see back and forth play for multiple possessions. Both sides saw good attacking opportunities before handling errors cut them short. At one point the Crusaders were awarded a breakdown penalty just outside their attacking twenty-two. They opted for a penalty goal, but it went wide left by a slim margin.

A few minutes later and the Quins were put in the same position. For his part, LeDonne slotted the penalty goal right down the middle to give Pittsburgh the lead 10 to 7.

As the first half drew to a close, Cleveland saw one final attacking opportunity. Strong runs from the forward pack did well to draw in Harlequins defenders. Diagnosing space on the wings, the Crusaders spun the ball out wide where it was too little too late for Pittsburgh to put the ball carrier to the deck. Cleveland held the lead at half time 14 to 10.

More even play throughout the second half. Despite Pittsburgh receiving the opening kick-off, the Crusaders regained possession shortly thereafter. Another promising attack put them inside their attacking twenty-two once more. Then a Quins defender was called for a breakdown penalty while contesting a ruck. Cleveland once again opted to kick for points. This time there was no stopping them as they took the lead 17 to 10.

Then Pittsburgh caught their stride for a promising attacking sequence. Near mid-field the ball went from the previous ruck to #10 Stine and then immediately to flanker Zack Cochin who found the perfect seam within the Crusaders defensive line. Capitalizing on the line break Pittsburgh’s center and 8-man, Lamont Gadson and Elijah Byrd respectively pushed the gain line all the way within the five meter line. From there the ball came to second row Zack Jessell who would not be stopped as he dotted the ball down. Another excellent spot of kicking from LeDonne tied the match at 17 all.

The Quins retained possession following the ensuing kick-off. Doing well to play balanced rugby between forwards and backs, the Quins’ forwards were never over-worked between a few phases of straight-up running complemented with solid ball movement along the exterior lanes of the field. In the end another big line break from Simi plus LeDonne’s conversion made the score 24 to 17.

As the match drew to a close, the Crusaders would not simply roll over. They put together one final attacking possession as time waned. They showed the importance of fitness in the forward pack and strength on the wings. As they pushed the gain line forward they kept the Quins playing on their back foot. Cleveland’s final attack was too much for Pittsburgh as they tied the game just before the last whistle blew. Final score Pittsburgh 24 – 24 Cleveland.

The Harlequins are back in action next week (4/14) for their final regular season conference match against the Norfolk Blues here in Pittsburgh. We hope to see you then.

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