Old Blue went undefeated in Pool B Saturday at Founder's Field in Pittsburgh, Pa., narrowly winning all of their games. They beat San Francisco Golden Gate 26-14 to start the day, and that was their most lopsided win. They then edged New Orleans by three and 1823 by five. As their reward, the semifinalists from 2012 return to the Cup Quarterfinals.
“We would have taken it coming into today. We didn’t actually perform as well as we could and we made it difficult for ourselves, but 3-0 in a tough pool is a good achievement by our guys,” said Old Blue coach Steve Lewis, who credited veteran leaders Dan Freed-Pastor, Dom Wareing and Jamie Harris with keeping the team even keeled in the tight moments at the end of the games.
“We’ve got some good veteran players on the team who have been around for a while, and when push comes to shove, these guys make good decisions and are quite calm and collected.”
Likewise, San Francisco Golden Gate needed the help of some of their senior players to advance to the Cup Quarterfinals. After starting 0-1 with a loss to New York, Gate had to win back-to-back games against teams still hunting for a Cup berth themselves.
SFGG came from down 14-7 to beat 1823 21-14, and then they needed a big conversion from one of their younger players to take a lead in the final-round match against New Orleans in the 13th minute. The game tied 19-19, fresh-faced Garrett Brewer was charged with converting a score to put SFGG ahead by two.
“I was terrified looking at the scoreboard and seeing it be tied," said Brewer. "I was like, ‘this kick could be it,’ but thankfully it went in. I try and visualize making it and then take a deep breath and just hope I hit it right.”
He hit is just fine to give his squad the lead.
Gate ended up running in another try at the death to put the game away, but at the time of the kick, the result seemed to hinge on Brewer’s foot. In those moments, the calming influence of Gate’s veterans came into play.
“They’re more composed when it comes down to it,” said Brewer of his elder teammates. “Sometimes I’m freaking out … I think having the veterans and having them be composed for us and talking us through everything definitely helps.”
Pool B was extremely competitive, with four of the six games being decided by a converted try or less. 1823, which lacks the veteran presence of Old Blue and SFGG, was a tough out. Trevor Tanifum was a fit for some teams to handle, as he used his foot to break down a defense more than once. Pase Iosia was smooth with ball in hand and Mike Ziegler was imposing at every phase.
New Orleans also deserves credit. Royale was up 19-14 on SFGG with just a minute to play, they led Old Blue 14-0 in the first half and 1823 7-0 in a five-point loss. Their Cup hopes weren't dashed until their final game was complete.
Both Old Blue and SFGG face familiar foes in the Cup Quarterfinals. Gate goes up against Pacific Coast, Elite Cup and old Super League rival Seattle-OPSB. Beach beat Gate 28-17 in the PacCoast final last month. New York draws Middlesex for the seventh time this summer. Old Blue is 4-2 so far in the 2013 series.
“We played them six times this year. We have great respect for them. They’re a great rival. We think we know how to play them now, and we look forward to tomorrow,” said Lewis of Middlesex.
“They’ve got key danger men that we need to shut down, and we think we have a bit more variety in our play. We think we’re a little bit better wide, but we respect them immensely.”
Making Old Blue better out wide, part of the time, is Derek Lipscomb. The former Columbia linebacker is a lean block of muscle that moves very quickly. The same description fits Jordan Badia-Bellinger, a Claremont Colleges All American who makes his living in the middle of the field.
“I’m not really sure we’ve got the blend right, yet. Derek’s a little quicker off the mark, but Jordan’s explosive, too, so it’s just a matter of where to play them,” said Lewis of his duo of exceptionally well-built and athletic players. “We’ve played Derek on the wing a fair bit, and we’re probably going to persevere with that experiment for a while.”