On Saturday afternoon in New York City, the NOLA Gold defeated Rugby United New York 35-32. Despite the win, the Gold finished in third place in the Eastern Conference, two points behind New York, who took the second seed and final playoff position. While the Gold did not make the playoffs, they showed the utmost determination under challenging circumstances. Entering this match, the Gold needed to score four tries, not allow New York to score four tries, and win by 19 or more points to make the playoffs. Although unable to achieve the ultimate goal, the Gold kept pushing forward in this match as they scored the game-winning try with only seconds remaining.
Knowing the long odds they faced in New York, the Gold needed to jump out of the gates quickly. The Gold got off to the energetic start they needed when a pass intended for Matt Harmon hit off his hands and directly to Carl Meyer. Meyer caught the ball in stride and ran into the try zone for the game’s first points (3′). But after a missed penalty goal from New York in the 9th minute, The Gold could not capitalize. Then off a New York line out, Rugby United quickly gathered the ball and tossed it to Benjamin Banasso, who broke through the Gold defense for the try. After the 16th minute, New York had tied up the score 7-7.
Following a penalty by the Gold within their five-meter line, New York quickly brought the ball back into play, and Samuela Tawake drove into the try zone for New York’s second score of the game. Dan Hollinshead scored the conversion for New York, giving them a 14-7 lead in the 25th minute. However, the Gold was quick to respond to the challenge. Following a NOLA lineout inside New York’s 22-meter line, the Gold’s Pat O’Toole picked the ball up from the pile and was able to sneak through New York’s defense for the try (31’). With this score, the Gold tied the game back up, 14-14.
Yet, the match would not be tied for long. Only two minutes later, following a Gold penalty for offsides within their 22-meter line, Hollinshead scored the penalty for New York, putting them back into the lead, 17-14. Minutes before halftime, a skirmish broke out between the teams. Juan Cappiello of NOLA was given a yellow card for instigating, while New York’s Kara Pryor received a red card for throwing a punch, disqualifying Pryor from the rest of the match. Going into the halftime break, the Gold trailed 17-14, knowing they needed to dominate the second half to advance into the playoffs.
While the Gold began the second half energized to extend their season, they could not complete their goal. In the 48th minute, following a maul from New York inside the Gold’s 22-meter line, New York was able to move the ball to the outside of the pitch. Hanco Germishuys received the ball in space and ran into the corner for the New York try, edging them further into the lead, 22-14. New York only needed one more try to score a bonus point and clinch their spot in the playoffs.
But the Gold would not stop fighting to keep their season alive. Following a New York penalty, the Gold quickly restarted play within New York’s five-meter line. As Pat O’Toole was getting tackled, he was able to find Julian Dominguez Widmer as he ran into the try zone for the try (59’). Following Timothee Guillimin’s conversation, the Gold only trailed 22-21.
The Gold’s playoff chances would dissipate only minutes later as New York moved the ball within the Gold’s five-meter line. With the Gold knowing one more try would end their playoff hopes, NOLA gave all their energy to stopping New York’s efforts. The Gold stood firm for as long as they could, but Andrew Ellis was able to find Ben Foden in stride as he ran through a gap in NOLA’s defense for New York’s fourth try (64′). With this score, New York clinched second place in the Eastern Conference and the final playoff position. After this, the Gold could have given up on the match, knowing they could not make the playoffs. However, the men from New Orleans kept pushing forward, resulting in one of the most memorable Major League Rugby endings of the season.
As New York led 29-21 with less than 10 minutes remaining, chances looked slim for the Gold to secure their 10th win of the season. Yet, after moving the ball inside New York’s five-meter line, the Gold kept advancing towards the try line. After multiple efforts, Moni Tongauiha fought into the try zone for the score (71’). After Guillimin’s conversation, the Gold only trailed 29-28.
After a Gold penalty a few minutes later, Hollinshead added a penalty goal to extend New York’s lead to 32-28 in the 77th minute. With only minutes left in the game, the Gold’s chances for a double-digit win total looked all but over. But even with their season seemingly over, the Gold gave their fans one last great play to cheer about in the 2021 season. William Waguespack received the toss in NOLA’s defensive half and made a fantastic run to break free past New York’s 22-meter line. After Waguespack was brought down, Holden Yungert found Joeli Tikoisuva with a gap in front of him as the Gold scored in the 79th minute to take the lead, 35-32!
NOLA quickly played the ball into touch, and the Gold left New York with the 35-32 victory. Even though the Gold knew they would not be in the playoffs by the 64th minute, they did not give up and kept fighting to secure their 10th win of the season. The Gold went an impressive 5-1 in their difficult six-game road trip to end the year. The Gold ended their season with a record of 10-5-1, with 51 total points, only two points behind New York’s 53 points. Going into the 2022 season, the Gold can build on the momentum created from this come-from-behind victory! Their refusal to accept defeat will carry into the next season as the Gold will continue their push to become a playoff team!
By: Bobby Lehman
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