On a cold and overcast afternoon in October, the Highlanders looked to close out their season series with Pittsburgh Rugby Club with yet another win. Similar to last season, the Highlanders hoped to sweep the fellow Pittsburgh side and remain perfect on the season. Pitt City however, would be coming in from the other end of the standings, still looking for their first win of the season. City has been improving each week since the 69 - 0 blow out loss to the Highlanders in Week 1 of the schedule.
Shortly after kickoff, the Highlanders were able to gain possession and march their way down the field. After an infraction deep in their own zone, the Highlanders were able to set up Prop Jarred Frawley for his seventh try of the season. The try came off a brilliantly ran penalty play and was converted by Wing Scott Powers. Powers was on his way to a very big day, both kicking and running the ball. After the score, Pitt City moved the ball near the Highlander 22 meter line. After talented Lock John Shearer was able to steal the Pittsburgh line out, Scott Powers was able to weave his way through several City defenders and carry the ball deep into opposition territory. This allowed the Highlander backline to set up fellow Winger Brian Barnett with his fourth try of the season in the corner of the tryzone. The tough conversion was missed and the Highlanders roared to a 12 - 0 advantage.
At the ten minute mark, Pitt City was able to force a Highlander penalty in their zone which allowed City to convert a penalty kick. The Highlander responded quickly however with a brilliant try from Outside Center Patrick Dobbins, his first of the season. Dobbins has proven to be a versatile player, like many of the back line, and change positions each week depending on the personnel available. His try was followed by an equally brilliant try by an equally versatile player, Tyree Massie, who was playing Flyhalf today. The try was celebrated with an enthusiastic splash into the try zone by Massie. Equally enthusiastic was the try by veteran forward Abe Cone at the thirty minute mark. Cone found daylight to the side of the breakdown and nearly tripped over his feet as he dove into the try zone. The score was converted by Powers. Massie was able to put down his second try of the day and the Highlanders took a dominating 36 - 3 lead into the half.
The second half of the game would be much like the first half, with almost total Highlander domination. Flanker Zack Kochin was able to run down his sixth try of the season before a small defensive lapse gave Pitt City a try of their own for the day. The score was quickly answered back by crafty Scrumhalf Zack Powell who was able to dance his way through several defenders to place down his second try and as many games for himself. Lock and Captain Andrew Chapman was able to place down his second try of the season, his first coming against City in week one. Powers was able to nail that conversion as well.
At the sixty minute mark, Dobbins was able to field a nice pass from reserve Forward Bill Marnell and score his second impressive try of the day, after the conversion Pitt City informed the referee they'd like to cut the game a little short with the weather quickly deteriorating. The Highlander's Zack Kochin was able to place down one more try and convert it himself before the referee called the game about 10 minutes early. The final read Highlanders 67 - Pitt City 10. With the victory, the Highlanders improved to 5 - 0 and host a tough Akron side in the fall season finale at Phillip Murray Park.
The Highlanders opened the home portion of the 2014 season with a bang, hosting the also undefeated Erie All Blacks Club. The Highlanders were coming off dominating road victories against Pitt City, Akron and South Pittsburgh, while Erie remained mostly at home defeating the same Clubs in a much less dominating fashion. Nonetheless, both Clubs brought in a 3 - 0 records and the winner would solely hold first place atop the Eastern Division. The Highlanders have not beat Erie in many years and would need to finally hurdle them if they wanted a chance to play in Midwest Playoffs.
On a beautiful and cool autumn morning, the Highlanders kicked off to a tough Erie squad that traveled very well for this big time game. Shortly after the kickoff, the Highlanders were able to gain possession and set up talented and hard nosed Winger, Brian Barnett with his first try of the day and second on his rookie season. The score set the precedent early to the stunned Erie Club, that this was not the same old Highlander squad. Barnett was able to run the ball out wide past the Erie defender and set the ball down in the try zone to the far sideline. It set up a tough kick for Powers, and he wasn't able to convert it.
Following the open score, the game tightened up quite a bit. Erie plays staunch defense and was all over rookie Scrumhalf Zach Powell all day. Powell who injured himself late in the off-season was making his first start for the Highlanders in a key position against a tough team. It was easy to say he filled in for the missing Kyle "Calico" Hilsey quite well. After several minutes of back and forth rugby, and a near miss at a try for Erie, the powerful and veteran Highlander scrum was able to drive the ball near the Erie goal line and set up Number 8 David Banta for his third try of the season. After the Powers conversion, the Highlanders had a 12 - 0 lead over Erie.
Erie would not be denied however. A few minutes after Pittsburgh's second score they were able to quickly move the ball down field and touch the ball down directly below the goal post. After the conversion, they cut the lead to 12 - 7 before the Highlanders could answer right back. Brian Barnett was able to get around the Erie defense once again, shortly before half to match the Erie try. With the score, the Highlanders were able to take a 17 - 7 lead into the half.
After the half, the resilient Erie squad was able to cut the lead down once again, placing down a try to the outside. After the missed conversion, the score read Highlanders 17 - Erie 12. Once again the Highlanders were able to storm back and get another try from powerful Prop Jarred Frawley who leads the team with 6 tries on the season. After the Powers conversion, the Highlanders enjoyed a 12 point lead once again. However, similar to last season's game in Pittsburgh versus Erie, the All Blacks answered right back with a try off a misplay in deep in Highlander territory. The Highlander lead was once again cut down to 7 with plenty of time remaining.
But unlike the 2013 season, the Highlanders possessed the skill to put Erie away for good. For the next 25 minutes, the Highlanders played ball control offense and slowly ate up the remaining time. They were able to maintain possession and threaten several times to score, however the Erie defense continued to bend, but not break. Finally with time ticking away, rookie Scrumhalf Zach Powell was able to side step an Erie defender and place down a huge try for the Highlanders, the first of his senior career. The try put the Highlanders up by 14 after the Powers conversion and sucked all of the air from the Erie sails. To close out the game, the Highlanders were able to add two Scott Powers penalty kicks to continue and pull the game out of Erie's reach. The final read: Highlanders 37 - Erie 17.
The Highlanders traveled to McDonald, PA on a cold and blustery day to take on cross town rival and former Division Champion South Pittsburgh Hooligans. The Highlanders, coming off a bye week, looked to improve their 2 - 0 record and maintain first place in the division as well as in the league. South Pittsburgh was coming off a tough loss to Akron and looked to rebound and bring their record back to .500.
After losing the toss, the Highlanders were forced to kick into the wind to the Hooligans. The tone of the day was set immediately as first year Flanker Zack Kochin was able to field the kickoff and take the ball inside the Hooligan 10 meter line before a great defensive play knocked down a sure try setting pass to Wing Patrick Dobbins. Following the Hooligan knock on, the Highlander pack was able to secure the scrum and get the ball out wide to rookie Highlander Wing Brian "BBar" Barnett who set down his first try of the season and of his Highlander career.
Momentum was stalled after the ensuing kickoff and after some penalties and misplays, the Highlanders found themselves deep in their own defensive territory for more than 15 minutes. A score given up to South Pitt would allow them back into the game. Strong defensive play, a timely poach by Flanker David "MK" Gregg and long run by veteran Hooker Arley Cone got the Highlanders out of danger and back into South Pitt's side of the field. Eventually talented Flyhalf Thanner Hestdalen was able to make several nice moves on his way to his first try as a Highlander. After the Scott Powers conversion, the Highlanders stole all momentum back from South Pittsburgh and led the match 12 - 0. A few minutes later, veteran forward Abe Cone was able to cut through a large hole in the defense to set down his first try of the day and give the Highlanders a commanding 17 - 0 lead.
Even with a lead, the Highlanders had some trouble battling penalties this game and put themselves in rough positions at two points in the game. With less than 10 minutes remaining in the first half, David "MK" Gregg found himself in some penalty trouble which landed him in the sin bin. Even playing a man down, the Highlander defense held and they were even able to score twice. Talented Inside Center Neil Reynolds was able to set down his second try of the season and powerhouse Prop Jarred Frawley was rewarded for his punishing running by setting down his fifth try of the season. After the Powers conversion, the Highlanders took a 29 - 0 lead into the half.
After the half, the Highlanders brought in veteran Fullback Kevin Dell for Powers and exciting rookie Flanker Brandon Benvenuti for Gregg. The weather took a turn for the worse and stalled the Highlander offense. After a few minutes of bogged down rugby, Abe Cone was able to break a long run on the outside to set down his second try of the game. Zack Kochin missed his only conversion attempt of the day before being sin binned himself midway through the second half. Once again down a man, the Highlanders were able to generate offense and hold the Hooligans scoreless. After rookie Scrumhalf Kyle "Calico" Hilsey took a ball into contact, he was mauled by reserve forward Bill Marnell along with Andrew "Lurch" Chapman and David Banta for a try. The score was Banta's second of the season.
Leading 39 - 0 with just a few minutes remaining, the Highlanders used the opportunity to bring in some great players for additional experience and valuable playing time. Rookie Scrumhalf Zach Powell came in for Hilsey while wing Ammir Ali, Hooker Matt "Doormat" Zackeroff and lock Tim Chapman replaced Brian Barnett, Jeff Muha and Zach Kochin respectively. The Hooligans were able to take advantage of a broken lineout play deep in Highlander territory to place down a score, but the Highlanders were able to answer that in the last minute of the game. Kevin Dell kicked a perfectly placed ball just behind the goal post and was able to capitalize on a Hooligan miscue to set down his first career try on an amazing play. The Highlanders beat the Hooligans 46 - 5 to improve to 3 - 0 and hold on to first place in the Eastern Division. They will open up their home portion of the season against the also 3 - 0 Erie RFC. The Hooligans take their 1 - 3 record into their bye week.
The Highlanders took their 1 - 0 record to Akron for their Fall 2014 home opener. Akron boasted a large crowd following their women's match on a beautiful sunny September day. The Highlanders were coming off a 69 - 0 victory of Pittsburgh Rugby Club while Akron was looking to open up their 2014 campaign on the right foot by beating a Club that defeated them twice the prior season.
Akron kicked off to Lock Bill Marnell who was immediately able to swing the ball wide to the talented Highlander back line. Playing text book fundamental rugby, the Highlanders were able to methodically travel down the field with timely offloads and excellent support. They put Akron on their heels early with young and talented flanker Brandon Benvenuti placing down his second try of the young season. Veteran Scott Powers, playing scrumhalf today was unable to convert the try leaving the Highlanders with an early 5 - 0 lead.
After a second kickoff to the Highlanders second row, the Club was able to once again move down the field in an organized fashion. After Akron committed a penalty near the 5 meter line, Highlander powerhouse prop Jarred Frawley was able to set down his first try of the day, his second on the young season. Powers was able to convert and gave the Highlanders a 12 point advantage. With momentum fully on their sides, Flyhalf Tyree "CC" Massie was able to spring center Neil Reynolds for his first try of the season and after the Powers conversion, the lead was extender to 19 points. Akron was able to take advantage of a small defensive crack and with a nice dummy pass from the fullback, the Akron side set down their first try of the day. The Highlanders used this opportunity to get in talented loose forward Zack Kochin who came in for Marnell. Akron was able to answer a second Benvenuti try in the 22nd minute with another try of their own, so the Highlanders brought on talented scrumhalf Kyle Hilsey and dominating wing Brian Barnett to shore up the defense. Jarred Frawley scored his second of the day shortly before half and after the Powers conversion, the Highlanders took a 31 - 12 lead into the half.
After half, the game was a more tightly played and tensions seemed to rise between the two clubs and the referee. 10 minutes into the half, Tyree Massie was able to set down his second try of the season to extend the Highlander lead. Powers converted this as well. A few minutes after, Akron was able to scamper down the field and set down their third try of the day to bring the score a little close, but tries by Zack Kochin and Jarred Frawley ended any Akron hopes of a comeback. The Highlanders were able to hold Akron at bay and even score a few times while being down 2 players for some time for questionable yellow cards. With time winding down, Akron was able to place another try down with just a few minutes remaining; however the result was already clear. The Highlanders took the game 50 - 22 to improve their record to 2 - 0 and earned a bonus point in both contests on the year.
The Highlanders opened their 2014 - 2015 league schedule against an old foe in the Pittsburgh Rugby Club's Division III squad. The Highlanders were looking to repeat their sweep performance against Pitt City from last season, even though through recruiting the Pitt City squad would be a better opponent than in year's past. The day was cool and rainy to start, but as kickoff approached, the weather cleared to a very comfortable 65 degrees with partly sunny skies. Pitt City kicked off to the Highlanders to begin the game and each team took opportunities to feel each other out in the opening minutes of the game. After the Highlanders were able to solve some initial scrimmaging problems, they were able to win the ball back to their talented backline. Tyree "CC" Massie, playing Flyhalf today, was able to cut through the City backline and set up the Highlanders inside the 22 meter line. After a Pitt City infraction, powerful Highlander Prop Jarred Frawley was able to lower his shoulder set down the opening score of the day, conversion was nailed by long time Highlander wing, Scott Powers.
Shortly after the ensuing kickoff, the Highlanders were once again deep in City territory after some long runs by Massie and Neil Reynolds. This time, rather than getting the ball to the backline, veteran Number 8 David Banta opted to pick the ball from the scrum and set up 1st Benvenuti up for his first try of the season. A few minutes later, Jeff Muha, playing his first game at Prop in a few years, was able to muscle through two City defenders to set down his first try of the day. Neither of the tries were converted by Powers.
After yet another very long run by Tyree Massie, who was able to pop the ball back to a supporting Andrew "Lurch" Chapman near the 5 meter line. With Massie being tracked down by the last City defender, Chapman was able to set the ball down with relative ease to extend the lead to 24 - 0 after the Scott Powers conversion. Zack Kochin was able to place down 2 tries before the half, one coming off a long run from a scrum down where he absolutely leveled at Pittsburgh defender. With Powers able to convert one of those tries, the Highlanders took a 38 - 0 lead into the half.
In the second half, the powerful Highlander pack was able to drive the scrum into the tryzone to set up Number 8 David Banta for his first try of the young season. From there, the second half began looking much the same as the first half ended; with 2 more Zach Kochin tries. The Highlanders then moved to get talented players from the bench onto the field in an effort to rest players. Veteran Lock Bill Marnell gave Rookie Tim Chapman a rest at the 50 minute mark. Soon thereafter, veteran forwards Brandon Sampson and Eric Zyski were able to get in and contribute to the win. Jeff Muha sprung for his second try of the game, one in which he dragged a Pittsburgh defender almost 10 meters into the try After the score, Powers was relieved by Matt Kierzkowski and Kevin Dell was rewarded for his big day with a rest from new comer Will Foran. Kevin played excellent all day which included a key tackle against the huge Pitt City outside center. The play came early in the game and a score by City could have changed the momentum of the match very easily. Kevin made the stick and thus preserved the Highlander shut out. With Powers out of the game, Zack Kochin went 2 for 2 on his conversions, giving him 24 points total on the day. Matt "Doormat" Zackeroff who made his way into the game late with Matt "Mongo" Luba was able to nail his only conversion attempt of the day. This followed a magnificent try by Tyree Massie to close out the scoring. The try was fitting for CC after assiting in several tries throughout the game. The final score read HIGHLANDERS 69 - Pitt City 0
On a beautiful spring day in southern Maryland, the Highlanders traveled to the 2014 Celtic Cup hosted by the Patuxent River RFC. The tournament was part of the Southern Maryland Celtic Festival which boasted Highland games, Celtic Food and Music in addition to the premier rugby tournament.
The Highlanders started the tournament off against a familiar foe - the Iron Guts from North Central West Virginia. This club formerly played against the Highlanders regularly in the Allegheny Division III Conference but in 2013 was moved to a regional Division IV competition. The club boasted several new faces and was notoriously hard hitting and well tackling. The Highlanders we able to move the ball forward down the field and rookie scrumhalf Neil "Jr" Manganaro was able to make a nice move and open up the scoring for the Highlanders. It was his first try as a Highlander. A few minutes later, powerhouse Flanker Jeff Muha was able to punish the defense on a long penalty run and place down his 3rd try of the season. Before the half came to a close, talented Flyhalf Tyree "CC" Massie was able to cut through the defensive line and set up winger Matt Kierzkowski with his first try of the season to make the half time score 21 - 0. Scott Powers and Matt Zackeroff were perfect on conversions during the first half, both hitting very difficult corner kicks with great accuracy. At the half, the Highlanders were able to start making substitutions to get all players into the game that made the trip. As players were rested and new players were given valuable experience, the level of intensity did not drop. The tough forward pack was able to maul several meters into the try zone and allow Lock Andrew Chapman to place down his 4th try of the season. With the try going unconverted. Even though the young defense was tested and bent, it did not relinquish a point with the final score reading Highlanders 26 - NCWVRFC 0. The Highlanders were 1 - 0 in the tournament.
Their next opponent was also a little familiar. Late last summer, the Highlanders played the Delmarva Outlaws in another Mid Atlantic Tournament - The Atlantic Cup. The Outlaws were eager to avenge a forceful Highlander win in that tournament. Knowing that the Highlanders were now playing back to back games in the hottest part of the day, coaches Brian Scanlon and David Banta had to be creative with the lineups and substitutions. To open up the scoring in this game, the Highlanders once again turned to veteran lock Andrew Chapman. He placed down his 5th try of the season to get the Highlanders a lead. Shortly thereafter, Prop Abe Cone was able to set down his 1st followed by Flanker Jeff Muha setting down his 4th of the year. The Highlanders once again jumped out to a 15 - 0 lead at the half. After some careful substitutions, the Highlanders were able to add another try, by rookie forward Brandon "Noodle" Benvenuti with time winding down in the game. Once again, the newer players on the Club were able to keep up the intensity and pressure the Outlaws offensively and defensively before a mistake in a breakdown lead to a Delmarva try with almost no time remaining. The final score Highlanders 20 - Delmarva 7 as the Highlanders improved to 2 - 0.
After a short, 5 minute break, the Highlanders were back on the pitch again to face a side from Prince William County. This was the first Club that the Highlanders had no experience with. Once again, the coaches were creative in putting together a line up moving veteran forwards Bill Marnell and Jeff Muha to Prop in order to spell the Cone brothers who had been working hard all day. It also asked rookie Wing Andy McFeaters to play flanker, a position that he would excel in throughout the game. The first two tries of the game were scored by veteran 8 - Man David Banta who was eager to get onto the score sheet. He touched down his 4th and 5th tries of the season after some long runs. The second run was set up nicely by a brilliant pass by veteran Hooker Matt "Doormat" Zackeroff. Dynamic backline player Neil Reynolds, playing everything from Flyhalf to Wing this tournament was able to set down 3 tries in this game to take his season scoring up to 5 tries. Brandon "Noodle" Benvenuti was also able to be rewarded for several long runs with his 2nd try of the tournament. The Highlanders pounded the Prince William squad 36 - 0 to take a perfect record into the Championship Game of the tournament.
In the Championship game the Highlanders would face the Patuxent River side, who was hosting the tournament. With rolling substitutions they were able to continuously spell tired or sore players with the 30+ player side filled with many powerful and physical athletes. The center piece of their offense was clearly their stud outside center that held in check and continuously frustrated by the defensive expertise of Highlander's Outside Center Patrick Dobbins. It was quickly established that the Pax River side was going to make an effort to get the ball to their play maker and each time, but Dobbins was able to shoot in and drop him quickly or force him out of bounds each time he touched the ball. This frustrated the talented center to the point of almost earning card. Several times during the first half the Pax River side try of the season tested the exhausted Highlander defense that would bend, but never break. Several times defensive pressure was able to force Pax River mistakes Big runs by David Banta and Jeff Muha, key line out steals by Flanker John Shearer and key kicks by Fullback Kevin Dell all kept Pax River out of the try zone and added to their frustration as the game wore on. In the second half, the Highlanders were able to apply more offensive pressure of their own as the Pax River side continued to unwind under the stress of the Highlander's relentless defense. They were forced deep into their own zone were they committed several penalties within their 5 meter line. Lock Andrew Chapman was able to drive the ball into the try zone, but the referee saw a knock rather than a touch down in the try zone. This led to scrumdown awarded to Pax River on the 5 meter line with no time remaining on the clock, the referee explaining to both sides that if no score was made before the next whistle, we would be going to extra time. Despite the Highlander's forward's best efforts, Pax River was able to win the scrum and pass the ball back to their Flyhalf for a kick out of danger. The overwhelming pressure by Neil Reynolds forced the Pax Fly to send a bad pass over to an inexperienced back who mishandled the ball. Just in the knick of time, he was able to get off a weak kick right into the hands of a charging Tyree Massie. "CC" as he's known, was able to make an extraordinary play on the ball, fielding it and then having the presence of mind to hang on to it and place it down for the try as time expired. With Zackeroff making the conversion kick, the Highlanders won the Championship of the 2014 Celtic Cup with a 7 - 0 win over a very tough and well represented Patuxent River side.
The Highlanders ended the league portion of their schedule on a beautiful spring afternoon in Pittsburgh. The Club hosted the Canton Maddogs RFC on their pitch in South Side under ideal weather conditions for the first time in the young spring season. The Highlanders were looking for revenge after a tough loss to South Pittsburgh, while the Maddogs were looking to rebound from a blow out loss to Erie the week previously.
The game began with the Highlanders kicking off to Canton. After a few minutes, the Highlanders were able to regain possession and drive the ball deep into Canton territory. With the pressure mounting, Canton was able to get the ball out of danger by kicking into touch. The Highlanders were able to win the following lineout and Prop Matt Luba was ever so close to touching down his first try of the season before knocking the ball while suffering a gruesome knee contusion and being removed from the game. Luba ended up needing 13 stitches to repair a badly cut knee and was replaced by veteran front row powerhouse Arley Cone just 5 minutes into the contest. On the ensuing scrum, the pack was able to drive forward and set up Number 8 David Banta for the opening try. This was Banta's first try of the day and second of the season.
From then on, the Highlanders were able to manhandle the Maddogs for the rest of the first half, even with the referee trying to keep Canton in the game. Inside Center, Neil Reynolds, who moved into the Flyhalf spot for this game was able to score his first two tries of the season, the second being beautifully set up by veteran Lock Andrew Chapman. Chapman is having an amazing season, both in scoring and setting up fellow players. Flanker Jeff Muha, who's been on a tear this season also, was able to continue his scoring ways with a try, as well as Prop Jarred Frawley who now leads the team with 4 tries on the season. David Banta was able to score his second try of the day (third of the season) before being yellow carded shortly before half. The nice weather finally allowed talented Outside Center, today playing Inside Center, Patrick Dobbins to get on the score sheet for the first time this season. The Highlanders dominated play and were able to take a 43 - 7 lead into the half. They allowed a single score to Canton about halfway through the first half.
The Highlanders used the lead to reward some players that have been working extremely hard all season long, but may not have been able to get on the pitch for A side games. At half the Highlanders brought in veterans Brandon Sampson and Clint McConnell in for Marnell and Zackeroff. Sampson was only able to play for approximately 10 - 15 minutes for the second week in a row after being unjustly red carded for a legal tackle. The referee didn't find it so and sent him off for dump tackling a Canton player. Being down a man for the second time in the game, the Highlanders did allow a Canton score, but kept the offensive pressure on as well. Once the Club was able to replace Sampson, promising rookie Brandon Benvenutti was brought into the game. Brandon was able to shake several tackles and touch down his first career try to put the Highlanders up 48 - 12 with just a few minutes remaining.
When Patrick Dobbins went down with an eye injury and Andrew Chapman was nursing a hamstring injury, the Highlanders further subbed in veteran Dan Houlihan and rookie Kyle Bloser to fill the holes. In the later stages of the game, Dan Andrus and Eric Zyski were able to spell Abe Cone and Matt Kierzkowski. Canton was able to place down one more try, but thanks to a strong defensive goal line stand by the Highlanders, led by Fullback Kevin Dell, that was all the closer they would pull the game. The Highlanders, pleased that they won the game, earned the bonus point and played all of their dressed players went home with a 48 - 19 dominating victory.
On a cold and dreary day in early April, the Pittsburgh Highlanders hosted 16 college teams from all over the area at their 2nd Annual Jeff Hewitt Memorial Collegiate Cup. This year, in addition to the collegiate tournament, the Highlanders would be hosting a league match against rival South Pittsburgh Hooligans. The Highlanders looked to avenge a blowout lost to the Hooligans last October with a gutsy win The game kicked off in less than ideal field conditions. Heavy rains during the week and multiple games being played on the pitch forced the game to be moved to an alternative pitch last minute. This field, still a muddy mess would be the best option for the Clubs even though it had a decent grade on it, a grade the Highlanders would have to climb in the first half of the game. It became apparent quickly that the conditions would dictate much of how this game would be played. Shortly after kickoff, the Highlanders were able to quickly gain possession and begin working their offense, moving the ball efficiently down the field. Typical powerhouse forwards like Prop Jarred Frawley and Flanker Jeff Muha led the charge as they punished through the South Pittsburgh backline, being supported by new flanker John "Whitey" Shearer, making his Highlander debut, and veteran 8-man David Banta. After a broken play, however, South Pittsburgh was able to regain possession deep in its own territory and move down hill against a stout Highlander defense. At the 13th minute mark, the Hooligans were able to set down a try to take a 5 - 0 lead on the Highlanders.
The Highlanders would not be kept down, however. Their level of intensity rose, sending the South Pitt Prop off with a broken nose and knocking out the talented South Pittsburgh wing as he scored a try to put the Hooligans up 12 - 0. This is how the half would end, and the Highlanders liked their chances going down hill on their own for the second half of the game. The coaching staff used the break to take advantage of some talented and fresh players on the Highlander sideline. Subbing out Shearer for Veteran Loose Forward Brandon Sampson and subbing out Veteran Forward Jason "Frogger" Edsall for the powerful Tanner "Chongo" Adams. With fresh legs and a downward slope, the Highlanders looked to punish the Hooligans and take the lead in this game.
Shortly into the half, Jarred Frawley was able to get into the try zone off of a penalty play and bring the game very close, but then the injury bug began to bite the Highlanders in this half instead of the Hooligans. Brandon Sampson, in for just 10 minutes pulled himself from the game with an undisclosed injury and needed to be replaced by Lock Clint McConnell. Shortly thereafter, Fullback Kevin Dell suffered what appeared to be a concussion and was replaced with rookie Wing Aamir Ali. Down some experience, the Hooligans were quickly able to capitalize on a few outside runs and place down two more tries, pushing the score to 22 - 5. The Highlanders would not quit, however. Playing inspired defense led by Flyhalf Tanner Hestdalen and Centers Neil Reynolds and Patrick Dobbins, the Highlanders were able to force mistakes and threaten the Hooligan lead multiple times. Jarred Frawley was able to place down a second try and came within inches of a third before time could expire. The final score read South Pittsburgh 22 - Highlanders 10, but South Pittsburgh could even feel the tide shirting towards the Highlanders several times in the second half.
With the loss, the Highlander's record fell to 5 - 4 and their playoff hopes for this season came to an end. They will play the Canton Maddogs RFC in the final league game of the season and look to improve their league record to 6 - 4. They will then spend the remainder of the spring season building experience through friendly matches for many of their young and talented players to make a serious run in the Fall of 2014. The South Pittsburgh Hooligans, on the other hand, improved to 8 - 1 on the season and look to earn a high seed in the Midwest Playoffs.
After a long winter and a promising early season trip to Cincinnati, the Highlanders traveled 2 hours to Akron, OH to take on a tough club in some very wicked weather. After some early week change of venue scenarios, the game was ultimately kept in Akron where the conditions worsened as the day went along. Temperatures in the low 30's made rain quickly turn to sleet as both clubs battled in mud and freezing wet weather.
In addition to the adverse weather conditions, the Highlanders further complicated the game for themselves by starting three rookie players for the first time in a Highlander uniform, a crafty veteran in a brand new position and a powerhouse leader with a bad wheel. Scrumhalf Neil "Jr" Manganaro, Flyhalf Tanner Hestdalen and Wing Andy McFeaters all made their Highlander's First XV debut along with last year's Flyhalf David "MK" Gregg moving to Flanker and Number 8 David Banta playing with a severely injured ankle.
The game started with the Highlanders kicking off the ball and immediately flexing their muscle. After a few short minutes of each team testing out the conditions, the Highlander forwards were able to assert their dominance. Just 10 minutes into the game, the Highlander pack was able to drive a 10 meter scrum into the try - zone allowing David Banta to touch down the ball for the first score of the day. The pack's dominance didn't stop there, however. With almost every scrum, the forward pack was overwhelming the Akron forwards, causing them to have to react quickly and fall back on their heels. When conditions didn't allow the backs to get a clean ball, forwards like Prop Jarred Frawley, Lock Andrew Chapman and Flankers David Gregg and Jeff Muha were able to carry the load with several long and punishing runs.
These runs paid dividends throughout the game as Akron was beaten and bruised and becoming more reluctant to tackle as the big bodies went smashing through them. With about 15 minutes remaining in the half, Jarred Frawley was able to power through the defensive line on his way to a long run and his first try of the season. This set up the Highlanders with a 10 - 0 lead at the half.
With conditions worsening and the referee trying to allow Akron back into the game, Captain Abe Cone stood tall in keeping his Club in check. Even when veteran Lock Bill Marnell went down with a shoulder injury and replacement Lock Clint McConnell was almost immediately sin-binned, Cone and Veteran Number 8 Banta were able to keep the Club's composure and focus. It wasn't long with the Highlander's swarming defense and overwhelming offense that the Club's big forwards were able to put down a few more scores. 15 minutes into the second half, Veteran Lock Andrew "Lurch" Chapman, playing his first full season with the Highlanders, was able to place down his third try of the young season. To close out the scoring, Flanker Jeff Muha was rewarded for his amazing day with a try to close out the scoring. After Scott Powers was able to convert the final try in the terrible conditions, the whistle blew marking a 22 - 0 Highlanders shut out.
The Club was able to use its depth to win the game. Veteran Matt "Doormat" Zackeroff was able to spell Hooker Arley Cone who was having a great day in his own right. Rookie Forward Brandon "Noodle" Benvenutti was able to give a hurting David Banta a spell towards the end of the game. Flanker David "MK" Gregg suffered a devastating hit to his face from a tackler's knee in the first 10 minutes of the game. With his eye quickly swelling shut and his bell rung, Gregg stayed in the game having several long runs and powerful tackles for another 60 minutes before finally being relieved by forward Nick Cerasoli who filled in admirably. The hit fractured Gregg's face in three places and he will unfortunately miss 6 - 8 weeks due to the injury. It was a melancholy ending to an otherwise excellent day.
The Highlanders began the fall season with high expectations after an undefeated fall and a first place showing at the preseason Atlantic Cup in Dewey Beach, DE. They would be tested very early as their first match of the season would be against reigning Division III Eastern Champs: Erie RFC.
On a beautiful late fall day in Pittsburgh, the Highlanders battled Erie in what many considered one of the best rugby games they'd ever seen. The Highlanders weren't able to take advantage of several long drives deep into Erie territory while Erie was able to pounce on every loose ball and bounce. Erie was able to score twice, but the Highlanders never gave up and shortly before half were able to get a converted try on the board. The second half was very back and forth as each team seeming to gain momentum and place down a try, just to be equaled by the other Club. The turning point occurred with just a few minutes left in the game as the Highlanders were in the lead and driving down the field to put a final nail in the coffin of the Erie side. Talented Center Neil Reynolds broke through the defensive line and had support on his outside. The Erie wing was able to make an amazing play of not only tackling the hard runner Reynolds, but stripped the ball from him as he went for the off load and carried the ball 70 meters for a try the other way. The game came down to conversions with each Club scoring 5 tries, but Erie was able to convert 3 to the Highlanders 2. The final read Erie 31 - Highlanders 29. Tries were scored by Neil Reynolds, Brandon Sampson (2), Patrick Dobbins and Abe Cone. Scott Powers converted 2/5 tries and the Man of the Match was Prop Jarred Frawley.
The next weekend, the Highlanders looked to get back on track and earn a win of the Pittsburgh Rugby Club's Division III side. This game would prove to be quite a challenge as the Highlanders were forced to shuffle their backline due to some injuries and missing players. Flyhalf David Gregg showed true grit as he played with a severely sprained groin and player/coach David Banta showed his versatility by moving to play center. This game showed the best of the Highlanders offense, but also their inability to not allow teams to stay in games. After a large lead in the first half, over the course of the game the Highlanders allow the City D3 side to hang around and score some late game tries. Their comeback scores never made the game close, but gave Coach Banta plenty to work on before the game with South Pittsburgh. The final score was Highlanders 41 - Pittsburgh D3 25. Tries were scored by Jarred Frawley (2), David Gregg, Brandon Sampson, Neil Reynolds, Jeff Muha and Arley Cone. Scott Powers was 3/7 on conversions and for the second week in a row, Jarred Frawley was the Club's Man of the Match.
The following weekend the Highlanders traveled to Oakdale, PA to take on the South Pittsburgh Hooligans on a warm late summer day. Still battling injuries in the backline, the Highlanders looked to make a statement against the 2 - 0 South Pitt Club who had blown out their first two opponents of the season. After a quick start from South Pittsburgh, the Highlanders found themselves down 2 tries just 20 minutes into the game. After a gut check, the Highlanders were able to take the momentum away from the Hooligans and place down scores from Center Neil Reynolds and Prop Jarred Frawley. They drew the half time score to 14 - 12, but put a real chill in the powerful South Pittsburgh Club. Unfortunately the depth of the South Pittsburgh was too much for the Highlanders as they suffered several injuries second half as well. They took advantage of a disheartened Highlander side the second half and blew the game wide open. A final score was placed down by the Highlanders late in the game, but by that point the game was well out of hand. The Hooligans handed Pittsburgh a tough 63 - 19 defeat. Tries were scored by Neil Reynolds, Jarred Frawley and Eric Games. Scott Powers was 1/2 on conversions; Matt Zackeroff was 1/1. Man of the Match was replacement lock Eric James.
After the bye week, the Highlanders took their 1 - 2 record against their next undefeated opponent: Akron RFC. This game, however, would not turn out the same as the South Pittsburgh game. This showed the Highlanders responding to adversity and coming together as a Club. From the opening kickoff, the Highlanders were able to make play after play springing several players for long runs against the Akron defense. David Banta sprang Captain Abe Cone for a long run deep into Akron territory and led to Brandon Sampson's try to open the scoring. After Akron converted a penalty to cut the lead, Prop Jarred Frawley was able to touch down his first try of the day to extend the lead to 9. This would be the tone of the game as the Highlanders were able to set down a try or two only to be responded by the Akron side with either a penalty conversion or a try of their own. As time passed, however, Akron's penalty kicks and tries here and there could not keep up with the consistent scoring from the Highlanders. Flanker Jeff Muha had a stand out game, scoring three tries, many of which required him to power through multiple defenders. Also with arguably his best game as a Highlander, Fullback Kevin Dell played perfectly offensively and defensively. Although he did not show up on the score sheet, his play was pivotal in the Highlander victory. The final score read Highlanders 39 - Akron 25, as they leveled their record at 2 - 2 and knocked off a key contender within the division. Tries were scored by Brandon Sampson, Jarred Frawley (2), Jeff Muha (3) and Clint McConnell. Scott Powers was 2/7 on conversions and Flanker Jeff Muha was named Man of the Match.
The following week, the Highlanders traveled to Canton, OH to secure a winning record for the first time in the season. They would face the Canton Mad dogs, the Club they beat for the Midwest Shield Tournament Championship back in April. Immediately following the opening kickoff, Scrumhalf Dan Houlihan was able to set up Lock Bill Marnell for his first try of the season. This was followed quickly by Center Neil Reynolds and the Highlanders jumped out to a quick 12 - 0 lead. Canton would battle back, however and score two converted tries quickly as they took advantage of fortunate bounces and Highlander mistakes. The Highlanders saw the game turn tough when they fell behind 14 - 12 within the first 20 minutes of the first halve. Player/ Coach David Banta then decided to take the game into his own hands, and Flanker Jeff Muha was able to continue his hot streak of scoring as the Highlanders buckled down and strived to take control of the game. The Mad dogs never went away without a fight as they took advantage of Highlander injuries and miscues. Ultimately, the Highlander offense was too much and they took home the victory 41 - 24. Tries were scored by Bill Marnell, Neil Reynolds, David Banta (2), Jeff Muha (2) and Patrick Dobbins. Matt Zackeroff was 2/6 on conversions and Dan Houlihan was 1/1. For the second week in a row, Flanker Jeff Muha was awarded the Man of the Match.
Finally with a positive record, the Highlanders traveled to Erie to avenge their heartbreaking loss at the beginning of the season. This game however ended up as bad as the Erie weather and field conditions. Erie was able to jump on Pittsburgh early, up by two tries. The Highlanders continued to battle and did touch down a score shortly before the half. Unfortunately, that would be the only Highlander score of the day. The second half, the Highlanders would be outmatched by the Erie backline and they put down several scores to pull out way ahead of the Club. Pittsburgh used the opportunity to get new players in some real work as the game was out of hand with a good part of the second half still to play. The Highlanders battled hard, made great tackles but ultimately lost a tough contest 43 - 5 to once again fall to .500 on the season. Try was scored by Brandon Sampson. Scott Powers missed his only opportunity for a conversion. Sampson, playing Number 8 today, also earned the Club's Man of the Match award for the weekend.
To end the fall season, the Highlanders hosted Pittsburgh D3 at Boyce Park. This would prove to be one of the Highlanders most complete games, allowing Pitt City a few glimmers of hope in the beginning of the game, but ultimately pouring on the points and dictating play for a majority of the game. Flyhalf David "MK" Gregg, who was a game time decision after suffering all season with a bad groin injury, was once again able to open up the scoring against City. Fullback Kevin Dell was also nursing injuries a majority of the season and showed grit by suiting up for the Highlanders. Winger Scott Powers had a stand out game for the Highlanders. In addition to making a great hustle play to score a try on a City miscue, he also had an excellent kick off return, taking the ball from deep inside Highlander territory and making several defenders miss and carrying back to inside the City 40 meter line. Finally, on top of his consistent defensive skills, Powers was able to take a massive hit in order to steal a Highlander kickoff. All and all it was huge game for Scott, an accomplishment that would not go unrecognized by his fellow teammates. The Highlander centers were also able to have a field day cutting through the Pitt City defense and place down four tries between the two of them. At the end of the day, the Highlanders were able to pound the Pittsburgh D3 side to the tune of 66 - 24. Tries were scored by David Gregg, Brandon Sampson, Jarred Frawley, Scott Powers, Patrick Dobbins (2), Neil Reynolds (2), Abe Cone and David Banta. Scott Powers had his best kicking day as he went 4/6 on conversions. Dan Houlihan was a perfect 4/4 on his conversions as well. As mentioned above, Scott Powers was recognized for his standout performance and named the Club's Man of the Match.
The Highlanders finished the season in 3rd place in the division and will play 3 additional league games in the spring of 2014. First they will travel to Akron on March 29th, then host South Pittsburgh and Canton RFC on April 5 and 12th respectively. If the Highlanders are able to finish their business and end the season with a 7 - 3 record, they will have to look for some outside help in order to earn a playoff birth. See you in the spring!