As predicted, Dartmouth exited Saturday atop pool B, rounding out today’s performance with a 28-0 shutout over Florida. The Big Green will play Pool A #2 team Wisconsin in tomorrow’s quarterfinals.
It took Dartmouth a good six minutes to break the stalemate, as Florida stayed calm, didn’t contest the breakdowns too much and attempted to shut down the outside lanes on defense. Florida had a shot to log points when they stole a scrum in Dartmouth’s end and eventually set up a driving maul in the meat of the pitch. Florida spit out the other end, made a little ground, but lost possession when the offense didn’t realign quick enough and a panicked kick was blocked in front of the try zone.
Dartmouth started pounding through the center, and Madison Hughes took a final pass down the sideline for the opening try, which Derek Fish converted, 7-0.
From the subsequent kickoff, Nate Brakeley kep the ball in Dartmouth’s hands, and his teammates made good use of it. A minute after the last try, Will Mueller was trotting across the line and centering the ball for Fish’s easy extras, 14-0 into the break.
After the break, Florida appeared less at ease. Brett Stubbs knocked on the opening kickoff, which was short, and when the Gators got their hand on the ball, the careful passing that marked the first half had dissolved.
That said, it still took Dartmouth five minutes to add to their point total. Paul Jarvis did a good job of corralling a kick ahead and offloading to Lucas Baistrocchi, who trotted upfield. He was tracked down but a couple of offloads later saw Kevin Clark finish off the pressure-relieving effort.
Hughes had the last word of the day, as he danced through a tired defense from 10 minutes out.
“We didn’t really focus on what the opposition was doing,” Hughes said. “We know that if we play our game, then we can compete with any team in this tournament.”
Today wasn’t a perfect day for Dartmouth and Hughes acknowledged that retaining possession, holding onto the ball a bit longer, was an area that could use some improvement.
Hughes played rugby overseas during high school and has played in Twickenham, but has been impressed with the CRC and the response of the fans. For Derek Fish, who finished the day with 38 points on two tries and 14 conversions, is especially stoked to be in Philadelphia.
Fish participated in the first-ever CRC in Columbus, Ohio, but an unfortunate injury prevented his participation last year. He’s returned fit and feisty, and is just as dangerous as he was two years ago.
“All of the teams have gotten a lot better,” Fish reflected on 2010’s competition. “It looks like teams are focusing on 7s yearround – I know we’ve been working it into our practices our season. It’s been fun to watch players become more mature.”
When Fish last played, NBC Sports didn’t boast the involvement that it does now. When the teams had to coordinate their second-half kickoff with the timing of commercial breaks, Fish was acquainted with some of the event’s evolutions since he last played.
“You get her and you adapt to what they throw at you,” Fish shrugged off the off-field distractions. “We’re just enjoying the ride and having a good time.”
It’s safe to say that Fish will have a good time if Dartmouth returns to the podium with a championship trophy.
“It was bittersweet,” Fish said of watching the 2011 CRC on tv. “These guys are my best friends, so I was happy for them. But at the same time, I wanted to be out there, too. It’s definitely motivated me during my recovery.”
Dartmouth continues their quest to defend their title tomorrow, when they bout Wisconsin, pool A’s #2 team, in the quarterfinals.