The Chicago Griffins scored a try in the closing moments of their Midwest DI Club quarterfinal match against the Cincinnati Wolfhounds to win 21-20 Saturday in Ohio.
The Wolfhounds, 7-1 and first in their pool, hosted the 3-4-1 Griffins, who were without their two national team players, flyhalf/center Andrew Suniula, and lock Graham Harriman.
But the Griffins had expected to be without Suniula and Harriman, both assembling with the Eagles as we speak, and had adjusted accordingly. Corey Quaglia was one of the back leaders who took responsibility for making calls out wide, and Eric Jacobsen had assumed Harriman's role as signal-caller in the lineout.
The Griffins exerted pressure early, and wing Pat Marek zipped over for a try barely a minute into the game. Nick Walcott scored a few minutes later and with ten minutes gone, Chicago led 10-0. But Cincinnati, somewhat against the run of play, scored a try late in the first half, and after a Taylor Walsh penalty, the teams changed ends with Chicago leadings 13-7.
"We were disappointed in that we didn't get all of the points we though we should have after all that pressure," said Chicago Head Coach Wez Parkes. "We worked through a lot of phases and had a lot of possession, but Cincinnati were very disciplined in their defense and held us out without committing penalties."
In the second half, it was the Wolfhounds that exerted the pressure, scoring a converted try and a drop goal to go up 17-13. Walsh slotted a penalty to make it a one-point lead, but Cincinnati answered to make it 20-16 Wolfhounds with 15 minutes to go.
Around this point the Griffins decided to go to a five-mane lineout. Having struggled at times during the season with this aspect of play, they found the five-man system produced dividends for them. They were able to launch some offense off the lineout and put Cincinnati under pressure. From that they kept at it, trying for that last critical score.
With two minutes to go, lock forward Shawn Evans burst through for the winning try, making it 21-20 Chicago.
"Shawn had a great game for us," said Parkes. "He stepped up in the lineout and filling in for Graham. He came to us a good player who was good at defense, and has developed into an effective runner of the ball."
A Northern Illinois University product, Evans was the hero on Saturday.
But there were others, as well. Captain and prop Dan Bleitner was a rock, and loose forwards Matt Najor and Dan Bujwit were also strong, while Quaglia continued to produce good performances. Erik Jacobsen took over the lineout calls and emerged as a leader at a key moment.
For the Wolfhounds, heartbreak as they look back on a solid season that ends much too early.
For the Griffins, an iffy fall now leads to a spring full of promise as they are now guaranteed at least the National Round of 32.
"Next year is our 40th Anniversary year," said Parkes. "The players know how important that is. We tried to get them today to focus on the now, not the past or the future, and how they needed to be there, and dig deep, right now, and they did."