Southern Pines Men’s Rugby recently traveled to Savannah, GA for the South Championship to face New Orleans in the round of 32. A rematch from last year, when the Big Cones cruised to a 72-12 victory, but the victory came at great cost with several injured players unable to go the next day.
The other side of the bracket saw Atlanta Olde White defeat the Miami Tridents 33 to 25. Only 16 teams in the country would be left standing after Saturday.
New Orleans started the match out strong, strong tacking on defense and strong running on offense. Southern Pines looked loss and committed a penalty in front of the goal post. New Orleans took the kick but missed it wide.
They stole the ball back from Southern Pines and scored in the corner after a couple of phases to go up 0-7 just 5 minutes into the match.
New Orleans continued to dominate possession and scored again ten minutes later to go up 0-14. That is when Southern Pines started to settle down and play within the system.
Neither team was able to gain ground, until Adam Galloway dump tackled a New Orleans’ player and was given ten minutes in the sin bin. Despite being down a man, Southern Pines was able to put in two scores by Emerson Bessell. One down the middle and one in the corner.
Southern Pines got back to full strength, and held off a late push by New Orleans to go into half tied 14-14.
When the second half started, it was clear that Southern Pines was better conditioned as New Orleans’ players started to run out of energy.
Zach Miller gave Southern Pines their first lead of the day 21-14.
The teams exchanged possessions; New Orleans unable to capitalize on a trip deep into Southern Pines territory. Finally a big hit by the Southern Pines’ defender jarred the ball loose, and Corey Jones picked it up and raced in for the try and a 28-14 lead.
A number of subs came in for Southern Pines and made an immediate impact with their fresh legs, showing the depth of the team, while the New Orleans’ subs were not up to par.
Greg Bajuk added another try off a pick to extend the lead 35-14, and Emerson finished his hat trick and the game, 42-14.
The round of 16 and the South Championship for the fourth year in a row, was played Sunday between Atlanta Old White and Southern Pines. A victory would secure a spot in nationals final 8 in Spartanburg, SC on May 18 and 19 at the Upward Sports complex. Teams from Cleveland, Doylestown and Buffalo would join the winner.
Atlanta played a consistent match from the start of the whistle until the end. Southern Pines couldn’t get out of their own way, with an early yellow card by Robert Bortins that led to 3 points off the penalty.
Southern Pines found themselves down 0-13 just 20 minutes into the game, but Zach Miller connected on a penalty kick to cut the lead to 3-13. Atlanta added another penalty kick for a 3-16 lead as the half was ticking down.
Southern Pines seemed to hold off a last effort relentless attack, until a kick and chase added a try for Atlanta right before the half and a 3-23 lead.
The second half saw the Southern Pines defense stand up and blank Atlanta, but the offense continued to sputter, adding a lone try with 15 minutes remaining in the match cutting the lead to 8-23, the final score.
Southern Pines, a small-town team, extended the streak of top 16 national finishes to a fourth year in a row defeating teams from New Orleans, Atlanta, Charleston, Chapel Hill and Charlotte along the way. For the second year in a row, injuries and mistakes downed the club in the South Championship match.
The team will celebrate the season and begin the healing and preparation process for a new year.
New players are welcomed. Summer sevens starts Tuesday and is a great time to learn the game.
Visit www.southernpinesrugby.org for more information.
Written by Sandhills Sentinel contributor Robert Bortins.