New Orleans opened a new chapter in the club’s history book Saturday, beginning play in the Red River league. The disintegration of the South’s DI competition was the impetus for the move to the Texas league, which will see NOLA play two road games on most away weekends. Saturday New Orleans tied the Dallas Reds in Dallas, and Sunday they beat the Griffins 52-13 in Allen, Texas.
The Reds struck first in Saturday’s contest with a try from Bear Albritton about 10 minutes in. Unconverted, that score held the lead until New Orleans managed a try just before the half. New Orleans hadn’t strung much offense together in the first half, and the score was the result of one of their first few multi-phase attacks.
“I think early on we were trying to hit some home runs and offloading a little bit carelessly,” said New Orleans coach Trip McCormick, “and when we started to really put the pattern together and run through the phases and allow our forwards to kind of setup latter-phase ball we were able to get down in their end.”
The conversion was made, putting NOLA up 7-5 at intermission. New Orleans added a second try early in the second half when flyhalf Jeff Reuther made a nice pass under pressure to put wing Ross Bellaci away for a try. Reuther was drilled after the pass, but kept enough composure to help facilitate the go-ahead score. The conversion was missed, leaving NOLA up 12-5.
The drama wasn't finished, however, as the Reds picked off a pass and ran it the other direction for a converted try, leveling the table at 12-12 in the 70th minute. At the death, Dallas was rewarded with a makeable shot at goal to win the game. The angle wasn’t easy and there was wind. The kick was missed, leaving the game tied at full time.
“It was a pretty evenly contested game. I wouldn’t speak for them, but we are disappointed not coming out with a win,” said McCormick, “but at the same time, especially playing at their place early in the season, I don’t think a 12-12 tie is the worst thing that could have happened.”
In the Red River, every team also fields a second side each game, and a separate table is kept for those matches. The second-side games are played ahead of the DI matches, so by the time NOLA kicked off against the Griffins Sunday, they were down to 15 DI starters who’d logged 80 minutes the day before and four replacements who’d just played 80 minutes that day and 80 on Saturday.
Stretched as the player pool was, NOLA took care of business. The Griffins game was notable also because it was the DI debut for Ryan Moats, a former NFL running back playing with the Griffins. Moats spent five seasons in the NFL with Philadelphia Eagles and Houston Texas.
New Orleans was exceptional in the scrum all weekend, against both the Reds and Griffins, and largely because of the return of two players who missed either the entire season last year or a good portion of it due to injury (prop Sean Malek and lock Ryan Fitzgerald), plus the addition of Eagle hopeful hooker Cam Falcon.
“Having those two guys back and dominating in the set pieces, especially the scrums, over the weekend, was really gratifying for me personally, just to see those two guys back on the field and tearing it up,” said McCormick. “With Matt Upton and Cam Falcon filling up the front row with Sean, that’s pretty formidable.”