Falcons Outlast Blues in Back-and-Forth Contest
Virginia Beach extends their undefeated record to 5-0 after surviving a tough road test at nearby Norfolk that featured seven lead changes.
Virginia Beach (5-0) was in for a challenging afternoon if they were to remain undefeated in matrix play visiting the Norfolk Blues (1-3). The Blues have tallied losses against two difficult opponents in Newport News (4-1) and Virginia (3-1), but are set to meet with weaker opponents at the end of their schedule.
The Norfolk Blues opened the game with a breakaway down the weak side of the field following a Beach knockon and subsequent scrumdown. About five minutes of battling within Beach territory resulted in a breakthrough from the Blues' inside center for an unconverted try and the first points of the game.
The angle of the ensuing kickoff allowed flanker Simon Dart to regain possession for Beach, slapping the ball back into the arms of loosehead John Henry Ernest. A tactical kick by flyhalf Gus Altschler and 20-meter run on the edge by wing Andrew "Flash" Wright set Virginia Beach up possession near Norfolk's five meter mark. The pressure paid off as a penalty for a Blues' infringement at the breakdown allowed several pod crashes before inside center Darius Blakeney powered through several defenders to about one meter from the tryzone. Scrumhalf Brendon Jenks made quick work of the opportunity, picking the ball around the edge of the ruck and dotting down near the goalposts. Fullback Eugene Maina was able to easily convert the score, giving Beach its first lead at 7-5.
The next 15 minutes were mainly spent with the Blues defending in their own territory with little success with possesssion. Several Beach knockons resulted in missed opportunities before a series of penalties allowed Norfolk to retain possession and gain ground. A poor pass by the Blues' center baited in the Beach wing, but a lucky bounce on the sailing pass allowed the Norfolk wing to scoop the ball and take the space on the edge for their second unconverted try of the game. The remainder of the first half was a trade off of possession and field advantage resulting in no scores, leaving Norfolk with a 7-10 lead at halftime.
The Falcons wasted no time getting points on the board following the break. Beach kicked off the second half and once again regained the kick. Several phases later, scrum half Brendon Jenks recognized the Blues pillars falling asleep at the hinge and took a pick for 30 meters. Norfolk's flyhalf was forced to chase the 9, leaving him out of position and allowing a defensive gap for a quick ball out to flyhalf Altschler, outrunning a loose forward for a huge gap between the goalposts. Maina converted the try to give Beach a 14-10 lead only two minutes into the second half.
A series of penalties left Beach on their heels following the score. Norfolk utilized the opportunity well, taking multiple crashes and attacking the hinge of the breakdown until an opening allowed a pick-and-go near the tryline for a converted score. Beach responded well with impressive offloading by the back line that allowed breakaway runs by several players. Norfolk felt the pressure once again and committing two penalties (diving over the ruck and hands in the ruck) within several seconds. Beach took advantage with a quick tap that went wide to the back line. Wing Brandon Wagner took advantage of the space and stabbed through the line on pace for the try, converted by Maina.
Once again, Beach gave back the lead, but for the final time after several penalties back the Falcons up to their tryline, allowing the Blues to take their final lead at 21-24. The Falcons got back to work with hooked Sean Christopher stealing a feed at the scrum, allowing Jenks to attack the weak side for a 30-meter gain. Several phases later allowed lock Joey Crawford to burst through the defensive line, breaking two tackles and jogging in for what would be the final lead change of the game. Maina converted the score for a 28-24 lead.
Four minutes later, Beach found themselves with possession deep in Norfolk's territory and a clean pass out to Blakeney allowed him to burst through a gap between the centers to bring the score to 33-24. Three minutes later, Maina nailed a penalty kick to extend the Falcon's lead to 36-24. The Blues did not give up however, gaining a number of penalty advantages and dotting a try with two minutes remaining in the game to make the score 36-29. Lock Joey Crawford would have none of it though, implementing himself into the back line and sinking a dagger into the hopes of the Blues with a final try, ending the game at 41-29.
The game featured impressive performances by several Falcons. Flanker Simon Dart led the team with 11.5 tackles, flanker John Mason was involved in a team-high 30 successful rucks, and outside center Will brooks forced four turnovers in the game. Beach had an 87% tackle success rate to Norfolk's 75%. Beach won 77% of their set play pieces compared to Norfolk's 72% The Falcons (5-0) will get a bye week before traveling to Virginia RFC (3-2) in what will likely be their toughest contest of the season so far.