Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Rivalry Develops as Panthers Play Through Fourth Week of Competition

The weekend wasn't quite a return to previous form for Panthers Rugby. After competing in a trio of matches during the fourth week of Canton Middle School Rugby on May 1, they came out with a win, a loss and a draw.

The Panthers, started out the day against the their old nemesis, Oakwood-Hartford. The Panthers were able to strike first in the match after Damian Keumerle attacked down the edge of the field and strided across the try line for the first five-pointer of the day. Tanyon Fick was on hand to complete the scoring movement and get the conversion. Fick found himself contributing to the score line again shortly after with his team's next possessions. Fick added a pair of tries to his team's tally, but unfortunately the conversions didn't connect.

Though the Panthers put together a promising performance, they couldn't secure the early win. Oakwood-Hartford matched the Panthers' trio of tries with three of their own, adding only a single conversion in the process. Going into the dying moments of he match the scores were all knotted up, with a scrum taking place and the Panthers feeding. Oakwood-Hartford took the ball against the head and attacked the Panthers' try line. When the final whistle sounded Oakwood-Hartford was ahead 22-17. Despite the loss, Doyle said his team's performance was still trending in the right direction.

"These boys gave their all to the final whistle, as they do every match, every week," he said. "Our miscues are getting fewer and fewer, but the Green team sure knows how to capitalize on them. This is turning in to quite the competitive rivalry."

The second match pitted the Panthers against the Dover Red. Strong open field play has developed into a strength for the Panthers over the previous weeks, and it paid dividends quickly against Dover. Early in the first half, the Panthers were able to score, with Mason Fiegly crossing over for his team's first try of the second match. Keumerle was able to catch the conversion and bring his team's tally to seven. Dover found space in the Panthers' defensive line and put in five points of their own.

The Panthers kicked off to Dover in the second half. Jake Doyleput up a strong kick, which the Dover receiver mishandled, setting up a scrum just outside Dover's try zone. The Panthers' scrumhalf, Kyle Griffith, scooped up the ball after his pack  won the feed. Griffith was able to weave through the red wall of defenses for his second try of the season. Ellis added two more points after catching a conversion from Fiegly's boot. The Panthers' third try of the match came as Fick used his power to get over the line. The Panthers couldn't go three-for-three on conversions, but were able to celebrate their 19-7 when the second half wrapped.

The third match of the day had the Panthers facing off against Oakwood-Hartford once again. The match was was a back-and-forth battle. Oakwood-Hartford drew first blood but Fiegly broke through the opposition's defensive line to help the Panthers close the gap. With Keumerle's successful conversion catch, the Panthers drew level with their opponents. The Panthers were able to pull ahead shortly after on the back of some hard-nosed play from Fick. Ellis caught the conversion kick from Fiegly. Oakwood-Hartford answered back with a pair of tries to take the lead going into the final minute of the match. The Panthers kept their work rate up and made their way down the field, setting up a play to the outside of the Green defensive line that allowed Ellis to score as time expired. With pressure mounting to convert successfully, Fick was able to catch the kick from Fiegly to salvage a draw from a would-be loss. The teams ended the match deadlocked at 21-21, a testament to the tremendous effort put forth by both squads.

While the team's performance on the day as a whole wasn't flawless, the Head Coach of the Panthers, Jason Doyle, still liked what he saw from his players. The Panthers even had some new blood in their lineup that contributed to the team's performances.

"We have been continually improving all year long, and it showed again," Doyle said. "We even had a new player out, Anthony Rossetti. He saw a lot of action in his first set of matches. He had some nice runs offensively, a couple of good tackles defensively, and he wasn't afraid to get into rucks on either side. He did really well for having just two practices under his belt."

"I am so proud of these Panthers," Doyle said. "I didn't know many of them prior to starting this team. I have learned a lot from them, and they show every match what they have learned from me and my Assistant Coach, Doug Higgins. They are starting to perform rugby tasks like they are second nature. They are bonding together as a team with a never give up attitude. They make mistakes, but don't get down and just keep playing. That is something you can't teach, it comes from within each one of them, and I am glad that they all have it."

The Panthers will continue their season Friday at Weis Park in Canton, with the initial kickoff set for 5:30pm.

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