Atlanta Old White 3-peats as South Champions
Following yesterday’s semifinal action in the DII South Conference, the final featured the returning champion and an upstart from Florida. In Evans, Ga., the Atlanta...
Following yesterday’s semifinal action in the DII South Conference, the final featured the returning champion and an upstart from Florida. In Evans, Ga., the Atlanta Old White proved for the third consecutive year that they are kings of the South as they won the conference title over the Orlando Griffins, 42-22. With the victory, Atlanta will travel to Charlotte, N.C. on May 30th to challenge the defending National Champion, Rocky Gorge, in the East Regionals.
“We knew it was going to be a very physical game”, Francesco Balsas, head coach of Atlanta commented after the game. “They tried to keep pounding us with tanks, they have a very strong set of forwards. We controlled our own defense, so we controlled the pace they were running at. The times we had the ball in first half was pretty fantastic. We had possession of the ball for a good 75% of the half. That was our biggest asset. We dominated the scrums, which was crucial for our game… In the second half, we were not ready as we thought Orlando had given up on the fight, but they proved us wrong. They proved to the whole South that they have a chance [at the title]. Their side never gave up.”
The Atlanta Old White started out on the right foot going up by six points in the first ten minutes with two penalty kicks by captain and scrumhalf Antoine Blanchet. They followed it up with a quick ball out from a scrum where fullback Jamie Gasparella sprinted 50 meters for the converted try. The Old White was not done with the onslaught as prop Sean Hunt barreled over for a try on his team’s fourth attempt at a pick and go inside five meters. The Griffins stopped the bleeding with a penalty kick by Dylan Hamilton, but Blanchet answered with a penalty kick soon after and make the score 21-3 at halftime.
Not going down without a fight, Orlando roared out the intermission as flanker Bart Longchamp took an offload and ran over the opposing hooker for his team’s first try in the 42nd minute. The Griffins’ momentum would not last long as Atlanta responded with two converted tries by David Winiarczyk and Richard Shore to extend the lead to 35-10.
In the final 15 minutes, both clubs traded blows as Atlanta extended their lead to 20 points when the final whistle blew. The Griffins’ Taylor Alley took advantage of a counterattack for an open field try, but Blanchet increased Atlanta’s lead to 42-17 with a No. 8 to scrumhalf connection off a ten-meter scrum where he dummied to the flyhalf and slid by the flanker for the try. Orlando’s captain Will Doherty scored the final try of the match from a maul in the corner.
“We ran out of steam today is pretty much what it comes down to,” Steve Profitt, the director of rugby for Orlando, said. “It was good athletes all around and we got off to a slow start. Atlanta was up 13 to nothing before we got off the schnide. It was a long day, we ran out of horsepower… The score was 42-22, but it felt closer than that. It felt that we were never really a try out of it the whole day. They muscled up a couple that we couldn’t defend against… We ran into a juggernaut today. It was a hell of an effort by everybody. Winning on the road is a tough thing and these boys have done a wonderful job knocking off ten in a row. Old White is a big powerful club.”
The Atlanta Old White has a big task in front of them if they want to advance to the National Semifinals, but their ultimate destination is the DII National Championship. “Our goal is to go to the Finals”, Balsas stated. “It is going to be a very physical game [against Rocky Gorge]. Hopefully, the weather this year isn’t going to play against us. Under normal weather conditions, our backline and our forwards should be able to take it. But again, it’s the quarterfinals, so we only want to play against the best. Rocky Gorge is a very solid side, that’s one of the reasons they have been in the final champs the past two of three years. I think this year Old White is going to be ready to go further away into the Finals.”