Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Embarrassing loss to UNCG ends competitive season for Guilford

It's never easy to write a match report for a game in which your side did not manage a single point. Even more so when the competition put up 60. On Friday night Guilford traveled across town for what was anticipated as a clash of playoff-bound teams and came back with nothing more than a sack full of dirty jerseys and, yes, a 0-60 obliteration on our minds. This one won't take too long...

The first ten minutes of the game are worth mention as Guilford showed the game that had put them at 2-1 in the matrix with a couple of bonus points: center Bryce Bjornson broke for an impressive gain - although he would suffer a concussion, his third in four games, after using his head as a battering ram. Flyhalf Sean McNally, who captained for the visting side with Andrew Slater out with injury, showed renewed composure - after losing control of his line in the latter stages of the Duke game - and managed his centers and back three tactfully, although not fruitfully, throughout the test. Winger "Baby" Nick Forman showcased some of his linebacker schooling in a few impressive tackles in the open field. Kevin Cumberland, moving to the number eight position for injured Slater and gave a strong performance. As usual, first-year utility-forward Aaron Craig made his presence known at both flanker and prop. And the reintroduction of veteran hooker Abel Montes de Oca added a boost of tenacity to the pack. And that is as much as can be said for the Guilford side.

After UNCG scored their first try of the match Guilford fell apart, revealing yet again the true weakness of this athletically-talented team: discipline and emotional control. Like a blow to the groin, Guilford never recovered from that first score and UNCG was able to take advantage and had piled on 31 points before half-time. In the second half they would add 29 more with the last ten minutes of the game reduced to a gunfight in which Guilford had not even a spoon to defend itself. To add insult to injury prop Jamie Sisk, finally back healthy in the starting side, earned a yellow card in the first half for a high-tackle and celebration that sent him to the bin and then in the second half delivered an astounding shoulder charge that put him off the field for good and left the already reeling Guilford side a man down for the remainder of the match. Sisk is now looking at a 10-week benching at the hands of the ref and NCRU.

And speak of the ref... From my vantage point in a sling on the sideline, that was the worst bit of refereeing I have ever witnessed. His interesting mix of silent advantage, a delayed whistle and a general blatant ignorance of the rules of rugby had the coaches of both teams commiserating on the sideline and offering to help point out that a penalty does not garner a scrum down and other forgettable points from the rugby rulebook.

There's nothing really to add here. Gulford will be playing a series of friendlys to close out the spring season, traveling to Davidson this weekend, possibly heading down to the beach to take on UNCW - who are back in the developmental league after fulfilling their 2 year suspension - and then meeting the Triad Dawgwood Flowers at home on the 17th and finally UNC Pembroke at home on the 24th.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Night game at Duke ends in heartbreak

The final score did not reflect the game that Guilford played on Thursday night. Discipline was the missing factor in the 20-31 loss as Guilford controlled the pace of game and possession of the ball but could not capitalize at key moments. Duke took advantage with a combination of lucky breaks and smart decisions to outlast us and come away from the battle of a match with the win.

In the first half both teams came strongly out of the gate. After a missed penalty kick by Guilford early, Duke got a chance of their own in front of the posts and knocked down the games first points. We had heard the stories of Duke's speedy wing and indeed they are all true. He got his first try of the game early, taking advantage of an unset Guilford defensive line. Down by 10 we charged back and put together a good series of phases, marching down to the Duke 5 meter line. This momentum was put on hiatus when the lights to the field shut off leaving everyone standing confusedly in the dark. 20 minutes later at the restart Guilford was unable to turn the opportunity into points.

Possession flipped but Guilford continued to press into Duke territory and flyhalf Sean McNally, in his classic burrito form, touched down after quick-tapping a penalty for Guilford's first points. However, the effort was nullified when Duke, noticing Guilford lagging, quickly took the kickoff and their wing recovered the deep kick for another try, putting Duke up 7-17. Shortly after fullback Max George scooped up an errant pass and broke through the line for a try but missed the conversion to make it 12-17 and that would be the score at the half.

On the opening phase of the second half outside center Bryce Bjornson, who had just subbed in for starter Harry Anthony, took a hefty blow to his mustache-laden head, rendering him apparently concussed but unwilling to step off. After the restart Guilford charged back with the pack controlling the rucks, scrums and line-outs. An apparent try by flanker Kevin Cumberland was revoked, the ref penalizing him for a double-maneuver. However, Guilford regained possession and went back on the attack and Bryce proved his resiliency by breaking multiple tackles in an impressive streak down the left side, culminating in a timely off-load to wing Luke Walsh-Mellett who was able to finish the attack with a game-tying try.

The score was stuck at 17-17 for some time and the next points would come from the boot of wing Walt Barber, putting Guilford up 20-17 with about 10 minutes left. However, discipline fell by the wayside and the backline, after displaying effective ball movement around the center of the pitch, lacked creativity in the opposing red zone and was unable to convert crucial opportunities. Duke's winger was able to field a bad Guilford pass and shrug off a tackler for his third try of the game, putting Duke up 20-24 with 8 minutes left in the match. Securing the kick off, Guilford fought back but again could not convert pressure into points and Duke put the last nail in the coffin when their opposite wing touched down after a long run to put the home team up 20-31 with a couple minutes remaining in the match.

Despite the loss, Guilford has a lot to be proud of. With six changes in the starting line, a few players had impressive performances to make up the difference. Cumberland, lock Crosby Blair, and man-of-the-match hooker Aaron Craig were beasts. The starting back three - Walsh-Mellett, George, and Dave Kloss - rendered Duke's kicking attack harmless and mounted a few solid counter-attacks. Starting center Andrew "Texas" Heimsath, finally getting his first action, was steady at both outside (first half) and inside (second half) and should be a force to be reckoned with as the season progresses. But once again, penalties (15) plagued Guilford and a subsequent lack of discipline left us unable to capitalize on the number of opportunities we were afforded.

With a rest for spring break, the next match is a Friday night game on March 19 at UNCG. Thanks to all the fans who traveled to support us last night (Duke had less than a handful of supporters for their home game and we had an entire cheering section!), hope to see you at the next one.

Quote of the day: When being checked for symptoms of concussion after the match and asked what his name was, he stared blankly off into space and muttered, "Bryce College Bjornson." Classic.