Aspetuck Defeats Nationally Regarded Xavier
In something of a momentous clash of highly regarded high school rugby teams, the Newtown-based Aspetuck Valley Rugby Club rode a dominant second half to come back and defeat Xavier High School 41-17 in West Haven on April 24.
This was Xavier’s first game back from a coronavirus shutdown and the team was up for it, though perhaps not as polished as they hoped to be — and certainly without as much game experience as Aspetuck.
The game started with Xavier on the front foot and the team’s quick ball and speed to the breakdown quickly had Aspetuck under pressure. After a scrum in Aspetuck territory the Connecticut team infringed, and with the penalty advantage ,Xavier executed a sublime chip kick to the corner where Jack Burcker raced in to catch and score. The kick from Mike Strehle was good and Xavier led 7-0.
Back came Xavier, once again off the scrum. Good hands out to wing Nick Bruno made short work of a slow-moving Aspetuck D and suddenly it was 12-0.
But there was plenty more rugby to be played, and Aspetuck started to use its power and size to knock Xavier off balance. A kick to touch after a penalty didn’t find touch but what Xavier needed to do was kick the ball deep and chase. They didn’t have time as the Aspetuck chasers alertly swarmed in, and prop Matt Weiner snatched the ball away and was in at the corner to make it 12-5. Aspetuck kept up the pressure, and while Aspetuck lost the ball when opting for the lineout over an easy three points, eventually got another penalty in Xavier territory, took the lineout, and mauled in off a short throw to make it 12-10.
We were in a ballgame now. Xavier responded well, finally getting the ball back and working through the hands to the left and then to right and then to the left again before sending Jerry Lanning took an offload off the deck to score. It was pretty stuff and a crucial score right before halftime.
But the momentum shift didn’t last through the break. Determined to keep Aspetuck’s big runners in check and then exploit them out wide, Xavier became too impatient. Xavier was guilty of several high tackles (not dangerous but high) as the players struggled to bring down Weiner and his cohorts; they were also in trouble for not releasing the tackled player. This led to a difficult second half for the New Yorkers.
Clutch kicks and timely tackling from Newtown’s Leuci, O’Neil, and Riley helped Aspetuck apply pressure from the get-go. They got a penalty, took the lineout, mauled, and then sent Ryan Perriera over after an impressive movement. Xavier then took a yellow card for repeated infringements and that opened the floodgates. More pressure led to another penalty and this one was scored quickly by Joel Venables who stayed low and stretched over.
Right after that, flyhalf Pearson Hill fended off a couple of tacklers, made a couple of brilliant sidesteps, and was gone for 60 meters. Suddenly Aspetuck was up 29-17, and the team was not done yet, putting another dozen points on the scoreboard to pull away.