In a fiery contested match versus the Coast Guard Academy Bears, Marist rugby came out on top 32-31. A penalty kick by captain Federico Gubana gave Marist a late lead.
“It was stressful. It was really stressful,” said head coach James Kimberly.
With four lead changes in the last eight minutes of the match, both teams were on edge with the stakes of fighting for a spot in the national sweet 16.
Much of the match contained sloppy offensive play from both teams, ensuing frustration for Marist in particular. The Red Foxes are used to dominating their opponents and scoring multiple tries per game.
“We had more mistakes, so we had more to overcome,” said Kimberly.
While Marist struggled with dropped passes, the Coast Guard struggled with cleanly fielding kickoffs and gave Marist multiple opportunities. The Bears opened the scoring four minutes in with a penalty kick. Marist responded minutes later with a beautiful long kick from Gubana.
“He is an All-American. One of the best rugby players in the country,” said Kimberly. There would be more kicking from Gubana, who finished the day with eight kicks.
“Sometimes in sport, you need your best player to pick you up, take you over the top,” said Kimberly.
The first half was largely a stalemate, with Coast Guard using their kicking– like Marist– to switch field positions and prevent each other from getting quality offensive opportunities. However, sophomore fullback Benji Hanneman was much more involved due to the Bear’s kicking game plan, allowing the Red Foxes to have an advantage.
“We watched a film this week and anticipated that they would kick,” said Hanneman. “A lot of teams we have played don’t really kick to us. So, I haven’t really experienced much of that. I’m a good runner, so I tried to do that the best I could.”
Coast Guard played a similar game to Marist, where they would force their opponent to score points by breaking down their defense rather than getting easy opportunities when backed down in their own half. This spiraled in much of the frustration of the Red Foxes.
“They’re a very calm and controlled team, as you would expect from a military academy. We’re kind of a frenetic team and have swings of highs and lows,” said Kimberly.
Marist was forced to lean on their defense, making several key stops throughout the game, preventing the Bears from breaking their lines with any consistency.
The first try did not come until 25 minutes into the game when Marist’s Albert Severino broke the lines to give Marist a lead. Coast Guard made this a short-lived lead, and responded with a try of their own, tying the game.
Both teams would exchange kicks before halftime and go into the second half deadlocked at 16.
Moving into the second half, much of the same remained with both sides struggling to push themselves ahead. The first ten minutes were exchanges of possession with no real scoring opportunities.
The first score of the second half was another kick by Gubana 15 minutes in, who put the Red Foxes narrowly in front.
Coast Guard continued to work for momentum, however, and they took the lead eight minutes later after a missed tackle by Marist freshman Drew Bloom. The Bears missed the ensuing kick and led 21-19 with 15 minutes left to play.
“We understand the type of player we’re going against. They’re smart, great listeners, they’re strong. I think the Coast Guard played really well,” said Kimberly.
Marist would quickly respond off the kickoff and score another penalty kick of their own, now leading by one 22-21.
With the players on the field getting fatigued, the offense picked up for both teams. Coast Guard got a try and a successful conversion kick to take the lead with ten minutes left.
In a desperate position, Marist scored a penalty try by freshman Nick Camiglia after moving the ball up the field.
With the game in Marist’s hands at 29-28, the Red Foxes looked to their leaders to get the win.
“The guys who were really pulling us through were our 12 and 10, captains Enrique and Federico. They kept us locked in and kept us motivated. They keep us ready for war,” said Hanneman.
In the dying moments of the game, Coast Guard scored another kick to lead 31-29, where the Red Foxes were now in complete desperation to save their undefeated season. Marist took possession after a kickoff and earned yet another penalty kick.
A reliable option all afternoon long, Federico Gubana put it through to make the score 32-31 and Marist was put in position to take a victory. Marist would do just that and move into nationals after a back-and-forth dogfight with Coast Guard.
“When you play rugby, this is a game of war. It’s just a matter of wanting to die for your teammates on the field,” said Hanneman.
“Things did not go our way at nationals last season. We have a different plan. Everybody thinks our division is not high level. We want to show everybody that we can play with teams from other divisions and show the country that we are not underdogs,” said Hanneman.
In preparation for their match against IUP in Reading, PA, Coach Kimberly wants to work on defensive spacing, structure, and offensive depth.
The Red Foxes will play at noon on Friday and if they win, they will take the field again on Sunday.
Edited by Dan Aulbach
Photo from Jonathan Kinane