Out of Touch: Pittsburgh Harlequins vs. Baltimore-Chesapeake Brumbies in final Fall action

The Harlequins traveled to Baltimore for the final match of the Fall half. The Baltimore trip has been an annual occurrence for the Quins for over a decade now. And for nearly as long Pittsburgh has not left Baltimore with a victory. During practice this past week the Quins discussed the significance of this match for both the season’s success as well as for the legacy and history of the club. Over a decade without winning in Baltimore. This fact served as excellent motivation for the Pittsburgh side.

Despite kicking the ball to Baltimore to begin the match, the Quins regained possession quickly. The first Pittsburgh possession featured strong forward runs in the interior of the field. Forced to respect gain line advances, BC defenders left space on the wing. The Quins backline punched through the defense, offloaded to space and within five minutes fly-half Ted Sheedy was over the line for the first score.

Baltimore came to play. They would not roll over so easily. They chased down the restart kick and suddenly had possession in the Quins’ half. A few forward runs engineered the space they needed in the backline and within minutes of the Pittsburgh try, Baltimore had the lead at 7 – 5. Maintaining possession, BC kept to their strength. Big forward crashes complimented by a disciplined backline. Poor communication on the Harlequins’ part created another overload on the wing and the Brumbies took the lead at 12 – 5.

Pittsburgh would surge for the remainder of the first half with one opportunity after another to score again. Handling errors and inadequate support at the breakdown cost Pittsburgh the possession on several attempts inside the attacking twenty-two. Ultimately aided by a yellow card for a dangerous tackle, Pittsburgh capitalized on the man advantage as hooker Frank LeDonne dove over the line for his second try in the three matches. Sheedy’s conversion tied the game at 12.

Before the half, BC made a surge of their own, playing multiple phases inside the Pittsburgh twenty-two. Aided by a few breakdown penalties, Baltimore would advance the ball to within the five meter line, but a staunch defensive sequence by the Quins kept the momentum on the Pittsburgh side headed into the half.

Carrying that momentum into the second half, Pittsburgh recycled the ball quickly and maintained straight attacking lines. Eight-man Vili Siale and center Eddie Varea punished defenders, pushing them clear over and executing sympathetic offloads. The backline moved the ball well while Varea kept creating space by being difficult to bring down one-on-one. Within five minutes Varea himself would take the ball over the line for the score.

Without letting up, Pittsburgh went right back on the attack. Strong running from lock Mitch DePellegrini and prop Zack Jessell, kept the Quins moving forward. Good vision and offloading by lock Steve Novacic would deliver the ball to forwards and backs alike, running with pace and diagnosing space in the defense. DePellegrini carried defenders with him as he reached for the try line. A strong start to the second half put Pittsburgh up 26 – 12 before the sixtieth minute.

Once more the Brumbies did not take the cue to stop fighting for the win. With the momentum favoring the Quins, BC looked to find their second wind. Spreading the ball well, Baltimore looked for overloads on the wing. It had so far worked for them and it would continue to do so. Pittsburgh struggled to pick up man advantages as the ball went wide. Well-timed offloads and forward crashes to buy time between long phases kept BC moving forward. With an unconverted try, Baltimore made the score 26 – 17 with plenty of rugby left to play.

The rest of the match would go back and forth with both sides narrowly missing on promising opportunities. At the seventieth minute Pittsburgh had the ball on another encouraging possession. Difficult to defend forward crashes and elusive running from the backs advanced the ball to within the Baltimore twenty-two. When the ball came to Siale once more, he and center Lamont Ham Gadson both saw a wide gap in the defense. The offload and catch worked to perfection as Gadson ran twenty meters untouched for the try.

With less than ten minutes to play and the score 33 – 17, Baltimore made their final push. They regained possession and looked for the space in an exasperated Quins defense. The space was there and they capitalized quickly. A converted try made the score 33 – 24. It would be the same story on the Brumbies’ next possession. Poor tackling and good offloads kept the ball moving forward for Baltimore. Offside penalties kept Pittsburgh on their back foot while BC came closer and closer to completing the comeback. They put the final try on the board with a few minutes remaining, but missing the conversion kick made the score 33 – 29. BC, unable to tie the game with a penalty goal, was in need of one last try.

Just as the first half had ended, Pittsburgh’s defense remained resolute as the final whistle blew. For the first time in a long time, the Harlequins got a win in Baltimore, concluding the Fall half with a record of six wins and four losses. Pittsburgh will not play again until they travel to Norfolk on March 18th. Until then the Harlequins look to rest and recuperate before coming back better than ever. Thank you to all who support the Pittsburgh Harlequins Rugby Football Club.