The Lions traveled to Lemont on Saturday for the Midwest final against top seed Columbus. It was a going to be a big challenge to take down a team who had the top seed having been bolstered this season by the additions of 6 players from th Ohio PRO team, but the Lions were up to the task having come within seconds of taking the victory against them on the road earlier in the Spring.
The Lions started with a team of Frikkie DeBeer, Pat Rappleye, Angus MacLellan, Joe Forgy, Mike Rasmussen (R), Thomas Kacor, Dave Whitney, Eddy Long, Kevin Lydon, JP Eloff, Brian Rooney, Luke Thiem, Dan Coci (c), Sondai Adjei and Robert Stortz. Opting to keep faith with young rookie Mike Rasmussen after his man of the match debut start in the semi-final.
The Lions were the first on the scoreboard after some early pressure from some lineout drives led to a penalty and eventually Pat Rappleye barging over in the corner from the drives momentum. Columbus reacted with a line break from former eagle Roland Suniula who connected with his team mates through a number of offloads before it ended up back with him for their first score of the game, converted by Taylor Howden. The Lions were next to score through a JP Eloff line break and an easy pass to put flanker Thomas Kacor in the corner. The Lions increased their lead to 15-10 when JP Eloff took 3 points from a Columbus penalty before a lapse in concentration in defense saw Columbus with a break away try up the middle to leave the score 17-15 to Columbus at the half. However, that was not the last of the drama as Columbus center Suniula saw a red for a dump tackle on Robert Stortz in the closing minutes of the half meaning the Lions would finish the game with an extra player.
The Lions took advantage of the extra man and superior fitness to dominate the second half, outscoring Columbus 18 to 3 in the second half despite crossing the line on two occasions only to be called back for a knock on or infringement. The second half scores came in the form of two Eloff penalties and tries for Robert Stortz after a superb outside break by Angus MacLellan and a Kevin Lydon lunge for the line after some goal line pressure.
The final score 33-20 to the Lions and the first Midwest title since 1999 for all in attendance to celebrate. Man of the match on the day was awarded to #7 Dave Whitney with JP Eloff and Angus MacLellan also having standout performances. I am extremely proud of every one of the players for the effort levels they gave and for their discipline and execution of the game plan I had for them to win on the day. Credit must be given to the forwards coaching staff of Marty Wiggins, Dustin Hugen and Matthew Priest for the dominance of our forwards at set-piece which was the platform for victory.
The Lions now qualify for the national quarterfinals in Pittsburgh where Rocky Gorge Rugby Club awaits, having won their conference. First up though, the Lions host Old Blue of New York this weekend in a warm-up game you will not want to miss. It would be fantastic to get as many Lions supporters to come out and meet the team in their last home game of the season before they head away to nationals!