The MCRC came into the weekend knowing that they faced their biggest test of the season: a meeting with Holy Cross, who entered the contest ranked #1 in the NCR Small College Division. The test was also an opportunity for Middlebury to find out exactly how they stacked up against the best competition they had seen all year. The boys rose to the challenge, in a hard-fought, nail-biter 20-17 victory.
After a 5am wakeup and 4 hours of travel, the MCRC arrived at the dusty Holy Cross pitch ready to compete. Parents weekend at Holy Cross meant a large hostile crowd, but Middlebury traveled well, with many families out on the other side to cheer on the MCRC. Middlebury received the opening kick, and marched down the field with a few key runs from flanker Lucas Donavan-Lafuente ‘23 and 8-man Jake Thompson ‘21.5 to draw a penalty which outside center Red Douoguih kicked to touch deep into Holy Cross territory. The MCRC executed a textbook ball through the hands for a try on the outside from Douoguih. The conversion from winger Yuta Kato ‘22 made it 7-0 Midd in the early going. Not content, the MCRC strung together another offensive possession and drew another penalty in Holy Cross territory. Douoguih kicked for points and it was 10-0 before Holy Cross had even touched the ball.
The game wasn’t one sided for long, however, as Holy Cross eventually gained possession in their own half and made the game a back-and-forth contest. Possession changed several times around the half line before Holy Cross mounted an offensive of their own, helped by a few penalties within Middlebury’s 22. Holy Cross finally scored on a tap-and-go but failed to convert, leaving the MCRC with a 10-5 lead. Middlebury were forced to play in their own half for an extended period, with multiple strong clearance kicks by the MCRC countered well by Holy Cross. The Middlebury defense stood strong against many threats before finally allowing a try on the corner that tied the match at 10. With play again a stalemate at half-field, the first 40 minutes came to a close with the tie intact.
The MCRC came out strong in the second half as well. Holy Cross was penalized shortly after receiving the restart kick, and a tap-and-go from scrumhalf Griffin Shapiro ‘22, a pick-and-go from Donavan-Lafuente, and a determined run from flyhalf Alex Milligan ‘25 put Middlebury across the try line again. Down 15-10, Holy Cross recovered possession on an MCRC knock-on and broke through off the scrum, scoring under the posts and converting to put Middlebury in their first defecit, 17-15.
A hard-nosed defensive battle lasted for the next 25 minutes. An interception from Milligan unfortunately went for nought after an ensuing offload fell forwards. Middlebury and Holy Cross both failed to capitalize on possessions within the other team’s 22. But the decisive blow came on yet another Milligan interception, this time with no one behind the Holy Cross line to stop him. While the conversion missed, the MCRC clung to a 20-17 lead, needing only to possess the ball securely for the next 5 minutes to finish the match. In a heart-wrenching turn of events, the MCRC lost control in a breakdown, giving Holy Cross one last chance with the ball in Middlebury’s half.
This was the stand where legends would be made. Middlebury was down to 14 men, as Milligan was so exhausted from his monumental run that he was forced to attend to personal expulsion behind the bleachers. Game-saving tackles came from wingers Eli Horton ‘22 and Will Thompson ‘22. An offside within the 22 gave Holy Cross an opportunity to kick for the tie, but they elected to tap, and put Middlebury under relentless pressure. Their flanker broke through at long last, but a gang of white jerseys held the ball up and prevented a heart-breaking try with time nearly up. Incredibly, as the goal-line drop-out was kicked well over the heads of Holy Cross by Douoguih, a penalty was awarded to Middlebury because of words exchanged by Holy Cross and the referee. A tap from Shapiro and a pass to Milligan who booted the ball out of bounds, and the match was over.
An exhilarating full-team effort resulted in victory over an excellent opponent. To no one’s surprise, Alex Milligan was named Man of the Match for his late heroics. B side followed, and though the Killer B’s fell 21-12, a great effort and learning experience was on full display.
With the victory, the boys clinched a 4-0 regular season and the right to host the first round of playoffs this coming Saturday, 10/30, against Colby College. We invite every parent, alumnus, and friend of the club to make the trip to the Middlebury Rugby Pitch for homecoming weekend and a chance to watch the MCRC continue their run!