NORFC Makes New Orleans Rugby History, Brings Home National Title
It was an intense battle to the very last second, but New Orleans knew it could not have possibly been otherwise.
After all, the team was facing its much-respected rival Tampa Krewe, the defending national rugby champion, in the title match for this year’s highest honor. Though the NORFC built up an impressive lead in the first half, anyone who knows Krewe knew this team would challenge until the final whistle and that is exactly how the game turned out.
That made the groundbreaking 27-21 victory the NORFC achieved all that more extraordinary as Krewe tested the mettle, the will and the very spirit of the New Orleans club. For the entire match, from the first points Krewe put up on New Orleans to the NORFC’s final goal line stand, it was a story of struggle, heart, brotherhood and determination that saw the club reach the ultimate success in its sport.
“We’ve told the team all season long that they belong at this level, that they have the potential to be national champions, and today these men proved it to everyone,” said head coach Jerry Malina.
This journey started a long time ago, and it took an entire club to make it happen, and now it’s history. The New Orleans Rugby Football Cub is the national champion and that can never be undone.
What follows is a breakdown of just how this chapter in the history of New Orleans rugby was carved into the turf today at Infinity Park in Glendale, Colo.
The NORFC took the field with confidence:
But the squad also had a clear assessment of the challenge ahead. Tampa Krewe had soundly defeated the NORFC by a score of 37-19 just five weeks earlier in the South Finals. Today too, on the national championship stage, Krewe asserted itself early, putting the first points on the board with a try and conversion about eight minutes into play.
New Orleans missed its first penalty kick attempt, but thanks to a very good showing in the scrum the team was winning ball, progressing downfield and soon enough got another chance, which Mauricio Urrutia made good to put the score at 3-7.
A torching touch-line run by Alex Phillpot soon put New Orleans back very deep into Krewe territory, and in fact he was stopped from making the try only by a high tackle which earned Krewe a penalty call. New Orleans decided to run it from this restart and the forwards battered away at the goal line until Sean Malek finally broke through for the first New Orleans try. Though the conversion went wide, this play gave New Orleans the lead and the team never relinquished it.
Persistent penalties soon earned Krewe a yellow card and gave Urrutia another shot at the uprights, which he nailed to bring the lead to 11-7 with time running out in the half. Krewe stepped up to answer but was repulsed from the New Orleans goal by a heroic defensive effort. Shortly Krewe picked up its second yellow card, and now, playing two men down, found New Orleans charging hard down the middle as the halftime clock reached extra time. The ball found its way to Patrick Kennedy and the defenders could not find a way to stop him as he scored between the posts and set up Urrutia for a good conversion.
The teams headed into the Infinity Park locker rooms with the NORFC leading 18-7. The New Orleans fan base was electrified by the result so far, but Krewe has time and again proven itself in the second half and this game at the highest stakes would be no different.
Both teams came out with ferocious new energy to start the second half. New Orleans eventually had a chance to bolster its lead with a pair of good penalty kicks by Urrutia within five minutes of each other building the difference to 24-7. Meanwhile Krewe earned a third sin bin call just minutes after being fully restored from its first half yellow cards.
However, skillful kicking brought Krewe to the New Orleans door and this team poured on all it had, breaking through to score, convert and narrow the game to 24-14 with about 19 minutes left on the clock.
Six minutes later, Krewe was back in the New Orleans red zone again and once more made good on a try and conversion. The once sturdy New Orleans lead had been whittled down to a 24-21 toehold with 13 minutes remaining.
Both teams by now were clearly exhausted -- running, tackling and rucking on a mixture of adrenalin and pure will as New Orleans fought to hold and extend the lead and Krewe scrapped savagely to take it.
Yet another penalty kick from Urrutia took some pressure off, but at 27-21 with still 10 minutes left to play this game had grown achingly tense. One Krewe try and conversion could rip this shot at ultimate national victory away from New Orleans in the final plays and as the clock ticked down Krewe found itself in a position to do just that. Back behind the New Orleans 22-meter line and driving hard, New Orleans gave Krewe a penalty opportunity. Krewe would have to run it for the try and New Orleans would have to stand strong.
Here it was, the entire game, the entire historic season, the entire combined effort of the New Orleans rugby community to reach this level, now coming down to Krewe with the ball and New Orleans defending its line. The ref restarted the play, Krewe attacked and New Orleans held fast. From a tackle, the NORFC stole the ball, Chris Beacher booted it out and with the final whistle the day was won.
The team was presented with medals and a trophy. Matt Upton was named man of the match. And the entire New Orleans rugby community can share in the experience of a lifetime.
New Orleans is the national rugby champion. The club, its leadership, its supporters, its fans, its sponsors and its better halves are all in this number. Here is how it looked from the pitch: