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    Out of Touch: The Harlequins of Avonworth

    Pittsburgh had something to prove on Saturday. After taking three consecutive losses on the road the Harlequins were home for their first match since mid-October. The Quins started the match strong, playing consecutive phases in their attacking half. Strong forward running opened up space on the edge for the Pittsburgh back-line. Possession still changed hands a few times due to handling errors, but when NOVA was called for a breakdown penalty, fullback Ted Sheedy called for the kicking tee. Score: 3 - 0 after twelve minutes.

    Pittsburgh controlled possession off the restart kick and picked up right where they left off. This time, however, they were not plagued by handling errors. Well timed lines, and the ability for forwards to seamlessly integrate into the back-line continued to push the ball forward. Tight-five player Zack Jessell, and flanker Zack Kochin led the way for Pittsburgh with punishing line breaks down the field. Kochin was the one who finally got the ball to the ground in-goal. Sheedy was good for the conversion and Pittsburgh expanded their lead. Score: 10 - 0 after seventeen minutes.

    Play went back and forth for a few minutes, but NOVA struggled to get the ball out of their own defending half. And Zack Jessell was just heating up. Consecutive forward hit-ups drew NOVA defenders inward while another hybrid back-line was setting up for Pittsburgh. Jessell received the ball from flyhalf Allan Hanson and then wove his way through a scattered NOVA defense. He beat everyone to the corner for the try. Sheedy continued his flawless kicking with the conversion. Score: 17 - 0 after twenty-five minutes.

    NOVA had something to say about the mismatched score, however. Theirs was a fast and large back-line. Where they were not given space from the Harlequins defense they took it by barreling through would-be tacklers. This ability kept Pittsburgh on the back foot and gave time for the NOVA attack to continue setting up positive sequences. They scored in minute twenty-nine. Score: 17 - 7.

    Directly from the restart kick NOVA continued their attacking streak. Pittsburgh struggled to take down the ball-carrier on first contact and NOVA scored again in minute thirty-three. Score: 17 - 12.

    Pittsburgh regained possession after pinning NOVA in their own end and forcing a poor clearance kick. Then a NOVA penalty put the ball to Sheedy’s foot for a line-out in promising territory. The Quins controlled possession in the set-piece and looked to maul into the in-goal. NOVA was quick to back up from the drive and not engage. Harlequins flanker Zack Schell had controlled the ball from the line-out. Schell quickly recognized that NOVA was declining to maul and he immediately looked to carry the ball forward. The speed at which Schell made this decision was more than enough to catch the NOVA defense off-guard. Schell went all the way for the try. More masterful kicking from Sheedy made the score 24 - 12 just before the half.

    Pittsburgh started the second half strongly with more impressive attacking sequences. The next try came off the boot of flyhalf Allan Hanson. Hanson received the ball around the middle of the field with a pair of supporting players running convincing dummy lines. Hanson diagnosed enough space behind the defense and saw winger Brandon Stine with pace. The kick sailed over the NOVA defensive line and Stine snagged it off the bounce. He took it to the house. Sheedy again. Score: 31 - 12 after forty-three.

    NOVA was quick to answer, capitalizing again off of strong ball carrying and missed tackles. They closed in on the lead by five after a try and missed conversion. Score 31 - 17 after forty-nine minutes.

    Pittsburgh had their attacking turn next after regaining possession after the restart. Engineering space along the edge by a disciplined attack around the breakdown, Pittsburgh advanced the ball toward the goal-line. Flanker Zack Schell found the ball again for a run to the in-goal. Sheedy again. 38 - 17 after fifty-eight minutes.

    Then NOVA prepped for their comeback. Their attack picked up and refused to let down for the remainder of the game. They scored at minute sixty-four, but missed the conversion. Score: 38 - 22.

    Pittsburgh struggled to defend against the NOVA attack as the minutes waned. NOVA capitalized off a Harlequins yellow-card and found the in-goal again after minute seventy-seven. Score 38 - 29.

    NOVA came within inches of tying the game. They scored the final points of the day with an eightieth minute try. The conversion was good and the final whistle blew. The missed conversion after the sixty-fourth minute try was enough to seal the victory for the Quins. Final score: 38 - 36.

    The Quins finish the fall half of the season at four wins and four losses. Time to rest, recover, and improve as winter approaches. The Pittsburgh Harlequins would like to thank all supporters.

    Out of Touch: Where the Sun Don't Shine

    All things considered, the trip from Pittsburgh to Baltimore was pretty tame compared to having gone to Norfolk only a week prior. Upon arriving in Maryland, however, the Quins were met with the same rainy conditions as in Virginia. Another week of tight play and a heavy scrummaging load for the forward pack.

    Pittsburgh started strong, sticking to the initial game plan; one off runners with quickly recycled ball to punish the defense without over extending the attack. Once satisfied with the numbers that Baltimore had committed defensively, fly half John Stapleton would call for a wider ball. Stapleton did well to use his centers both as decoys and reliable options to carry the ball. The result was consistent line breaks for the Harlequins early in the match.

    When center Viliami Siale broke through the line he bumped off the next few would be tacklers, moving the gain line forward. Spotting a little seam around the breakdown, scrum half Dom Piazza took the ball into the in-goal for the first score of the day. Full back Ted Sheedy slotted the conversion to make the score 7 to 0 within ten minutes.

    Pittsburgh struggled to get back in their attacking end for the remainder of the half. Baltimore, aided by strong set piece performance in the scrums, put their foot on the gas and did not let up for the next thirty minutes.

    Baltimore’s advantage in the scrum meant the rainy conditions, responsible for a plethora of handling errors, consistently placed them in good attacking position. Several times the Quins were playing from their own goal line, playing solid defense phase after phase. Twice the Quins escaped without letting a score, but twice more Pittsburgh did not escape. The first Baltimore score came after their back line’s patience was rewarded after double digit forward phases. The second came after a dominant scrum five meters from the goal line was pushed all the way over the line where the Baltimore eight man easily tapped it down. Both tries were converted. Halftime score: 14 to 7.

    Pittsburgh had more promising attacking opportunities in the second half, but struggled to take advantage of them all the way into the in-goal. Baltimore, meanwhile, took advantage of their opportunities such that they never lost their lead.

    Baltimore, leaning on the success of their set pieces, drove down the field phase after phase keeping Pittsburgh on the back foot. Baltimore did a better job of spreading the ball wide in spite of the miserable conditions. It helped them take the ball over the line within the first five minutes of the second half. Score: 21 to 7.

    The Quins consistently put themselves in good position to retake control of the match, but handling errors, set piece turnovers, and penalties kept giving possession back to Baltimore. The home team bided their time well when controlling the ball. Another Pittsburgh penalty within kicking range allowed Baltimore to extend the lead with a PK. Score 24 to 7.

    Pittsburgh put together one more attacking drive. Maintaining possession into the opposing twenty-two, the Quins forwards took ball after ball from the back of the ruck, scraping away inches at a time and tiring down a stout Baltimore side. The ball went wide a few times before more picks from the ruck. Eventually, Sheedy spotted some space across the width of the field. He booted a floating kick with winger Greg Genovese chasing it down into the in-goal. Genovese narrowly touched the ball down before it could go into touch to give Pittsburgh their only score of the half. Sheedy was good on the conversion to make the score 24 to 14.

    By then it was too little too late for the Harlequins. Baltimore regained possession of the ball and controlled it until the final whistle blew.

    Pittsburgh’s record is now 3 - 3. The Harlequins have next Saturday off. The upcoming week will be important rest and recovery before the final two matches of the Fall half.