Old Glory DC completed its four-game inaugural exhibition season with an emphatic 29-15 victory over the Ontario Blues on Sunday. Concluding its schedule at Cardinal Stadium at Catholic University, DC led 12-5 at the half with scores from Josh Brown and Ryan Burroughs and then found itself behind after the Blues started the second with a ten-point rally. With 20 minutes left in the season, Old Glory broke open the match with three straight tries from Khalid Williams, John Sage, and Vetekina Malafu for the win. With the victory, DC finished its exhibition season on a two-game winning streak and fervor for more.
“The two wins are nice, but it’s the progress I’ve seen in these boys since day one,” visiting coach Andrew Douglas said summing up the match. “They have come an awful long way and worked really hard. We saw at the end of the game they were playing well for each other. They weren’t playing for their own glory, they were playing for Old Glory, which is nice to see that sacrifice for the team.”
Light rain and wind in Washington, D.C. didn’t stop nearly 2,200 fans from attending Old Glory’s final match and the squad didn’t disappoint its faithful. After the opening kickoff from Nick Kuhl, it didn’t take long for DC to make a statement. The forwards blasted the goal line repeatedly only to have the Ontario hold them up in the tryzone twice. On the third attempt, captain Josh Brown picked the ball from the back of the scrum to crash over the whitewash for the first points of the day.
“Ontario had a really good pack so they were pushing us back a little bit,” Brown said of his try. “I took the scrum and went weak side with it, which isn’t ideal. Luckily, I had just enough to get over.”
With the momentum, Old Glory attacked the defense with hard runs and nifty offloads. Following a lineout steal from Ayemere Oiyemhonlan, Michael Reid swung the pill to John Sage who found Mo Katz just inside the 22. The hooker attracted four defenders leaving Ryan Burroughs unattended on the wing for the easy dive try. Kuhl’s conversion increased the lead to 12-0.
From Burrough’s perspective, “Our forwards did a really good job of punching through holes. Mo [Katz] caught it on the short side and put him through a hole. He had a half break, saw me on the corner, and I was able to finish it.”
After the opening salvo, the play from both sides devolved into sloppy turnovers and penalties. The teams exchanged possession but Old Glory’s aggressiveness at the breakdown and increased line speed was very evident.
Through a chip and chase and muffed catch, Ontario worked its way inside five meters of the try line but knocked on a try in the corner. Running the ball out of its end, Reid offloaded to Darien Pickett for a break, however, the Blues’ John Stoneham busted up the subsequent pass attempt. Ontario’s Josh Bald collected the loose ball, looped around the defense, and turned on the jets to score in the corner. Although the conversion failed, the Blues cut the deficit to seven points and the score remained at 12-5 for the final ten minutes of the period.
After celebrating Northern Virginia’s USA Rugby Women’s Division I Club National Championship at halftime, the visiting coach Andrew Douglas assessed the first half saying, “We did start well, but there is a little frustration in the last 20-25 minutes with getting away from the game plan and giving the ball away too softly. We started well by controlling the ball and unfortunately, we got away from that in the last 20 minutes.”
While Old Glory attempted to follow coach Douglas’ advice to be more patient, physical, and direct, it was Ontario who looked more focused after it exited the locker room. Following a penalty, the Blues took a shot at the posts but the kick was short. After a knock, Ontario stole the scrum and whipped it wide to a streaking Ethan Hager. The center split the defenders and outraced Kuhl to the score under the posts. With the conversion, the score was tied at 12-12.
After the restart, both coaches began to go to their benches for fresh legs. Deep in their territory, Old Glory looked to be on its way out but was penalized in the breakdown for some extracurricular activities. Ontario took advantage and Nathan Boeyonga kicked the 35-meter penalty to give the Blues its first lead of the day, 15-12.
Ontario’s lead didn’t last long as DC took the wake up call and the offense began to move. After the water break, Sean Hartig took a quick tap into the 22 and the forwards collectively inched the ball to the line. Khalid Williams looked to have a surefire try but fumbled it forward while falling to the ground.
The offense had a second chance when the Blues were pushed into touch on the counterattack. The lineout was mauled forward then sent to an authoritative Josh Brown crash ball. At the ensuing ruck, Hartig passed to Williams who powered his way through three defenders for the redemption try.
“I didn’t put my head down and my captain said to wash it away,” Williams said after the first attempt. “He said it happens, put your head back up and go back and get it… [On the try,] I just wanted to keep pumping my feet and coach said once you make contact, don’t stop your feet. My main goal was to stay low and keep driving.”
Kuhl added the extras and Old Glory regained the lead at 19-15. DC kept on the front foot and showed its athleticism and teamwork for the remainder of the game.
Nearing the 70th minute, Old Glory set itself up with an attacking scrum after Ontario kicked the ball out the back of the endzone. Great interplay between Hartig and Guy Lopresti rumbled the ball to within striking distance and John Davis’ skip pass to John Sage resulted in DC’s fourth try.
“I’m watching the whole game and their centers were shooting early,” Davis remarked on the play. “I figured that if I had enough chance and if I could keep my feet, I could throw one over the top.”
Man of the Match Sage added, “We had some good momentum rushing the middle of the field. I saw John [Davis] get the ball and he’s a phenomenal passer and I knew he was going to look wide. I got it and went for the try. Awesome setup and easy work for me.”
Old Glory was not done and in the 76th minute, Vetekina Malafu provided the exclamation point on the exhibition season. “I saw Oisin [O’Neill] take it and break the line. There were no defenders in front so I followed up in support for the ruck. Somehow, he got the ball loose unexpectedly and I got the ball. I saw the sweeper come down, dummy passed to the left, stepped him right, and finished off the game. It was awesome. Unexpected and awesome.”
Ontario head coach Phil Murphy was very proud of how his squad played and the heart they showed. “We came down, we knew we were playing everybody. You try to get fresh legs on, they were fantastic and did their work, but Old Glory did their homework on us and made some changes in the second half… So super proud of my guys to come down here, to participate, and play a phenomenal amount of rugby. We’ve down five training sessions as a group together and had one game and for them to come here, I’m just so proud of them.”
Old Glory ended the exhibition season on a high note with its second straight win and a positive outlook for the future. The team progressed week after week and especially in this match, the offload game was superb, the defensive line speed was the best it has been all season, and the set piece has improved ever since day one.
“I’m really proud of the boys,” Douglas said. “They dug themselves a hole at one stage and could have easily given it away, but they showed real good character and the ending was quite comfortable. They scored some really nice tries at the end of the second half and it’s a sign of a good team when you dissolve pressure and take on the opposition.”
Almost 9,000 fans attended the four games of Old Glory’s exhibition season attracting the existing rugby community of the Mid-Atlantic as well as new followers. “Rugby is a huge hit in the DC area,” owner Paul Sheehy said. “All the fans I was listening to just really enjoy it. They enjoy the spirit of the community, it was great seeing the NOVA team that won the championship, so I think its an huge win for the DC area.”
Old Glory DC:
Jack Iscaro, Mo Katz, Dante Lopresti, Ayemere Oiyemhonlan, Ryan Smith, Tyler Barberi, Dacoda Worth, Josh Brown, Michael Reid, Chris Kunkel, Ryan Burroughs, Darien Pickett, John Sage, Vetekina Malafu, Nick Kuhl, Oisin O’Neill, Khalid Williams, Mason McIlwee, Guy Lopresti, Cullen Barelka, Sean Hartig, Selby Niumataiwalu, and John Davis.
Jeff Wood, Daniel Cooper, Emmerson Prior, Charles Oulton, Hank Stevenson, John Stoneham, George Manoukas, Matt Fish, Nate Roberts, Nathan Boeyonga, Miguel Palij, Mitch Voralek, Josh Bald, Jordan Henstra, Paul Schroeder, Owen Lavado, Graeme Francolini, Aaron Sommerhalder, Levi Konecny, Zach Zorbas, Andrew Wilson, Steve Commerford, Ethan Hager