D3 Men 3, Fairfield Yankees 80

The Lions D3 Men kicked off their fall campaign with a game against the Fairfield Yankees. It was a tough day at the office for our boys, captained by eight-man and Man of the Match Nigel Riley.

Fairfield scored in the first six minutes and didn’t look back the rest of the day as they unleashed a barrage of tries and hit kicks from all corners of the field despite the wind. Looking significantly stronger than in years past, when they were known as the Connecticut Yankees, they held the Lions try-less on the day.

JR Roberts converted a penalty in the 13th minute to give the Lions their only points of the match. Despite the score, there were a number of bright spots from VLRFC throughout the day, including strong play by Lions legend Kimani Davis and new boy Eric Han. Additionally, tackling machine Francois Fay made his much-anticipated return to the lineup following injury.

There’s much to improve on going forward, but there’s a strong platform for growth in the Lions D3 program. The next time we see the Yankees, it will be a much different story.

—Alex Sheidler

Next week: Home v. Hudson Valley

D2 Men 30, Old Blue 24

In the second match of the day, the Lions D2 Men took on intercity rival Old Blue. The Lions entered this game with revenge on the mind following a close defeat and playoff knockout delivered by Old Blue at Columbia in March.

As the dark clouds moved in and the wind picked up on Randall’s Island, it was clear a storm was brewing. The rain held off for the most part, but the storm still showed up in the form of head coach Andrew Britt’s retooled Lions lineup and some serious firepower in the forward pack.

Following kickoff, it didn’t take long for the Lions to strike. In the second minute, the FDNY’s finest, Dave Bliss, made a great run down the sideline before popping the ball back inside to new Lion and White Collar Boxing 2015 contender Rob Stabile for the try in the corner. (Welcome back, Bliss, and welcome to the Lions, Rob.) The wind was a factor in conversions all day, especially from the corners, causing difficulty for both teams. The first kick was no good, so 5-0 Lions.

In the 11th minute, following some nice phase play and capitalization on a Lions penalty, Old Blue dotted one down in the corner. A missed conversion leveled the score at 5-5. The minutes following Old Blue’s first try would set the tone for the rest of the match: How would the Lions respond now that the score was level? The answer came in the form of the bruising Georgian Gaga Maisuradze.

Those of us who played 7s were exposed to Gaga this summer and knew right away that we were lucky that this guy is a Lion, because tackling a freight train ain’t fun or easy. In the 16th minute, Gaga showed the 15s community what he could do by making a great break and flattening the last Old Blue defender for the score. Hubert Chan’s kick was just off, but the Lions are still on top, 10-5.

Following 10 minutes of intense play, the Lions earned a scrum on the OB 7-meter line. Eight-man and crowd favorite Franco DeLisa scooped up the ball at the back and put it down for the Lions to build on the lead and make it 15-5 (conversion was no good).

As we approached halftime, the Lions continued to put together good phases, driving the ball back down the field. With Old Blue’s frustration mounting in the 36th minute, an OB forward committed an egregious offside penalty, and Hubert finally conquered the Queens-originating squalls, slotting a penalty to make it 18-5 to the Lions going into the half.

As we entered the second half the rain started to softly fall, but it couldn’t cool off the Lions. The boys kept the pedal down with scrumhalf and club President Rich Gallina making a nice run before offloading to a streaking Joe Karlin — not naked, just running fast— who put it down for the try. Forty-fourth minute, Lions go up 23-5.

It was at this point that the chippiness really started to pick up on the field. Seeing the lights begin to dim, Old Blue and the boys began to engage in some extracurricular activities away from the play. In the 54th minute, the referee had seen enough, so Captain Fuzz and Old Blue’s skipper were called together for a little chat. All good…

In the 56th minute, following some good phase play and ball movement, OB touched one down right underneath the posts and hit the conversion to make it 23-12. Coach Britt made a tactical sub, bringing off Gallina and inserting Pat McJury at scrumhalf. Gallina had a great game, battling through what would become a super swollen ankle while managing both the forwards and the backs.

In the 62nd minute, the Lions conceded another try, as Old Blue leveraged their 7s expertise and used the width of the field to spread the Lions defense and put one down. Conversion was no good, making it 23-17. Following the OB try, Britt made his second substitution, bringing off new boy Rich “the Herb” Parsley (hey, it might stick) and inserting New Jersey’s own Christian Viscarra, fresh off a sick LDW DTS.

With the score tightening up, re-enter Gaga. Not two minutes after OB’s try, he makes a crushing run right down Broadway, leaving a trail of OB defenders behind him to dot down his second try. Hubert converts and the Lions go up, 30-17, 64 minutes in. The third substitution of the day came with the immortal Kimani Davis coming on for John “Tex” Lechner at lock. Tex put in fantastic work all day and helped make that powerful Lions pack as good as it was.

In the 70th minute, OB worked their final try in the far corner but missed the conversion to make it 30-24. It was at this point that the clock seemed to stop (at least for me). The energy was building on the Lions sideline as victory seemed imminent. Coach Britt brought on fresh legs in the form of Penn State alum Dante Giglio for stormin’ Norm Dillion in the 74th minute. Great play by Norm at 15 all day, fielding kicks in tough weather and holding down the OB backs.

The countdown: 75th minute … 76th minute … 77th minute … 78th minute … 79th … and then the final play. Hubert boots it into touch and the Lions win, 30-24.

A grind-it-out game in tough conditions, with the Lions never quitting. It was pedal down the entire game to come out with a good season-opening win. Solid play from all the guys, including Chilean heartbreaker Felipe, Kiwi Ryan McKessar, “Oh Captain, My Captain” Fuzzy Mullen, and Chris “20 Meters” Wise.

This report would not be complete without accolades for Man of the Match Rashid “RaRa” Perkins. While the ball didn’t get out to his wing often, RaRa made no less than five crushing tackles against the Old Blue backline, including a one-on-one, open-field throttling of the Old Blue fullback. A guy who grinds it out and works hard at every training, RaRa had a tremendous game, and if 7s and this match were any indication, he has a great Lions future ahead.

Special thanks to Cat Sum for keeping the Twitter going, the stat book accurate and helping me count the time up (maths iz hard).

—Alex Sheidler

Next week: Home v. White Plains

Lions Women: bye

Next week: Away at Boston