It was an all out battle between Philadelphia Whitemarsh (11-0) (PWRFC) and Virginia (8-1) (VRFC) for MARFU Division III Championship, but after a full 80 minutes, PWRFC held on at the end for a tight 37-32 win and a bid to the Round of 16.
The scoreboard had its fair share of activity throughout the game as both teams scored nine times in total with lead changes throughout. And on a beautiful day in Blue Bell, PA; Philly showed its true colors in a home friendly environment.
The game started slow as both teams tried to get a feel for each other for the first 15 minutes of play. Virginia broke the score first when scrum half Todd Applebaum fed the ball to No. 8 Jason Gaviria off a five-meter scrum for an early 5-0 advantage.
PW gained advantage shortly after the ensuing kickoff and would be awarded a penalty. Fullback Jim Rosato took advantage to cut the lead to 5-3. Virginia wasted little time and force a sloppy play with pressure defense in PW territory to gain another three points for an 8-3 lead on a kick from flyhalf James Fealey.
Again, PW would answer the call when flanker Tim Foley made a break and after some great passing, right wing Mike Stewart would town down for an 8-8 tie. PW turned the ball over shortly after receiving the kickoff and Virginia took advantage.
After being awarded another five-meter scrum from a high tackle, Gaviria took the ball calmly and dove over the line to put the score at 15-8 with a Fealey kick. Shortly before the half, PW outside center Brian Oteri was given a yellow card for a spear tackle to give Virginia an 18-8 lead with a kick.
PW re-grouped to steal a lineout and awarded a penalty ten meters out. Through a set play, fullback Luis Tulio touched down to make things very interesting with a Rosato kick 18-15 going into the short break.
Scoring continued just as it had left off. PW, playing without a sin-binned Oteri, lost possession on a penalty and like all great teams, top seeded Virginia took advantage. The Virginia pack would control the scrum, setting up Applebaum to feed outside center Evan Davis to evade some great defense for a score. Fealey hit the conversion 25-15.
Just when Virginia looked to take control, PW found yet another answer. With a full squad and the fresh legs of Conway Maraki, Whitemarsh worked the ball down the pitch with balanced attacks. Maraki made a power run to the goal line and with great communication got the offload to Rosato for the score. Rosato would hit his own conversion 25-22.
About five minutes passed with mistakes and missed attempts at scoring. Virginia got a lineout deep on PW’s territory, but was unable to convert when Whitemarsh once again stole the lineout and worked the ball back into their favor. PW got an eventual penalty and trusted the accurate leg of Rosato to tie the game at 25 all.
With about ten minutes remaining, PW took their first lead of the game when Tulio made a huge run from about 25 meters out for a 32-25 advantage and Rosato kick. Virginia took most of the momentum out of the picture by putting new energy on the pitch with three fresh pair of legs.
Virginia started their attack with a five meter scrum in PW territory and through multiple phases, Davis drew two defenders to offload to fullback Hunter Poarch. And even with a tip from a Philadelphia defender, Poarch would re-gather the ball and score for a 32 tie after a Fealey kick.
With only five minutes left, Virginia got back into familiar territory with momentum and possession. However, Virginia tried to chip over the PW defense causing their demise. Oteri, in perfect position, scooped the ball and dodged two tacklers to secure possession for PW.
After a few phases with strong rucking, PW’s Rosato continued his strong performance with another score for a 37-32 and get the momentum back in his team’s favor. The game wasn’t over with more than a minute remaining and another possession to take place.
Virginia would get a break off a stolen lineout when PW’s captain Bob Haller was penalized. Virginia worked the ball down to the PW goal line and dove multiple times to get past the defense. However, with a strong crowd backing, PW denied their Virginia counterparts every time. Then things got very interesting.
After being awarded a penalty, Virginia elected for a five-meter scrum. With only one play left, PW dug deep and saved their best scrum for last to steal the ball. A Virginia penalty on the ensuing ruck sealed the victory for PW 37-32 and the MARFU crown.
PWRFC will now go into play Gainesville RFC of Florida in the round of 16.