BOULDER, Colo. – While eyes in the East were focused on a match between Kutztown and Wheeling Jesuit last weekend, Iona was able to sneak up on Army and hand the cadets their first loss of the season. Now, with plenty on the line for both teams, Army travels to Kutztown to face the Golden Bears in one of the best Rugby East matchups this season.
The match between Army and Kutztown last season provided one of the biggest surprises in D1A and Rugby East. Kutztown was up, 30-27, in the late stages of the match, but Army captain Collum MaGee scored a try in the 76th minute that, after a successful conversion, put the Black Knights up, 34-30, which would hold as the final. This surprising win against the No. 3 team in the nation propelled Army through its next two games and gave the Black Knights their first Rugby East title. Kutztown had won the East in 2013, and if it wants to bring the title back to Kutztown, will have to bring payback to the men from West Point.
Army will have to bounce back from its loss to Iona Saturday. The Gaels were able to surprise the unbeaten Cadets with a 43-26 victory.
“I don’t think they necessarily did anything we weren’t ready for,” said Army Head Coach Matt Sherman. “I just think they out hustled us and outworked us. I think we also lacked composure and discipline with the ball in hand. We had the lion’s share of go-forward possession in the game, but it often didn’t end well as we forced play too far and turned over the ball; they did the opposite.”
The Gaels played Kutztown a week before defeating Army, and fell, 33-26. Iona wasn’t able to put together a full 80-minute performance against the Golden Bears, or else it may have taken that game, as well. Though the loss will sting for Army, it played a team that was able to put Kutztown to its limit. Army’s plan to rebound from last week’s loss will be to focus on itself.
“We’re less focused on proving anything to anyone else as we are to getting back to playing our best,” Sherman said. “For us that means showing up with absolute determination to give our best effort, and to be a composed and disciplined team.”
Army is now humbled after not losing a conference game in their previous 11 matches. Discipline is something that these young men have drilled into their heads every day, and attending school at West Point implies that one is a leader in every facet of life. These men had a bad day on the pitch, but have the mindset to persevere and come at Kutztown with all they have.
Army has powerful scorers in Andrew Fargo and Cameron Hargis, big men who have the ability to run over opponents, and turn on the burners to get to the try zone. The team’s communication is great, especially between fly half Thomas Del Pino, scrum half John Banarhall, and No. 8 Peter Basnight, as they are able to command the movement of the ball and get it across the try line. Those two things, in addition to the leadership of Captain Donny Goff on the front line, ensure this Black Knight squad has the ability to win any game it plays.
As for the Golden Bears, they will continue to be one of the top teams in Rugby East. The loss of scrum half Niku Kruger was a huge hit to the team, but it quickly got over that obstacle with the early play of David Sneed this season. All-Americans Alex Faison-Donohoe, Wes Hartmann, and Robert Stortz all continue to give life to this great rugby program. They have the size and strength to match the cadets, but they also have amazing athleticism. The rugby IQ that the Kutztown players possess rivals that of players at Life and Saint Mary’s, and they can use those brains, with the addition of size and speed, to keep them competitive in every match.
However, other than the 79-0 smack down of Buffalo, Kutztown played relatively close matches against the other teams in the East. The Golden Bears are beatable, as shown by how well Iona played against them, but no opponent has been able to put together a full game. If Army is able to play like it did earlier in the season, with a strong pack and power on the back line, it has a serious chance at beating Kutztown for the second time.
A payback game for the Golden Bears, and a bounce-back game for the Black Knights – this match very well might determine who will hold the Rugby East title at the end of the season.