POUGHKEEPSIE, NY -- In a game that bore witness to both teams playing some ferocious defense and with plenty of attacking options on display up front and in the back divisions, the spectators enjoyed a thrilling contest. Columbia seemed to have the edge in terms of size and weight but one might have been forgiven for thinking that it was Vassar who led in that department judging by the excellent tackling.
Time and time again James Purtle, Andrew Moore, Akeel St. Vil and their fellow teammates got lower and dumped an attacker back from whence he came! With 20 minutes left, Columbia led 15-5 and both teams were tiring so it did not look good for the home team.
Vassar College Men 15 - 15 Columbia University Men
Vassar Tries: Hayden Moon (1), Adam Steel (1), Brett Anker (1).
Vassar put together a very comprehensive game and played well in both attack and defense against a well-organized and well-coached Columbia Lions team. Former USA National side coach Ray Cornbill is a wily fox and his charges did him proud. It was interesting to see how well the Brewers scrummaged and they were able to shunt their heavier opponents back in most of the set pieces.
The Brewers led 5-0 at the half thanks to a lovely try from fullback Hayden Moon. He had already come within inches after about 10 minutes when he received a kick and ran right through a horde of tacklers. But the score came about 5 minutes later when the ball was swung wide and the paper-thin fullback went over. Vassar just looked more dangerous and managed to have good periods of ball retention. The early exchanges were marked by the battle between the 10s and 12s. Purtle and St. Vil went toe-to-toe with their opposite numbers. It was bone-crunching stuff. Columbia would thwart an attack but the ball would be retained and they'd have to do it all again. When the ball did change hands Vassar returned the compliment.
Vassar defended their own line heroically during one period of sustained pressure in the first half. Columbia had worked the ball, following a line break, to within a yard of the line but was pushed back, not once, but several times. Every player was giving it their all.
In fact, Vassar had a couple of other excellent scoring chances in the first 40 but was just held short. Columbia resorted to kicking as the Vassar defense held. Moon bobbled one kick and the Lions almost stole the ball. The other golden chance for Columbia came when Vassar spun the ball wide and a pass fell behind the receiver. The Columbia center kicked ahead and then kicked again as Vassar scrambled to get back. It went a full 70 yards and the ball eventually went into touch.
Columbia regrouped at the halftime interval and came out with much more aggressive rucking and they attacked the channel between 12 and 13. The score seemed to do wonders for them and there was a period of 20 minutes when they managed to nudge ahead scoring 2 tires and converting the first. Another difference between the two halves was that Vassar's tackling around the fringes was less effective. Too often they went high and the Columbia ball carrier was able to rumble on down the field.
So going into that last period of the game Vassar trailed 15-5. They broke away going through multiple phases and eventually earned a penalty in the right corner some 5 meters out. The Columbia pack retired behind their goal line and then Vassar set up to run a play with the forwards positioning themselves toward the goal posts. Then, in the blink of an eye, Adam Steel tapped and plunged for the line to score between two defenders. Try to Vassar! It was now 15-10 and everything to play for in the last 15 minutes or so.
The crowd roared and willed the team to keep the ball and get the vital try that would at least tie the game. The Brewers did not disappoint and scored a glorious try at the end from a set piece. At a scrum on the right about 35 meters out from the Columbia goal-line Number 8 Ian Ruginski passed to scrumhalf Adam Steel who attacked the centers. He passed to James Purtle sweeping around as both Akil St. Vil and Nick Graham ran decoys. Purtle slashed through the gap and straightened just before throwing a long looping pass out to left wing Brett Anker. The senior still had some work to do with 2 defenders bearing down on him but he went over in the corner and it was 15-15. The kick was missed but the try had been so well executed that there was still plenty to be excited about. Referee Pat Wickman blew his whistle and the game was over.
A hugely enjoyable game to watch with plenty of skill and masses of commitment had reached its conclusion. It had been a real bruiser and both squads knew they had been in a real good quality tough game.
By Tony Brown, Vassar Head Coach