Second Half Switch Sparks Old Glory DC Comeback Victory in Home Debut
By Evan Lappen
Trailing at halftime before a sell-out crowd at Segra Field in Leesburg, Va., Old Glory DC made the necessary adjustments to trigger a second half comeback to earn its first win of the season over Rugby ATL, 30-23. After injuries to Jason Robertson and Ciaran Hearn caused head coach Andrew Douglas to shuffle his backline, the crucial substitution of Mike Dabulas at flyhalf and shifting Danny Tusitala back to scrumhalf spurred the offense to life and, ultimately, gave DC an important victory at its new home, Segra Field.
“The first half was a bit conservative, but we started to break them down a little bit towards the end. We just couldn’t execute and carry any momentum,” Coach Douglas said. “We exchanged a few thoughts at halftime and came out with a lot more energy for the second period. We definitely felt that we showed them a bit too much respect earlier in the game.
“Once we unleashed that in the second half and wanted to play our game, we got ourselves in a better situation… We wanted to spread the ball more in the second half. Once we got behind them, we continued to build momentum and were able to get a better flow.”
It was a classic tale of two halves, where the first was highlighted by strong defense, the grind of both squads, and the penalties that prevented scoring chances. The teams were cautious, with each side slotting a series of penalties instead of going for tries. Tusitala, taking over the kicking duties for the day, made it look easy with a pair of PKs while Atlanta’s Robbie Petzer went three from four in the half.
Old Glory had its opportunities, but the team initially looked disjointed and hurried with a couple of players in new positions. ATL did a great job of changing the point of attack and was very successful at staying on the front foot. Late in the half, after successive line breaks from Bautista Ezcurra and Johan Momsen, Rowan Gouws managed to dummy his way for the try. Petzer connected on the extras for a 16-6 halftime lead.
Five minutes into the second half, the script flipped and the game changed. Mike Dabulas’ insertion into flyhalf and Tusitala returning to his normal #9 position seemed to settle the nerves of the OG team.
Immediately, Old Glory stomped on the gas and pounded the ATL defensive line with Mikey Sosene-Feagai as the battering ram. After repeated offside infringements, ATL lock Connor Keys was sent to the bin. OGDC then took full advantage as Jamason Fa’anana-Schultz’s eightman pick got the ball inches from the tryline before Callum Gibbins put it over on the next phase of play. Tusitala’s conversion cut the lead to three points at 16-13.
From the ensuing restart, punishing runs from Dabulas and Renata Roberts Te-Nana got OGDC into an attacking position, but unfortunately Sam Cusano was tackled into touch. On the defensive lineout however, Sosene-Feagai picked off the overthrow and crashed up to within ten meters of the tryline. The Ratlers were called for a penalty and Tusitala quick tapped the ball. The electric scrummie weaved through the defense for the score close to the posts. He also slotted an easy conversion to give DC its first lead at 20-16.
The teams went back and forth, and chippiness began to assert itself between the two clubs. Old Glory’s Stan South was shown a yellow card and spent 10mins in the sin bin, but Atlanta couldn’t take advantage as they continued to struggle with their lineout and DC used its forwards to wear down the defense. Following a penalty for a diving over call by the match official, Tusitala tacked on his third penalty kick.
Following the 60th minute water break, Atlanta was on the doorstep of tying the game twice but Steven Longwell and Tusitala caused defensive turnovers to get their team out of trouble. Old Glory took control with big runs from Thretton Palamo, Sam Cusano, Sosene-Feagai, and Fa’anana-Schultz; however, OG couldn’t connect on the final pass or offload.
After an exchange of kicks, DC forced a scrum about 25 meters out. Three bruising strikes later from Sosene-Feagai, Longwell, and Fa’anana-Schultz, OG set up a ruck a few meters from the ATL tryline. Tusitala dug the ball out and Tevita Naqali rumbled through two defenders for the try. The conversion was good and OGDC led 30-16 with less than ten minutes remaining.
Atlanta came right back with a breakaway from Momsen and finished on the wing from Mark O’Keeffe. Suddenly, only up by a converted try, Old Glory had to hold onto possession for the final few minutes. Atlanta never quit and forced a penalty on DC’s scrum. The Ratlers mauled their ensuing lineout but the home team returned the favor causing a penalty. With no time left, Fa’anana-Schultz took the pick from the scrum and booted the ball into touch for the 30-23 win.
Speaking on the defeat, Rugby ATL coach Blake Bradford said, “It’s a tough loss for us. We made a few too many mistakes, put ourselves under pressure at the beginning of the second half and that’s where they scored a lot of their points. We just have to be more clinical to start the second half… I thought the guys were tough, hung in there, and fought back at the end of the half, but we ran out of time.”
Coach Douglas was proud of his men but still wants to see their full potential. “The attitude and effort have been outstanding. They want to win. They’re competitive. Training has been quite testy at times and they really want to push each other. We’re making progress… I would just like to see us start to pressure teams a bit more than we already are and not sit back and wait for things to happen.”