Old Glory Storms Through Houston for Second Win in a Row
By Evan Lappen
Battling both its opponent and the elements, Old Glory DC bested the Houston SaberCats, 21-13, through the wind and rain at AVEVA Stadium on Saturday night. Mirroring its victory last season, DC utilized defense and the kicking game to keep pressure on the SaberCats. While many shined through the downpour, Jason Robertson was a sharpshooter with his tactical kicks and only missed a single shot for points.
The win improves Old Glory’s record to 4-4-1 and puts the squad firmly in the playoff hunt in the MLR Eastern Conference. With New York on deck, DC will attempt to further climb the standings this upcoming Memorial Day weekend in front of an eager, full-sized crowd of the DC faithful at Segra Field.
The weather played a role in Saturday’s match, and Old Glory smartly used it to its advantage. Robertson and company routinely booted the ball into Houston’s territory to pin their opponent back. The utilization of tactical kicking to the opposition’s touchlines resulted in multiple SaberCats’ penalties and disruption of continuity. When DC organized itself into prime striking locations, Danny Tusitala and Mike Dabulas found the whitewash. Robertson was key with two penalties, a conversion, and a late drop goal dagger.
OGDC came out strong and on the front foot. Unfortunately, due to the slick conditions, DC’s first forays inside Houston’s territory led to penalties. Conversely, two of the SaberCats’ jaunts in deep turned into six points for the home team. Sam Windsor was pinpoint accurate with his boot, but it was Corey Daniel, making his first professional start, who stole the spotlight with a bone-jarring tackle and turnover on Paula Balekana.
After the water break, Old Glory found itself attacking behind enemy lines following an errant pass. Stan South followed up his ball recovery with a stomp inside the 22. After a knock-on and subsequent scrum penalties, DC passed up points in lieu of a kick to the corner. The ensuing driving maul off the lineout resulted in Mikey Sosene-Feagai peeling off for the line. The hooker was stopped short and the ball became free. Tusitala grabbed the loose ball and dove for the try. Robertson was just wide with the conversion, and OGDC trailed by a point, 6-5, in the 26th minute.
The teams continued to jockey for field position for the rest of the half. A knock-on from Robbie Povey late in the period gave DC an optimum platform to take the lead. An offsides call in front of the posts was easy pickings for Robertson as the Kiwi flyhalf darted the penalty for the 8-5 halftime advantage.
The rain seemed to intensify as the second half whistle blew. Houston almost retook the lead with a pair of chip kicks from Windsor, but Tusitala downed the ball in the endzone for the 22-meter drop. A SaberCats’ lineout steal and run by Nick Boyer saw Houston threatening inside five meters of the endzone. A pass out wide to an open Balekana was for naught, and the subsequent lineout was not straight. OGDC won the next scrum; however, Jamason Fa’anana-Schultz fumbled the ball, going to the ground. Next to the ruck, Adriaan Booysen scooped the pill up for the opportune try under the posts. The automatic seven-pointer gave the lead back to Houston, and it led 13-8 early in the second frame.
Old Glory responded by marching down the field with devastating rumbles from Fa’anana-Schultz and Dylan Taikato-Simpson. A penalty set DC up with a lineout just inside ten meters. OGDC mauled it forward, and the pack pounded against the Houston defensive front. Tusitala pitched it to Robertson, who shrugged off the defender to skip it to Dabulas on the wing. It was open country for the former Nittany Lion for the score. Robertson nailed the kick from the sideline to reclaim the lead at 15-13.
Handling issues plagued both sides with the wet ball. The teams exchanged kicks playing much of the half between the 22s. A powerful scrum steal just before the 60th-minute water break put Old Glory in position to extend its lead. Houston’s goal-line defense repelled the OGDC advance, but a not rolling away penalty gave Robertson another shot at the uprights. Robertson slotted the kick from 25 meters out to lengthen the score to 18-13 with fifteen minutes left.
Tevita Naqali and Ciaran Hearn entered the fray and put in quality minutes returning from injury. Unfortunately for Old Glory, Fa’anana-Schultz was red-carded for hitting Balekana in the air in the 70th minute.
With the man disadvantage for the rest of the match, the defense stepped up as Houston could not get the ball out of its own half. DC regained possession, and Robertson put the finishing touch on the game with a drop goal. The final whistle sounded soon after, and the Old Glory secured the 21-13 victory to get back to 0.500 on the season.
DC will return to Segra Field on Sunday against New York. It will be Old Glory’s first test without COVID restrictions, and hope the home crowd will be the 16th man cheering the team to another win on its road to the MLR playoffs.