Middlebury scored DI-AA’s biggest upset on the weekend Saturday, beating No. 16 Northeastern 23-20 in Middlebury, Vt. The Huskies are defending East Coast Rugby Conference champions and riding a two-year streak of reaching the Sweet 16. Middlebury is in its second season in DI-AA after moving up from DII.
“It was an amazing win for us, very emotional,” said Middlebury coach John Phillips. “The crowd went crazy.”
Northeastern jumped out to a 12-0 lead in the opening 10 minutes to put the Panthers against the ropes. Phillips admits thinking then that this game might end up like last year’s 34-3 loss to the Huskies.
“I said to my coach, ‘If they go down and score again, we’re done,' but we went down and scored,” Phillips recalled.
Northeastern used its heavy pack to batter the Panthers early on and take a 17-11 halftime advantage. But speedy Middlebury fullback Allan Stafford recorded his second hat-trick in a row, scoring three tries, including the game winner when the score was tied 22-22, to push Middlebury to victory.
Gonzaga High School product Griffin Jones was also a standout in the game with impressive tackling and support play.
Middlebury took its first lead near the 65-minute mark, 18-17. Northeastern then slotted a penalty to go back ahead 20-18, and Stafford put the game away in the final minutes after Middlebury’s pack stole a Northeastern scrum.
For a former DII powerhouse that struggled to 3-3 in DI last season, Saturday’s win was a watershed.
“The program’s getting better,” said Phillips. “We’re not at the level yet of some of the big guns, and I don’t know if we ever will be, but we’re making progress. We’re just a small school.”