BOULDER, Colo. – Rugby East doesn’t have an official conference championship match, but Nov. 7’s game between Kutztown and Penn State will act as the decisive fixture to the East title.
It was mistakable to assume Kutztown’s 34-26 win over Army was the match that would decide the 2015 Rugby East championship. While the contest was between the two lone then-undefeated teams in the conference, Penn State has quietly done enough to keep within range of supplanting the Golden Bears atop the Rugby East standings table.
Since its Oct. 3 loss to Army, Penn State has reeled off two conference wins and a nonconference victory over Delaware. The Nittany Lions have been dominant in their three-match winning streak, outscoring opponents 229-41.
Still, the Penn State camp doesn’t feel the team is significantly different than it was early in the fall campaign.
“I think the boys are working hard and smart, and they are getting positive results off that,” said Penn State Head Coach Blake Burdette. “This is the same team, we are just cutting down on our mistakes.”
As well as they’re are playing, Kutztown and its 8-0 overall record will be Penn State’s most challenging test of the season, and capable of making life difficult for the ninth-ranked Nittany Lions.
“They are a very good team,” Burdette stated. “Big, strong, physical, good skills, and well coached – lots of challenges ahead of us with them. We’ll have to find a way to be a more physical team, and take advantage of opportunities when we get them.”
Kutztown has been firing on all cylinders since its 51-17 win over Stony Brook to open its season. In their six Rugby East matches, the Golden Bears have won all but one by double-digit margins on their way to a plus-204 point differential. The culmination of dominating performances has Kutztown exactly where it expects to be – playing for a Rugby East Championship.
“The team is focused on winning the Rugby East Conference,” said Kutztown Head Coach Doc Jones. “That has been the goal of our club since we started practice in early September. That is our goal when we start every season.”
One battle that surely won’t be the deciding factor of the match, but nonetheless intriguing to watch, will be in the flankers. Kutztown’s Jordan Ghyzel and Penn State’s Malcolm May are arguably the best players on their respective teams. Ghyzel has been a mainstay in the Golden Bears’ forward pack for a number of seasons, and doesn’t have a weakness in his game. May has been one of the more dominant forwards in college rugby this fall, especially of late. The former High School All-American has found the try zone in each of the Nittany Lions’ five matches, including a double in last week’s one-sided win over No. 15 Iona.
Saturday’s fixture isn’t exactly a winner-take-all scenario. Conference standings points ultimately decide the Rugby East Champion. Heading into this weekend’s clash, Penn State’s 25 points trails Kutztown’s East-leading 30 points. Therefore, Penn State must score at least four tries in a victory for a bonus point while preventing Kutztown from earning a point in a losing effort. That would entail Penn State beating Kutztown by more than seven points and keeping the Golden Bears from scoring four or more tries.
Simply beating a side as strong as Kutztown is a tall order in its own. Given the circumstances surrounding Penn State’s chances at a Rugby East title, the Nittany Lions are simply hoping to be better than the Golden Bears on the day.
“We have to focus on scoring more points than them on the day,” Burdette said. “I’m sure all of that other stuff will sort itself out.”
The match to decide the 2015 Rugby East Championship will be played at 1 p.m. ET at Penn State’s West Campus Field Saturday, Nov. 7.