Southern Pines Rugby defeated Charlotte Saturday in the first round of the Carolina Union Playoffs 54-39 to advance to the Carolina Union Championship and secure a spot in the Southern Conference Championship on May 5th and 6th at the National Athletic Village.
Southern Pines moved to 6-1 in the regular season, and haven’t lost since September. It is the club’s first victory against Charlotte, and it came in convincing fashion. Atlanta Renegades will travel to Southern Pines on the 21st for the Carolina Union Championship, in a game for pride and seeding on May 5th.
Southern Pines controlled the ball for the entire first half, dominating the opposition’s forwards on offense through superior athletes and execution. On defense, Captain Chris Skinner challenge the team to lay the wood and the team responded with hard tackles and an aggressive line speed that kept Charlotte on their back foot. Jone Koronihagana, the Fijian, scored the first try five minutes into the match with a great line break, kick converted by Zach Miller for the 7-0 lead.
The match went back and forth for the next 6 minutes and Charlotte was able to add a Penalty Kick to cut the lead to 7-3. A couple minutes later Robert Bortins added a try to extend the lead to 14-3 and the first half route was on.
Sione Latu Sake added a try off a penalty quick tap at four minutes later to extend the lead to 21-3. Zach Miller added a try of his own for a 26-3 lead. Jone added his second of the day off of a kick from Robert Bortins for the 33-3 lead with about 8 minutes remaining in the half. Emerson added a try in the corner off of a nice skip pass from Jeramy McCarty. Charlotte had an opportunity late in the half, but kicked is errantly out of bounds to bring it to half time.
The second half started out fast for Southern Pines, putting in two tries, by Brandon “Rabbit” Reamers and by Shawn Riley, but then Charlotte began its comeback with 25 minutes left in the match with a try in the corner to make it 54-8. The fresh legs that came in during the second half went away from the game plan and did not make use of their opportunity.
The route could have continued, but instead, the Southern Pines sideline had to hold their breath watching try after try pile on the scoreboard as time slowly ticked away. Ultimately, time was on the home teams side and Southern Pines held on to win 54-39.
Southern Pines will host Atlanta on April 21st for the Conference Championship Match. Southern Pines won the Division 3 Conference championship the previous two seasons and seek to make it a 3rd championship in a row and one for one in Division 2. There is no Division 1 in the southeast.
Both teams have already qualified for the Southern Conference Championship which will be held May 5th and 6th at the National Athletic Village, and they will face the best teams from Florida and Tennessee. The winner of that will advance to the East Coast Championship in Columbus, Ohio.
The Southern Pines women’s team finished off their inaugural season with a loss to Eno River and will now turn to 7s.
Article written by Robert Bortins, Sandhills Sentinel Contributor
Photo contributed by Southern Pines Rugby Club