After an undefeated regular season and a special team that came together in a big way this fall, anything short of a championship would have been a disappointment to the Middlebury boys. Still, the lads have plenty to be proud of after the season came to an end in the first round of the playoffs, falling 10-7 to Colby College in a mudbowl day at the Middlebury pitch.
The MCRC spent the week preparing for the adverse conditions, knowing that the forecast for Saturday meant a slippery and muddy contest. While the worst weather held off for the start of the match, conditions on the pitch were predictably soft and swampy. The first half was indicative of these circumstances, as handling errors were common and neither team managed a breakaway. Middlebury received the opening kick, but just two phases in, a dropped ball gave Colby a scrum in the MCRC half. While the Middlebury scrum held firm, the MCRC was forced to play several phases of defense against the Colby back line. At a key moment, outside center Red Douoguih ‘23 looked to intercept a Colby pass, but couldn’t secure the ball and was given a yellow card by the referee for the knock-on. Colby went for points off the penalty, but missed and gave possession back to Middlebury. Down to 14 men, the MCRC battled in their own half for several minutes to keep Colby off the scoreboard.
When Douoguih finally returned to the field, he unleashed a booming kick off a Middlebury scrum on their own 5-meter line, chasing down the Colby player who fielded the kick and pushing Colby all the way back to their own half. Colby returned the kick two phases later, but their winger tackled too high on fullback Eli Horton ‘22 and received a yellow of his own. A kick to touch by Douoguih set up play in Colby’s half, where it would remain for much of the remaining time. Two consecutive kicks by Colby were blocked by Middlebury defenders, but eventually a clearing kick found touch around the Colby 10-meter line. While the MCRC had several impressive individual runs, no sequence got through for a score. A great run by fly-half Alex Milligan ‘25 nearly broke through, but a lost ball in the tackle gave Colby the scrum on their own 5-meter. The ball popped out of the scrum and was fiercely contested just meter away from the try line, but when Colby was pursued and tackled into touch, the whistle sounded to end the half and prevent Middlebury’s best scoring opportunity of the day.
The second half saw several MCRC players leave due to injury. In the first few minutes, scrumhalf Griffin Shapiro ‘22 was forced out with a head laceration. Colby played in the Middlebury half with relentless pressure to open the half, eventually forcing a Middlebury scrum on their own 5-meter. The ball took an unlucky bounce out of the scrum, and a Colby flanker pounced on the loose ball to take a 5-0 lead. Undaunted even in weather, the MCRC pinned Colby back after the kick and forced them to kick away possession. Again, a high tackle on Horton resulted in a yellow card for Colby. While the MCRC was unable to turn the penalty into a scoring drive, they forced continuous play in the Colby half for the next 15 minutes. During one of Middlebury’s scoring chances, Milligan had to leave the pitch with a head injury concern. Down so many players and with several subs already in, the MCRC turned to lock Colin Crawford ‘24 to come in at wing. Douoguih, having moved in to flyhalf, took the pass off the ensuing scrum and beat three Colby defenders to score under the posts in a huge boost for the MCRC. A conversion from newly-entered fullback Shaan Kanani ‘25 gave Middlebury a 7-5 lead with 20 minutes to play.
Immediately off the restart kick, Middlebury faced extreme defensive pressure from Colby. Without a host of their usual back line and with fatigue setting in, the MCRC had to patch together phases without their usual offensive chemistry. Backed up into his own territory, Douoguih kicked to clear, and found touch at the Colby 10-meter line. Middlebury kept play around the half until an incident between two players led to red cards for both teams. Going for points off the penalty, Colby missed the kick but pinned the MCRC against their own try line. Off a Middlebury lineout, Douoguih’s clearance kick came under pressure, and the resulting short kick was fielded and run into the corner by Colby to retake a daunting 10-7 lead in the 75th minute.
Middlebury fought back with intensity, forcing a Colby scrum on their own 22 off a great run from Horton. Winning a penalty for Colby collapsing the scrum, the MCRC chose not to kick for the tie, but went to touch on the left side of the field and tried to stage a winning offensive. The first phase off the lineout took play to the center of the pitch. The second phase took it to the far right with time expiring. The third phase sent it back to the center, where a dropped ball was won by Colby in a dog pile and kicked in an attempt to end the game. The kick bounced well short of the line, but was scooped up by Colby again, and was again sent toward the sideline. The MCRC watched as this time, the bounce went toward touch and just found the line, with the final whistle bringing an end to the fall season.
While a gut-wrenching finale, this game will forever be in the memory of all who took part, especially the seniors for whom it was their final match in fall play. The club would like to thank all the parents, alums, and friends who provided constant support this fall and made the season one to remember. We know the club has built something lasting over the course of this semester, and that our progress will last well beyond one loss. We’ll be back for sevens in the spring, and can’t wait to be back on the pitch with all of you! Stay tuned to this website and our social media for updates about our upcoming 50th anniversary celebration (October 1st, 2022) and other plans!