Out of Touch: Potomac-Pittsburgh Showdown in Coraopolis

A week of heavy rain forced the Harlequins’ match against the Potomac Exiles to be relocated from Founders Field to Coraopolis. A few makeshift adjustments to a standard soccer pitch were no trouble for a Pittsburgh side eager to get back on the right track in MAC competition. Coming off of three straight losses, the Quins understood the importance of this week’s match.

Pittsburgh started strong after receiving the opening kickoff. Quick recycling phase after phase allowed strong, vertical runs to push the Exiles further and further back. Carried onward by strong forward play, the Harlequins would take an early lead within the first minute from prop Zack Jessell’s try.

If the goal for the Quins’ side was to start the match strong then it seemed they had accomplished that. Potomac, however, did not make the five hour road trip just to see the rolling vertical landscapes of Western, PA. They came to play. The compliment of large forwards, hard to bring down and fast backs hard to catch allowed Potomac to get back into the game quickly. Capitalizing on bad passes from the Harlequins, the Exiles engineered two turnovers that they converted into two tries.

The Harlequins consistently advanced the ball within the Exiles’ twenty-two, but repeatedly turned it over therefrom. The Quins struggled to maul against the large Exiles pack and unforced handling errors kept Pittsburgh out of the in-goal area time after time.

As the first half came to a close both teams would score one more try each. The Exiles scored on the disruptive speed and agility of their backline in open play. Well timed offloads and elusive stepping allowed them to reverse the field quickly.

Potomac scored nineteen unanswered points in the first half before the Harlequins found themselves in a familiar position. A Pittsburgh line-out inside the Exile’s twenty-two. This time the call was for a four man drive. A good initial push allowed hooker Frank LeDonne to split away from the maul with good pace and find tight gap between two defenders. He would not be stopped as he dove for the try line and controlled the ball to the ground. Halftime score: Exiles 19 – 14 Harlequins.

In similar fashion to the beginning of the first half, Pittsburgh scored a try on their first possession of the second half. Spreading the ball well, the Quins used the full width of the field to spread the Potomac defense. Fast pace, vertical running from the Pittsburgh back line put fly-half Ted Sheedy over the try line to give the Quins their second lead of the day.

Pittsburgh maintained possession and kept the pressure on. Aided by a slew of offsides penalties, the Quins were once more attacking in the Exiles’ twenty-two. One more breakdown penalty against Potomac would allow Sheedy to slot an easy penalty goal to increase the Pittsburgh lead to five for a score of 24 – 19.

Then the Harlequins got into some trouble as Potomac made another push. With the ball inside the Pittsburgh twenty-two, multiple offside penalties and a breakdown penalty forced the referees hand. He dealt a yellow card and the Quins were forced to play against a man advantage. They would keep Potomac out of the in-goal by forcing a turnover on a solid heads up play from center Eddie Varea who stripped the ball from an Exiles player. A good kick clearance from Sheedy pinned Potomac within their half. Then a late hit from a Quins defender was enough to warrant a second yellow card.

Playing thirteen on fifteen the Quins managed to not only keep the Exiles out of the try zone, but to maintain possession and sustain a strong attack. Strong carries by  Jessell, Varea, and lock Mitch DePellegrini continued to push the gain line closer and closer to the try line. Quick recycling phase in and phase out proved too much for the Exiles to defend. Varea scored while the Quins were down two men.

Potomac had one last attacking sequence. It was strong, built on tough forward running. The big Exiles pack continued their push forward for the final score of the day. Now all Pittsburgh had to do was control the ball for the remaining few minutes. They did just that to put an end to a back and forth, competitive match. Final score Pittsburgh 29 – 26 Potomac.

The Quins are home again in Pittsburgh next week (11/11) against The Schuylkill River Exiles.