The resurgent men’s rugby football club opened up their season with a minor setback. The White Dawgs suffered their first loss, as they fell to conference rival University of Vermont 16-20 on Saturday.
The UVM side, thirsty for revenge after last-year’s drubbing at the hands of the conference champion White Dawgs, came to the pitch with something to prove. The match promised to be a hotly contested affair, pitting UVM’s size and experience against the WRFC’s speed and athleticism.
UVM set the tone early, utilizing their large scrum to maintain possession and eat up the clock. Despite being outsized, the WRFC’s young scrum held strong, consistently dishing out punishing hits to the UVM scrum runners.
After the initial shock wore off, the rookie front row of Asa Johnson ’02, Ben McAnaney ’01, and Todd Stiefler ’00 began to win their hooks, allowing Ian Lewis ’01 to secure the ball from his eight-man position and provide stable passes to the backs. Consistent, powerful runs by Marc Barreda ’99 and Forrest Wittenmeier ’02 kept the WRFC in business.
UVM’s line proved no match for the Dawg’s backs, as they continuously lost ground against the aggressive defense of Matt Bryson ’99 and Chido Alozie ’01. However, the sheer mass of the UVM pack enabled them to push over two tough tries in the first frame.
Brilliant kicking by Ryan Kurlinski ’01 kept the score tight, as Kurlinski connected with both of his penalty opportunities, one from nearly 35 meters out, to leave the score at half 10-6 in favor of UVM.
The second frame began as the first had, with UVM dictating the tempo. A questionable series of penalties and whistles by the hometown referee continuously gave UVM possession for most of the half despite being able to generate little offense against the Dawg opposition. Advantageous field position allowed UVM to score two more tries to take a 20-6 lead.
The WRFC responded aggressively, determined to make use of its strengths. Inspired rucking led by Kenny Marines ’01 and Mike Recht ’02 began to have an effect, and the WRFC runners were able to find holes. Fierce running by Lewis and scrum-half Matt Toth ’00 allowed the backs to spin the ball wide, where Alozie was able to utilize his blinding speed en route to a fabulous 80 meter try. Kurlinski converted the kick, and then moments later converted his third penalty of the game, bringing the Dawgs within one try. The WRFC continued to pound, nearly breaking the UVM defense on several occasions. However, with the WRFC driving deep in UVM territory, time expired, and UVM escaped with a four point victory.
In the B-side game, the WRFC was able to showcase its newest rookie talents, but a lack of depth forced them to insert several A-side forwards into the fray. Among the iron-men were Recht, Lewis, Stiefler, and McAnaney, who all responded to the call for extra duty.
Unfortunately, UVM was again able to throw a larger, more experienced scrum at the tired Dawg pack, allowing them to maintain possession for most of the game. However, when the WRFC backs did get the ball they showed promise, as Nicholas Brandt ’02, Josef Korbel ’02, John Murnane’02, and Matt Lipinsky ’02 continually pounded against the UVM line for positive yardage.
Defensively, the young Dawgs fought hard against the more experienced UVM side, and players such as Emmett Tracy ’02 and Ken Benton ’01 played through pain to force many UVM mistakes and take advantage of their own opportunities. A brilliant 30 meter try by rookie Andrew Keating ’02 provided the only WRFC score for the game, again converted by Kurlinski to conclude a perfect kicking day.
The White Dawgs are next in action on Saturday against Middlebury on Middlebury’s home turf.