High-school Rugby: Devils Defeat Dearborn to Set up Title Decider

An Effective Devils Ruck Against Dearborn: Clayton Drenner Presenting the Ball. Photo Credit -- Madison Even
An Effective Devils Ruck Against Dearborn: Clayton Drenner Presenting the Ball. Photo Credit — Madison Even

Dexter Devils 32 Dearborn Silverbacks 7

Dexter Scorers —
Tries: Stairs (3), Orlowski (2); Pen: Makin; Cons: Makin (2)

A hat trick of tries by outside center Ethan Stairs (DHS, Sr) and two from flanker and Man-of-the-Match Nathaniel Orlowski (DHS, Sr), plus a penalty goal and two conversions from scrum-half Neil Makin (DHS, Jr) saw off Dearborn at Manly Bennett Park last Wednesday and set up this week’s match at home to Troy, which will decide the Division One East Title in the Michigan Youth Rugby Association (Wednesday, 4 May, Manly Bennett Park, Merrill Road, Hamburg, 6 pm kick-off).  The Devils now face the “sharp end” of the compact and intense Michigan high-school Rugby season: Wednesday’s match will determine not only the divisional title, but also Dexter’s place in the Division I Playoffs, which the Devils will host at DHS on Saturday, 14 May; the winners in those playoffs will then head to the Championship Matches at West Ottawa’s Rugby Stadium over the following weekend.  Before that, the Devils head to the Midwest High School Rugby Championships in Elkhart, Indiana (7-8 May), where they will play in the Club Bracket against some of the top teams in the region, starting with runaway leaders of Indiana Division II North, Carroll High School.

Last Wednesday saw a big crowd, including a significant number of Devils old boys and their families, gather for the first of only two home matches this season at Manly Bennett Park.  The Silverbacks have always been tough opponents, with last year’s away victory a typically demanding match for the Devils.  This year, Dearborn looked to play more expansive Rugby than their traditional focus on forward play, with the Silverbacks’ three-quarters more involved than has been the case in the recent past.  The Devils, looking to step up another notch from their previous match – a 43-3 victory away to newly-promoted Downriver – showed improvements in loose play from the forwards (rucking and speed to the ball were both better than earlier in the season), but still left the head coaches, Paul Burke, Doug Karaska, and Dustin Steedman from partner Genesee County Elite RFC, unhappy with some aspects of a performance that was, at times, ragged.

One thing that will have delighted the head coaches (and assistant coach Steve Turosky) would have been the Devils’ most energetic start of the season so far: after early Dexter dominance, Stairs scored his first try in the ninth minute, following excellent work by no 8 Jaylin Steedman (Linden High School, Jr); Makin failed with a kickable conversion.   The second try came shortly afterwards, as Dexter, assisted by a thirty-metre run from  Aaron Steedman, camped on the Dearborn five-metre line. Orlowski, taking the ball from a Devils’ line-out, forced his way over on the left wing; Makin compensated for his first attempt with a booming conversion from out wide.

Late in the half, and not for the first time, the Devils showed the benefits of experience, not to mention the Dexter-Flint collaboration: Jaylin Steedman took the ball at the base of the scrum and weaved twenty metres before offloading to the accompanying Makin.  The slight scrum-half then took the ball another twenty metres to the Dearborn try-line, where, at the ensuing ruck, the quick hands and strength of Orlowski took the ball over for the Devils’ third try, again on the left wing, but this time unconverted.

17-0 at half time was a fair reflection of the balance of play, with the Devils’ scrum standing up well to Dearborn: the front row of loose-head prop Jake Camp (Byron High School, Jr), hooker and captain Tyler Even (DHS, Sr), and tight-head prop Skylar Stites (LHS, Jr) had all put in dominating performances, while the second row of four-year player Clayton Drenner (DHS, Sr) and rookie Alex West (DHS, Sr), had provided power and agility.  The loose forwards also stood out: flankers Mason Monroe (DHS, So) and Orlowski, who has played three magnificent games, and no 8 Jaylin Steedman.  At half time Kyle Rooke (DHS, So) came on at prop, Robert Guenther (DHS, So) in the second row, and Josh Friedman (DHS, Sr) at flanker, providing fresh legs and no diminution in quality.  This year’s new half-back combination of Makin and fly-half Seamus McCurren (DHS, Jr) also looked in rhythm, with quick ball generally reaching the three-quarters, where Aaron Steedman and Stairs provided strength and speed.  Speed was also evident on the wings, where Truman Stovell (DHS, Jr) and Caleb Endicott (DHS, Sr) saw less of the ball than the centres, but looked to add width; Noah Mahnke (LHS, Jr) came on after half-time to good effect on the wing.  Fullback and two-year player Sean Wakefield (DHS, Sr) looked good with the ball in hand and patrolled the back line effectively.

Nine minutes into the second half Makin elected to kick for goal from a penalty, given for Dearborn entering the ruck from the side, twenty metres out and under the posts, his score effectively putting the game out of Dearborn’s reach, although the Devils’ coaches will not have enjoyed watching Dearborn run in their one try seven minutes later, thanks to some very sloppy tackling.

The next task for the Devils was to ensure a bonus point (for scoring four tries), which came with a superb effort from Stairs, who, after receiving quick ball from a ruck on the wing, ran all of fifty-five metres, evading every tackle, to touch down between the posts.  Makin converted.  The last try saw Stairs complete the first Devils hat trick in some years (no one on the touchline could remember the last one), when a quick tap penalty went on to McCurren and then very effectively to the powerful centre.  Makin, suffering leg cramp after a tackle, tossed the ball to Wakefield, but the fullback could not delight his team mates with his first career conversion.  Stairs came off to enjoy the plaudits of the Devils’ fans, with Stovell going to centre and the speedy freshman Gavin Mackie (Grand Blanc HS) entering on the wing.

The game wound down with no further alarms for the Devils, whose coaches chose Orlowski as Man of the Match, although they were, again, spoilt for choice, with excellent performances coming (again) from Even, Stairs, and the props, not to mention the unsung heroes in the second row.

In the traditional “third half” the men who had not started the match played, with both sides boosted by some of the old boys among the spectators (for the Devils: Chris Bryson, Tristin Staebler, and Adam Haas, all DHS 2015).  The Devils won 10-7, with tries from Mahnke and the indefatigable Even.

This Wednesday’s match will be by far the Devils’ toughest league encounter so far: the Troy XV have won both their matches so far without conceding a single point; they beat the Devils in the pre-season Toledo Panther Friendlies; and they were the first team to beat Dexter at home in two years when they won at Manly Bennett in 2014.  The home team will need all the support it can get. Scoring updates will be provided on the Dexter Rugby Twitter feed.

Dexter’s squad list, with further details of the Dexter Rugby program, may be accessed here: https://www.dropbox.com/s/2ypd3vcs3909w8p/DRFC%20Team%20Sheet%202016.pdf?dl=0.   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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