Rockaway, June 15
Rockaway was our first tournament. We hadn’t been practicing together that long, and it showed. We played the CT Yankees twice in the round robin, because the other team in the pool — New Paltz U — didn’t show. We were pretty even with CT and ended up winning the first game but losing the second. Joe Karlin, as he often is, was the difference-maker in the first game.
Rockaway’s setup was that the 12 teams would be broken up into three different playoff brackets, and our 1-1 record put us in the middle one. We played NYRC in our first playoff game and beat them by something like four tries to two. It was our best game of the tournament: good support, organized defense. We then played Rockaway Blue in our next playoff game, and they were very aggressive, and we conceded four tries very quickly. We pulled it together after that and scored two tries of our own, but we couldn’t overcome the slow start. No hardware.
Monmouth, June 29
Next tournament is Monmouth. We go with a really good squad and are put in a pool with Monmouth 2, NYRC and the CT Yankees, and we dominate. Not a close game out of any of them, even the CT Yankees game. I don’t remember our round robin point differential, but it was ridiculous, something like 120-15.
So we end up in the Cup bracket, which has Union and Old Blue 2 on one side, us and P.A.C. 1 on the other. Things start off well against P.A.C., and we go up by two tries, but they start pressuring us, and we start going into contact far too often and coughing up the ball. They end up winning, 17-12. We played Union in the consolation match and crushed them, which earned us the Plate. Stars of the tournament were Alex Hodgkinson and Alex Cook.
New Haven, July 13
Next is New Haven, and I wasn’t there, so I can’t provide much by way of details. My understanding, though, is that we once again did very well in the round robin and once again lost in the Cup semis, this time to Middlesex 2.
Princeton, July 20
Next was the NJ 7s hosted by P.A.C. We played Old Blue 2 in the first round robin game and drew them, 12-12. We were supposed to play Jamaica next, but they didn’t show, so we were granted passage to the Cup semis and would play Old Blue 2 again for seeding. We lost that game, 17-12, but it was on a last-second try, and I think we matched them really well. Could have gone either way.
P.A.C. arranged that they would have a very soft schedule in the round robin, so they had top seeding and once again played us in the Cup semis. I wish that I could say that it was a game like the one at Monmouth, where we were probably better but let it get away from us, but this time they just beat us. They were aggressive on D and we couldn’t cope, and we definitely couldn’t defend their punches — 33-7 final, I think. Rich played well throughout the tournament, as did Dane, in limited time.
Hell Gate, July 27
Our home tournament, which Rich Gallina and Angela Corpus did a great job organizing. Just eight teams in the Empire division, and the Lions were in a pool with Bayonne, Brooklyn and NYRC. Bayonne and Brooklyn are new to us, though Bayonne has generally been a punching bag this summer, while Brooklyn has been respectable. NYRC we’ve played a couple of times now, and they’ve never troubled us. So the pool looks winnable.
We start our day against Bayonne, and as expected, the game goes very smoothly. We finish with a 26-0 win thanks to a couple of tries by Joe Karlin, and another on a run by Dave Peer. Brooklyn is our next match, and this goes poorly — a 17-0 loss — but we were very close to breaking it open, and just made critical errors at the wrong time. We’ll need to beat NYRC to move on.
This game starts reassuringly, and after Cook goes three-quarters of the field to give us a 21-0 lead at the beginning of the second half, we’re feeling fine. Somehow the final score was 21-19, and I’m still not sure how that happened … sloppy play, I suppose. Penalties. So it’s a win, but it feels like a loss, and we’re not feeling great about ourselves considering that we’ve advanced to the Cup semis.
Our second-place finish puts us against the top team in the other pool, which was, inevitably, P.A.C. They, of course, knocked us out in the semis at Monmouth in a game we gave away, and then knocked us out of the semis at Princeton in a game we would have had no business winning. But they’ve never seemed like the more talented team — they just play well together. The first half is an absolute gem, and we’re not just good, we’re smart, and we build up a 14-0 lead. Hubert breaks off an especially nice run for a long try. The second half seems like a letdown, as Princeton comes back with two tries, but we were one mistake and one dubious call away from breaking it open on a couple of occasions, and I think we were the better team throughout. In any case, we hold on to win, 14-12. We’re pumped.
The final is against Brooklyn, and it’s getting late, so they turn on the lights at Aviator Field. Brooklyn requests seven-minute halves rather than the customary 10, but we say no on the grounds that whatever they want, we don’t. John loves this. The first half is an absolute nightmare: Brooklyn looks sharper and faster, but what’s worse is that we’re giving the ball away, and we’re down 26-0 at halftime in what feels like a rout. But holy shit, we’ve got heart in the second half, and our fitness starts coming through. Dane takes an offload on the wing and brings it home for our first try. Karlin does Karlin things and busts through for another. Cook whips it out wide, follows his pass, takes it back, and flies down the sideline for a third. We’re looking really good, but we’re short on time, and still down 26-19. We have the possession, but we can’t quite get it through, and Brooklyn kicks it out of bounds to end the game. Brooklyn were coasting on fumes, but they had put themselves just far enough ahead to hold on.
So a disappointing end, obviously, but this is a very good team, and I suspect that most of us will be back next year, when we expect not just to contend but bring home a few Cups. It was a good start.