Fourth-ranked Penn State completes two-win weekend

D1A Rugby: Fourth-ranked Penn State completes two-win weekend
Photo Credit: Mimi Goodman

LAFAYETTE, Colo. – Penn State beat St. Bonaventure at home, 71-24, Friday, Sept. 30, before going on the road and shutting out Buffalo the very next day. The two-win weekend improved the fourth-ranked Nittany Lions to 4-0 and gave the team its seventh consecutive Rugby East win dating back to last season.

Penn State was in the midst of a dogfight in the early going against the Bonnies. Charles Schwenk’s try brought St. Bonaventure to within five points midway through the first half before Penn State found its footing.

“St. Bonaventure is a tough team and well coached, so I’m not surprised by the way they played,” said Penn State Head Coach Blake Burdette. “We stuck to what we were trying to do and we probably had a little more experience to help us pull away.”

Just when it appeared the Bonnies could hang around with the Nittany Lions, Penn State closed the half with two Chris Burian tries and another from fly half Thomas Del Pino to go into the sheds leading 33-7.

Second-half tries from Joe Kelly, Michael Dabulas, Robert Irimescu and Ryan McNulty pushed the Nittany Lion lead to 59-7 before St. Bonaventure built the pressure needed to send Jesus Robles, North Westall and Christian Artuso beyond the end line for tries. The trio of scores was far too late and too little, though, and a final try by Penn State’s James Haley capped a 71-24 win.

A day later, Burdette rolled out a starting 15 that included 14 changes with inside center Selby Niu being the only Penn State player to start both matches. The wholesale changes gave the Nittany Lions fresh legs which helped them pour in five first-half tries, including two by Kiefer Kei-Boguinard, leading to a 35-0 lead at halftime.

The second half looked a lot like the opening 40 minutes. Kei-Boguinard scored two more tries and Penn State added 31 points to rout Buffalo, 66-0.

The two wins were significant because it keeps the Nittany Lions undefeated heading into their Oct. 8 showdown with No. 8 Army, but it was also Malcom May’s first taste of action this fall. Last year’s Rugby East Player of the Year was on the sideline for Penn State’s first two games nursing an injury. Now healthy, May started against St. Bonaventure and put in a solid 60-minute shift before coming on as a reserve and scoring a try in the win over Buffalo.

“It’s always nice to have a player of his caliber back on the team and healthy,” Burdette said of his star flanker. “Now he has to find his game fitness and get back to playing how he has in the past here.”

With two shutouts to its name after just four matches, Penn State’s defense has been very impressive. Its offensive production, however, might be the improved part of its overall game that will serve the team best when it faces the likes of Army, Kutztown and Wheeling Jesuit down the stretch. Last season the Nittany Lions scored over 60 points just once during the entire Rugby East season. This fall, the team has averaged over 77 points per contest in its four conference wins.

“The boys have bought into the process,” Burdette stated. “We still have some ways to go, though, and we have to continue the process of getting better as a team – especially if we want to have a chance against our next opponent.”