Rugby: Despite 12-10 Loss to Dearborn, Devils Make Playoffs, Face Grand Rapids CC at Home Tomorrow

Dexter Devils 10 Dearborn RFC 12, Wednesday, 10 May

Midwest High-school Boys Rugby Tournament, Elkhart, Indiana, 6-7 May:
Dexter Devils  17 St Edward’s 2nd XV 11
Leo HS 27 Dexter Devils 7
Dexter Devils 19 Warsaw 12

Fly-half Seamus McCurren, scorer of a fine try in the Dearborn match, in action earlier this season against Troy (Photo credit: Laura Lin Orr)

Dexter’s disappointing league season concluded last Wednesday with another narrow defeat, this time at home to Dearborn, on the last play of the match.  But three very close losses and an overwhelming victory over Birmingham meant that bonus points from each league match propelled the Devils to third seed in the Michigan Youth Rugby High School Division One East.  The MYRA playoffs take place tomorrow, with Dexter hosting (Manly Bennet Park, Merrill Road, Hamburg).  Dexter will play Grand Rapids Catholic Central in the first round (noon kickoff), with the second round scheduled for 3 pm. GRCC won three and lost three in Division One West (which, again, looks much stronger than the East, and is headed by unbeaten Rockford).

MYRA Playoff Brackets.  Local Rivals Brighton HS are the no 2 seed in Division One East; in Division Two East two more local sides — Howell and Washtenaw (seeds one and three) will represent the area.  All first- and second-round matches are at Manly Bennett Park tomorrow, Saturday, 20 May

As with each of Dexter’s demoralizing defeats this year, last Wednesday’s match was another case of “what ifs”: what if scrum-half and captain Neil Makin (DHS, Sr) had made the kickable penalty he missed in the first half (which would have made the final score 13-12 to Dexter); what if Dexter, leading 10-0, had not conceded a try through poor defending right before half-time; what if, in the dying minutes of the second half, the captain and pack captain had kept the match tight, instead of opening it up and thereby instigating the play along the back line that led to a dramatic Dearborn try, run back 70 metres by a speedy winger and duly converted; what if the wind had not caught that last Devils’ pass in midfield and directed it into the opposition winger’s eager hands; what if the Devils had run pick-and-goes from a series of rucks on and near the Dearborn five-metre line, while the Dexter pack was dominant; what if the Devils had had fewer injuries (among others, prop and top try-scorer Jake Camp (LHS, Sr) and centre Adam Burton (DHS, Sr) were both out injured, while three-quarter Truman Stovall (DHS, Sr) picked up what looked like a season-ending shoulder injury during the match); what if there had been more than just one man on the bench; what if there had been the focus at practice that the coaches had demanded after the return from the Midwest Rugby Championship the week before…?

For most of the match, it seemed, nonetheless, that a depleted Dexter squad had done enough.  Two tries in the first half – one from fly-half Seamus McCurren (DHS, Sr), taking quick ball at the half-way line and dancing past several tacklers to score out wide, the other from a five-metre lineout when Dexter’s pack finally got their rolling maul right and drove over, flattening Dearborn’s forwards – indicated if not dominance, then at least clear superiority.  But that deflating try right on half-time, a shortage of substitutes, and poor game management at the very end cost them the match.  Yet even with a minute to go, the Devils looked certain to win.  A series of set-pieces deep inside the Dearborn twenty-two-metre line offered the opposition little hope, until poor decision-making by the Devils gave them the chance they seized.  In fact, Dexter’s set pieces had gone much better than at Elkhart the weekend before, and with the Devils’ pack dominating lineouts, the Dexter fans, seeing that Dearborn would not contest a five-metre lineout in the dying seconds, fully expected Makin and hooker Mason Monroe (DHS, Jr), to choose the tight option of a rolling maul.  Instead, they went for open play and the ball went to the backs; losing the ball at the breakdown when they knocked on, Dexter nonetheless won the ensuing scrum against the head, but again opted to open up; the ball went along the line again and, in the gusting wind, an errant pass was intercepted and, seventy metres later, that was that: Dearborn converted under the posts with no time left and Dexter had lost again.

There were crumbs of comfort: Skyler Stites (Linden High School, Senior) returned at prop and was his usual dominant self; Kyle Rooke (DHS, Jr) also returned and played prop in the absence of an injured Jake Camp (LHS, Sr).  Drew Biggert, one of three DHS freshmen to start, and Robert Guenther (DHS, Jr) made up a very solid second row, while another DHS freshman, Matthew Gaechter together with twins Aaron and Jaylin Steedman (LHS, Srs) provided mobility and power as loose forwards.  Behind the half-backs, Stovall and James Fortuna (DHS, Jr) were solid at centre, while Spencer Travis (DHS, So) and Chris Kaufman (DHS, Sr) looked good when the ball reached the wing, while Patrick Kerr (Byron High School, Sr) was, as ever, very reliable at fullback.  At half-time another promising DHS freshman, Quincy Gough, came on at wing – Dexter’s only substitute.

The weekend before, again with a depleted squad, Dexter went to Elkhart, Indiana, for the Midwest Boys High-school Rugby Championship.  Playing in the Festival Bracket, the Devils recorded two wins and one loss, beating St Edwards 2nd XV 17-11 and Warsaw (of Indiana’s high-school Division One) 19-12, but losing to Leo HS (also Indiana, Division One) 27-7.  Reports indicate that the Devils showed promise, that place-kicking and ball movement were good, but that, again, decision-making was not all that it could have been.

While at Elkhart, the Steedman twins, two of the standout players from Genesee Elite RFC who have played with Dexter for the last two seasons, signed letters of intent to play college rugby at Davenport University next season.  Davenport is the only Michigan college to offer athletic scholarships for Rugby Union and usually has one of the leading college teams in the Midwest.

The Steedman Twins Sign their Letters of Intent with Davenport (at Elkhart, in their Devils kit; Photo Credit: Davenport Rugby)

Despite the disappointments, the Devils could still redeem themselves in the playoffs.  Dexter’s coaches (Paul Burke and Doug Karaska, assisted by Steve Turosky and Jason Lomax) will hope for vocal support from local fans tomorrow as their charges face Grand Rapids Catholic Central at noon.  Rumors suggest that the Dexter squad will, once again, be depleted, so the Devils will need maximum support from the touchline.

Division One West is traditionally stronger than Division One East.  This year, Rockford has provided the outstanding team, while every other side has had an up-and-down season, except for West Ottawa (where rugby is a varsity sport), who finished rock bottom, without a win.

Tomorrow’s playoff opponent, Grand Rapids Catholic Central, has won three and lost three, but finds itself above Grandville, thanks to bonus points.

Dexter’s squad list, with further details of the Dexter Rugby program, may be accessed here.    For further information on Dexter Rugby, go to the Facebook page for “Dexter Rugby” or http://www.rugbymichigan.org/page/show/2367446-dexter.  Follow DRFC on Twitter @DexterRugby.

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