Out of Touch: Tough Road Loss in Nation’s Capital

The challenge of traveling well at the Club level once more rears its ugly head. The Harlequins were up early Saturday morning in order to make the trip to D.C. for a rematch against the Washington Irish. The previous meeting saw Pittsburgh the victor by a considerable margin, but on the Potomac with the Washington Monument in the background, the day would go differently.

Pittsburgh dominated the first half from the opening kickoff. Receiving the ball first, the Harlequins would march down the field behind the strength of well timed vertical lines ran by the forward pack led by prop Zack Jessell, eight-man Viliami Siale, and lock Steve Novacic. On offense the Quins dominated the contact zone in the first half. Jessell ran through a slew of would-be tacklers, dragging a few with him over the try line for the first score of the day.

Maintaining possession, the Irish defense was forced to adjust to the Pittsburgh pack’s running strength. Recognizing this, fly-half Ted Sheedy would allow for a few forward hit ups before calling for the ball to be swung wide. With space left on the exterior of the field, winger Zack Schell capitalized by dotting down the second try of the day.

After a sequence of back and forth kicking to vie for field position, the Irish were able to find touch near the Pittsburgh twenty-two. Miscommunication in the Quins line-out meant nobody looked for the overthrow. A turnover off the set piece put the Irish in good scoring position. They would grind there way toward the in-goal after a series of picks from the back of the ruck. Aided by a Pittsburgh penalty at the breakdown, the Irish put their first points up.

Not to be deterred, the Quins would make one final drive to the try line before the end of the first half. Once more led by strong forward running and well-timed calls to swing the ball wide, the Harlequins would step-wise march down the field. This time Siale would find the ball on the wing with plenty of green grass in front of him. The Irish defense eventually caught up with him, but not before he was at full pace. He dragged more than a couple of defenders with him over the goal line before forcing the ball to ground. The score at the half: 21 – 5

The second half started slowly for Pittsburgh. The Irish got the ball first and quickly turned possession into points. After dominating the contact zone on offense in the first half, Pittsburgh would struggle to be dominant on defense in the second half. Quins tacklers got caught with stationary feet and reaching arms as the game wore on. The Irish would capitalize by diagnosing gaps in the Pittsburgh defensive line and hitting them with pace and disciplined verticality. The Irish ability to offload after breaking through the defense allowed them to keep play alive and force the Harlequins to play defense on the retreat.

Pittsburgh’s lone try of the second half would come around the sixtieth minute after a disciplined sequence on offense created just enough space in the Irish defense for Novacic to slip through and touch ball to ground, but as Pittsburgh struggled to maintain their work rate on both sides of the ball the Irish were just getting started.

A combination of unforced errors from the Quins on offense and lack of communication on defense kept the ball in the hands of the Irish with too much room to run. Step by step, try by try the Pittsburgh lead shrank and shrank until the score was 28 – 22 with just over five minutes to play. Clinging to a 6 point lead Pittsburgh was unable to maintain possession. It would be the same story as all of the second half. The Quins turned the ball over. The Irish found space to play. Poor tackling kept the ball alive. Offloads in the contact zone kept the ball alive still. With no more than three minutes left to play, the Irish scored the final try of the day. The conversion kick would decide the match. After missing the first four conversion kicks on the day, the Irish kicker with the game on the line would not miss a fifth. Their first lead of the day in the seventy-eighth minute, the Irish completed the comeback. One final attempt by the Quins amounted to nothing and the final whistle blew on a tough road loss for Pittsburgh. Final score: Washington 29 – 28 Pittsburgh. Harlequins season record: 3-4

Your Pittsburgh Harlequins return to Founders Field next Saturday 11/4 to take on the Potomac Exiles. The decision to idle in dismay or find motivation in defeat is one only the Harlequins themselves can make. The rest of the Harlequins faithful let us show our support at full strength.