Brighton 22 Dexter Devils 15 (Tries: Camp, 2; Jaylin Steedman)
Scranton Middle School, 12 April, 2017
Fullback Adam Burton was dominant on his debut — both with the ball and in the tackle (photo credit: Laura Lin Orr)
Dexter Rugby Football Club began the high-school season with a loss to Brighton, but after a poor first twenty minutes, there was much to encourage Devils’ supporters.
The Dexter Devils have not lost too many matches in the last six years – until last Wednesday, they had lost just two league matches since their promotion in 2013 to Division I of the Michigan Youth Rugby Association. Since that year, Dexter School District’s representative in the fifteen-man code of football has gone to the state Division One final four every season, making the Devils consistently the top team in the Eastern Division of MYRA. Indeed, Dexter, with the support of surrounding school districts (from which the Devils may recruit), has established a truly proud record in rugby.
However, defending that record may be a challenge this season. Last week, the Devils’ very small squad –big enough to fulfill its fixture list only because Genesee Elite RFC has again joined with Dexter this year – went up to Brighton for the first league match in several years against the local rivals. Before the season began Devils’ fans must have looked anxiously at a fixture list that opened in Brighton, knowing not only that Dexter has tended to start each season slowly (and, with a very small squad this year, the coaches had not risked a pre-season scrimmage to address those early season errors), but also that Brighton, where rugby is a varsity sport, ran the table in Division II last year and gained promotion to Division I with a dominant playoff performance.
After the first twenty minutes of the match, all those fears seemed justified: Brighton, taking advantage of a series of Dexter errors, overpowered the Devils with three tries, the first – a penalty try awarded for illegally holding up the Brighton forward with the ball when he was already in the in-goal area – giving the Bulldogs an easy conversion. Shortly after that first try, scored in the seventh minute, the Dexter captain, scrum-half Neil Makin (DHS, Sr) was summoned for a conference with the referee, who told him that any more dangerous play or illegal slowing of the opposition ball from the Devils, and Makin would be taking a ten-minute break on behalf of his team. Fortunately, no yellow card was forthcoming in the first half, but Dexter’s defence remained porous and what little ball the Devils had was wasted until near the end of the half. For a time, it looked as if the Bulldogs were going to run up a basketball score, aided by Dexter’s inability to resist high tackles and desire to handle the ball in the ruck (the referee was clearly determined to enforce World Rugby’s new instructions to penalize anything that looks even remotely dangerous — Brighton, too, were punished for dangerous play several times). The Bulldogs rumbled in for two more simple tries, to make the score 17-0 , with the Devils’ set-pieces looking poor, tackles missed, and penalties giving easy ball to the home team.
The Devils’ Aaron Steedman cuts to evade a Brighton tackle (photo credit: Laura Lin Orr)
Brighton would later describe the match as “heated”, but to the Dexter faithful it looked more like inexperience and nerves from a Devils side in which one of the flankers (Matthew Gaetcher, DHS), a winger (freshman Patrick Kerr) and the fullback (Adam Burton, DHS, Sr) were playing their very first minutes of competitive rugby – Burton after joining the squad only a few days before. In fact, all three of those players turned in excellent performances, with Kerr and Burton imposing in the tackle, and when the Devils pulled themselves together, their inexperienced and short-handed team, with fewer than 23 players dressed for the match, looked very competitive against a well-drilled Brighton XV.
Fortunately for the visiting fans, the Devils had by far the best of the last ten minutes of the half, with the Dexter pack now looking far more powerful than has generally been the case in recent years. The experienced front row of Jake Camp (Byron High School, Sr), Mason Monroe (DHS, Jr), and Skylar Stites (Lyndon High School, Sr) led a tight five that began to dominate the scrum (Robert Guenther, DHS, Jr, and Kyle Rooke, DHS, Jr ran the engine room as locks). Loose forwards Gaetcher, Parker Goetz (DHS, Sr) and Jaylin Steedman (LHS, Sr) provided the mobility, with no 8 Jaylin Steedman also adding impressive power. So it was no surprise when that domination translated into a try late in the half as Camp powered over near the corner after constant Dexter pressure. Indeed, if there had been better handling in the back line, the Devils might have scored another before the half-time whistle.
Dexter strong in the ruck (photo credit: Laura Lin Orr)
Dexter fans had good reason for optimism as the second half began, with Makin and fly-half Seamus McCurren (DHS, Sr) moving the ball well, and centres Aaron Steedman (LHS, Sr) and Truman Stovall (DHS, Sr) looking powerful and quick. The back three of wingers Kerr and Chris Kaufman (DHS, Sr) and fullback Burton ensured that there was no opportunity for Brighton to get behind Dexter’s back line. Burton’s powerful tackling repeatedly took away try-scoring opportunities and his speed and elusiveness generated excellent attacks from the back. Kerr, too, looked far from a rookie (or a freshman), and Kaufman, as ever, showed that you don’t have to be built like a truck to be a good rugby player. The one area of the game where the Devils looked consistently second best throughout the match was the lineout, where opposition ball was barely contested and Dexter ball was often lost (reports suggest that the forwards have been working hard on lineout play at practice this week).
Body-position may not have been perfect, but Dexter’s scrum had a good match
However, things got more complicated for the away team when, after six minutes of the second half, the Dexter fly-half was sent to the sin bin for an overenthusiastic tackle as he followed up his own booming up-and-under. All the same, the Dexter faithful were greatly encouraged as their fourteen men dominated possession for ten minutes and, when the referee allowed the scrum to wheel on the Brighton five-metre line, Makin got quick ball to the no 8 Jaylin Steedman, who bulldozed into the corner. By now the home side looked distinctly nervous — and clearly tired –, and when Camp added a second try to his crucial first-half score (three tries for the Flint contingent) after more Devils’ domination, every spectator was looking at the clock – Dexter fans wondering if enough time was left, Brighton fans praying for no side.
Jake Camp, scorer of two tries, shows off his power (photo credit: Laura Lin Orr)
It was not to be for the Devils, as Dexter’s rally effectively came to end shortly afterwards when the fullback, who had made a very fine debut, was sin-binned for a wrestling move in the ruck (he is a four-year DHS wrestler and he explained his move as simple “muscle memory”). Brighton ran in one more score to put the match out of Dexter’s reach at 22-15, but Dexter’s head coaches, Paul Burke and Doug Karaska, assisted by Steve Turosky and Jason Lomax, announced themselves pleased overall with the performance of their squad and delighted with the play of the three debutants.
After the match, the traditional “third half” was played, with the Dexter men who had not played in the match, aided by some of the starting XV, proving very competitive against Brighton’s numerous substitutes — which Dexter supporters will take as an excellent sign for the future of a squad that includes four freshmen.
Of course, it is never good to lose the first match, and the Devils must now lift themselves for three challenging home matches (at Manly Bennett Field, Hamburg), starting with tonight’s match against Troy – 6 pm kick-off. It is hoped that the Devils will enjoy strong support at home – this season, with such a small squad, they may need it.
Remaining league fixtures, all at home (at Manly Bennett Field, Hamburg; kick-off 6 pm):
19 April Dexter vs Troy
27 April Dexter vs Birmingham
10 May Dexter vs Dearborn
Over the weekend of 6/7 May the Devils will play in the Midwest Schools Rugby Championship at Elkhart, Illinois, and Dexter will host the first round of Michigan league playoffs on 20 May at DHS.
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.