With their 29-10 victory over NOVA the Schuylkill River Exiles have moved to 5-2 and jumped into third in the Mid-Atlantic DI club league.
While 4th-ranked Pittsburgh has a game in hand, the Exiles are in excellent position to garner a playoff position as the season enters its final phase. PAC still leads, with the Maryland Exiles hot on their heels. But the closest teams to the top four have obstacles. NOVA, which started so well, lost again on the road, and while they sit only two points behind Pittsburgh, the Virginia club has played two more games.
To make the playoffs, NOVA has to beat Media next week and then wait and hope that Schuylkill and Pittsburgh falter … hard.
Same goes for Baltimore-Chesapeake, which has three games left (as does Pittsburgh), but are further behind in points.
For Schuylkill River, this past weekend’s victory was huge.
“This game was really important,” said Head Coach Bill Jalbert. “We kind of dug ourselves a hole early in the season. Now we’re 5-2 and I can’t believe we’re third. Now if we can beat Washington and win the big game against Pittsburgh, who knows?”
Schuylkill opened their season against PAC on September 8 and were summarily dispatched 42-14.
Unsure whether his team would win that game, Jalbert hoped to at least come away with some positives.
“PAC are an excellent team and I hoped at least this would be a learning experience for our guys,” he said. “And that’s how they took it, which was great. They saw what it takes to play at that level and learned from it. I was really happy with how they responded.”
The players devoted themselves to making sure they did the tough stuff first. The result is the second-stingiest defense in the league (behind the other Exiles, Maryland). In fact, the league averages 28 points allowed a game, but with Schuylkill River and Maryland right around 17 per game, the rest of the league is over 30.
“Defense is our point of pride,” said Jalbert. “Everyone has bought into it. We want to play strong defense, and do the dirty work. If we do that, then we get the ball back and get to have some fun.”
Jalbert said it’s been a long, slow process with this team, and when they realized they would have to operate without Greg Ambrogi, who is still struggling with injuries, they also realized the rest of the team needed to raise their game.
Mike Martino has been a key performer at wing, scoring a try in every single game this season, and the addition of Owen Jones, who moved from Media to play flyhalf, has been key.
Jones keeps everyone settled, but in the end, said Jalbert, it’s been how the entire squad has committed that had them where they are.
Schuylkill play Washington next week in a game they should expect to win (if the fields are usable by then after Hurricane Sandy has her way with them). After that, it’s up to Pittsburgh to play for the Eric Pelly Trophy, a challenge trophy named after a Pittsburgh U19 player who died after being injured in a game in 2006.