CLEVELAND, OH – The Pittsburgh Forge Men’s D2 side traveled to Cleveland this weekend to take on the rival Crusaders in their first of two clashes of the season. While the game was not a “must win” for the Forge, beating the Crusaders at home would put the Forge securely in the driver’s seat for a birth in the Midwest Championship in November. Last season, Pittsburgh Rugby Club split the season series with the Crusaders, each side winning at home.
Within the first ten minutes, the opportunistic Crusaders were able to jump to quick 14 – 0 lead, taking advantage of a slow Forge start and several ball handling mistakes. After a gut check, the Forge was able to regain their focus and began possessing the ball for much of the remainder of the match. Scoring for the Forge was opened up Andrew Knuttel (PITT) with a penalty kick at the fourteen minute mark to cut the lead down to eleven (11).
Shortly thereafter, the Forge found themselves deep in their defensive zone when scrumhalf and captain Rous Kluever (PITT) was able to keenly grab a loose ball and carry it a long ways down the field. After some crafty ball movement involving flanker David Ashline (PITT) and Knuttel, veteran lock Kyle Franklin (UIC) was able to finish the brilliant play and bring the score closer, 14 – 8 after eighteen minutes of play.
The Crusaders would pounce back once again however, counter-attacking quickly off a turn over ball to add yet another try at the twenty-two minute mark. This try would go unconverted, but would once again extend their lead to eleven. Luckily, the Forge would pounce again too with outside center Patrick Dobbins (UPJ) feeding stand-out rookie winger Julyan Jenkins a great off-load to spring the youngster for his first try of the afternoon and third in three games as a Forge player. Knuttel would nail the conversion and cut the lead down to four (4). The Forge would immediately threaten again off the ensuing kick-off, but time would expire in the half and leave them behind still at the whistle.
After the half, the Crusaders would look to extend their lead again quickly by adding a penalty try at the forty-five minute mark. Following the try, the Forge would make some personnel changes to their lineup bringing in Jeff Muha, Frank Cacciotti (Geneva) and Tony Wilson (Woodland Hills) for Franklin, Sam Angelo (SRU) and Eric David, respectively. For the next several minutes, the Forge would possess the ball and threaten constantly against a stout Cleveland defense. Finally, fullback Billy Gordon (Villanova) would get free out wide and set down a try, converted by Knuttel, to cut the Crusader lead back down to four (4) once again. Unfortunately, Knuttel would exit the game just a few minutes later with an ankle injury bringing on veteran forward Tim Bagatti (PITT) at the fifty-six minute mark.
Again, the Forge would gain and maintain possession, threatening to score several times, but failing to put down the go-ahead try. With just about ten minutes remaining, the Crusaders would again be opportunistic and put down what appeared to be a back-breaking try to go up nine points with time ticking away. The Forge men would not quit, however, and Jenkins would find the try zone once again at the seventy-six minute mark. After the conversion by Kluever, the Forge were down only two points with just under four minutes remaining in the game. At the restart, the Forge began attacking again, but another handling error deep in Crusader territory would seal the game for the Cleveland with the Forge knocking (literally and figuratively) on the doorstep. Final score: Cleveland Crusaders 31 – Pittsburgh Forge 29.
Both teams are 2 – 1 in league play after three weeks, although by earning two points in the loss, the Pittsburgh Forge remain ahead of the Crusaders in the standings with twelve (12) league points to Cleveland’s eleven (11). Next weekend, the Forge will travel to upstate New York again to take on the 1 – 2 Rochester Aardvarks while the Crusaders will take on 0 – 3 South Buffalo.. Cleveland will travel to Pittsburgh for the rematch and for what could likely decide the Eastern Conference Champion on Saturday, October 13th.
First XV: 1 – Cody Fulton, 2 – Andrew Knuttel, 3 – Derek Neubauer, 4 – Sam Angelo, 5 – Kyle Franklin, 6 – Alex Gordon, 7 – David Ashline, 8 – Tony Cardamone, 9 – Rous Kluever (C), 10 – Tyree Massie, 11 – Eric David, 12 – Neil Reynolds, 13 – Patrick Dobbins, 14 – Julyan Jenkins, 15 – Billy Gordon
Reserves: 16 – Jeff Muha, 17 – Frank Cacciotti, 18 – Tim Bagatti, 19 – Tony Wilson, 20 – Trevor Keough
Substitutions: 42’ – Muha for Franklin (TC), 48’ – Wilson for David (TC), Cacciotti for Angelo (TC), 56’ – Bagatti for Knuttel (IJ), 59’ – Keough for B. Gordon (TC)
Tries: Franklin (2), B. Gordon (2), Jenkins (3, 4)
Penalty Kicks: Knuttel (1/1)
Conversions: Kluever (1/1), Knuttel (2/3)
Man of the Match: Julyan Jenkins (1)
Photo Credits: Florence Griffith