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Navy Wins at the Wire

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Navy Wins at the Wire

Why is this man smiling? Navy Coach Mike Flanagan's team gets 80 more minutes.

It was another nail-biter for Navy, and another close win as the Midshipmen defeated Clemson 24-23 Saturday in the Varsity Cup quarterfinals.

“I think that these close games are really good for the competition and for college rugby,” said Navy Head Coach Mike Flanagan. “It shows that they picked the right teams. Clemson is a great organization. Justin Hickey deserves a lot of credit. They are well-coached, well-prepared, and well-disciplined.”

Clemson took an early lead thanks to an Aaron Keers penalty, but Navy struck back with a try from Ron Helms, converted by flyhalf Jack McAuliffe, to lead 7-3. The Tigers regained the lead after they took a lineout close to the Navy tryline. The lineout-and-maul worked to perfection, with James Rogers to man with the ball when they got over the line. Keers hit the conversion to make it 10-7 Clemson. McAuliffe tied it on a penalty, and Keers answered to put Clemson up by three once more. Then, right before halftime, Clemson pressed. 

The Tigers got quick ball out of the ruck, and Navy started to commit penalties, putting one of their players in the sin bin. Up a man, Clemson exploited the overload and put Dylan Goulding in at the corner for a lead of 18-10.

“When we gave up that try, it was a blow,” said Flanagan. “But we knew that if we just played our game we would be able to win it. We’ve been saying we just want the chance to play 80 more minutes. That’s what we were saying.”

Vulnerable when they have a yellow card, Navy managed to staunch the bleeding in the second half, keeping Clemson off the scoreboard during the rest of the sin-bin. That was a little victory in itself, and after they were at full strength, the Midshipmen got on the front foot. Clemson held them for a while, but eventually Walter Pope capped off a period of Navy pressure that, with McAuliffe’s conversion, made it 18-17 Clemson.

Clemson replied once more, attacking off the scrum and Goulding setting up Ryan Gilroy for a big try, making it 23-17.

But Navy finished a little stronger, pinning Clemson in their own 22, and then, from a scrum, loose forward Kevin Kirchmer was put over for the key try. McAuliffe, brilliant all day, slotted the kick to put his side up for the first time since early in the first half, and the Midshipmen held on to win.

“The defense was really good, especially our back row and midfield,” said Flanagan. “Clemson are the real deal, and they really played well. But I’m proud of our guys and how they handled that yellow card and how they stayed with the plan. We get 80 more minutes.”

McAuliffe was outstanding with his kicking, but his defense, with centers John Ruck and Dakota Raymond, was crucial. The back row, too, defended doggedly, with Daniel Tilghman, Nick Marmureanu, and Connor McNerney, and Kirchmer as a sub, central to the Navy effort.

Navy now faces the winner of Cal and Texas in the semifinals.



Navy 24

Tries: Helms, Pope, Kirchmer

Convs: McAuliffe 3

Pens: McAuliffe


Clemson 23

Tries: Rogers, Goulding, Gilroy

Convs: Keers

Pens: Keers 2



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