Virginia Tech won the ACRL 7s in dramatic fashion Saturday, earning an automatic berth to the USA National College 7s Championships as well as a place at the USA 7s CRC in Philadelphia next spring.
The Hokies had to work very hard to unseat NC State in the semis 17-14, and then defeated surprise finalists Virginia, who had upset Navy in the semis, 33-31 on the final play of the game.
The tournament was supposed to be a two-day affair, but the oncoming storm that is Hurricane Sandy forced organizers to switch it to one day. In the rain, the final was played by a tired and soggy group of athletes.
The game itself, and in fact the tournament, came down to two factors – possession, and width. Teams that secured possession, especially off set piece, were more successful; teams that remembered that the sidelines were further out than the very visible football sidelines, also did well. Too often players would see the football sidelines and cut back into traffic when they had space further out.
This is what undid Navy, and also what made Virginia formidable.
Virginia drew first blood when Tech could not secure the kickoff. The Cavs pounced on it and Jordan Morris raced in for the opening try.
Tech were on the back foot, but turned it around. A smart kick downfield got them into UVa territory and then they moved the ball to Martin Sexton who thumped through a couple of tacklers and stretched over the line. Paul Caron’s kick made it 7-5 Tech.
Tech stretch their lead right after. It looked as if they had a try right from the kickoff but good defense from Virginia forced a knock-on. The Hokies kept up the pressure, despite some woefully sloppy scrums on both sides, and Louis Huggins scored in the corner to make it 12-5.
Right from the restart Virginia got one back, stretching the Va Tech defense again and then putting Morris through for his second try.
With the half winding down Matt Murray took a superb line through the Cavs defense to make it 19-12 at the break.
It looked like it would all be over after that. Tech nabbed their own kickoff and surged to the corner. But somehow a Virginia hand got under the ball in-goal and held it up. From that scrum Virginia worked the ball brilliantly down the field, ultimately allowing Conor McNerney to score the tying try.
Their tails up Virginia again worked their game plan to perfect. They used the width of the field, and if they were tackled weakly and could keep their feet, they made shot, sure offloads to keep the ball moving. The result also was a lot of movement and not many lineouts or scrums. The players had to keep playing. Virginia’s Rob Hemstreet scampered around the corner for a try. The Hokies claimed he was held up, but try given. 26-19.
And just like that, it was another Virginia try. Rucked off the ball and looking in all sorts of bother, Tech could only shake their heads as McNerney slid in for his second. But a lesson for all 7s players. Virginia seemed to have this won, and so total concentration left their kick, who missed the conversion right in front of the posts.
Tech had time, and some brilliant ball movement allowed Ryan McGrath to score. Caron’s conversion made it 31-26 with time winding down.
Tech got one more chance, a lineout, but the not-straight call gave Virginia the scrum. Troubled in the scrum all game, Tech mustered their energy and drove Virginia off the ball to win possession. They went left, then right, but were stopped. Virginia got the ball back but could find enough security to boot the ball to touch. Tech stole the ball back in the ruck, and passed out to Alex Gascoyne, who raced in under the posts. Caron hit the conversion, and Tech had won.
“It was amazing; It still hasn’t sunk in,” said Virginia Tech Head Coach Andy Richards. “We’ve worked for this for so long. We set a plan down in May that this was what we wanted to do. We’ve had our ups and downs, and it’s been hard work, but the young kids came together.”
Richards praised the competitive level of the tournament, which saw many teams who didn’t get victories still play solid 7s. The top four of Virginia Tech, Virginia, Navy, or NC State could all have won it, Richards said.
“Still, it was good to play Virginia, our old enemies,” he said. “Our defense got better through the game. We have a lot of good players, hard worked. We don’t have standouts. But if there was one it would have to be Carl Katz. He’s a prop in 15s and he was a big difference for us, especially in that last scrum where all they had to do was win the ball and kick it out. He played with a lot of pain because of a twisted ankle.”
See entire footage of final below.
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