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 An apparent try by flanker Kevin Cumberland was revoked, the ref penalizing him for a double-maneuver.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.