|Hairless man holding trophy is NOLA Captain. Clifton photo|
|Krewe's final score of the day. Cody Secker photo|
|NOLA Fans reenacting Mardi Gras after the win. Clifton photo|
You could feel the intensity before the game even began. When the Tampa Krewe and New Orleans took the pitch, it was the perfect setup for a DII title game between the two South rivals. And when the final whistle sounded, New Orleans’s goal had become a reality with a brilliant 27-21 triumph.
From start to finish fans screamed “NO-LA” and “Krewe”, to not only show pride for their teams, but also to show the rivalry goes further than the battle on the pitch. Tampa was the first to crack the goose egg with a punishing try by prop Joe Hilbush and conversion by fullback Matt McGinnis for a 7-0 lead.
New Orleans stayed confident and eventually countered with 18 unanswered points. It started with two penalty kicks and a conversion from winger Mauricio Urrutia. Quickly thereafter, prop Sean Malek used brute strength off of a penalty to get the first try in the 26th minute for New Orleans. Then, just before the half, inside center Patrick Kennedy made an incredible run getting the ball out wide to take the lead and momentum into the half, 18-7.
In the second half, New Orleans began where they left off with two penalty kicks from Urrutia within the first 15 minutes to go up 24-7. However, everyone in the stadium knew the game wasn’t even close to being over. “We knew Tampa was a tough as nails team and we were going to be in a battle for a full 80 minutes, and that’s exactly what it was,” New Orleans head coach Jerry Malina said.
Tampa then showed that mentality by cutting a 17-point deficit into a meager 3 points in the blink of an eye. Such a spin was made possible with Tampa’s depth, showcased by reserve Alex Pellicier finding the try zone in the 60th minute, which McGinnis converted. Less than 10 minutes later, Krewe found its way to the try zone again when reserve Reno Buekes plunged in off of a ruck from three meters out to put Tampa within three at 24-21 after another McGinnis conversion.
However, Tampa wouldn’t be able to cut into the lead again, thanks to a very stingy New Orleans defense that managed to hold their ground when deep behind their own 22-meter. “I told the guys before the game that our defense behind our 5-meter line would be key to winning this game,” Malina said.
When the final whistle blew; hugs, handshakes and tears from everyone sporting “NOLA” gear filled the north try zone at Infinity Park. To be able to not only beat Tampa, but do it at nationals was a feeling of disbelief, according to Malina.
“I was speechless when I looked up at the scoreboard and realized we had just won the national championship,” scrum half and captain Joel McClain said. “We have all worked hard all year long to get here and I give credit to all my guys, they never gave up.”
As a disappointed Krewe exited the field, the champions chanted them off with the deep-toned "Krewe" chant that they'd heard from supporters all game. After one Krewe member had finished showering and absorbing the loss, on his way out of the stadium he poked his head into the New Orleans locker room and said, "way to keep it in the South."