by Brett Anker
Penn State defeated a tough Army side 47-34 to advance to the Penn Mutual Varsity Cup semifinals. The Nittany Lions jumped out to an early first half lead and every time Army tried to engineer a comeback Penn State answered.
West Point got on the board first in the first couple of minutes via a penalty. Penn State responded, however, with a pair of tries from senior leaders. Malcolm May dotted down to take the lead and Mike Eife garnered the second after a strong line break from Joe Kelly.
Andrew Fargo tied the game for Army at 10 but Penn State went on a tremendous run towards the end of the first half. The Nittany Lions scored four straight tries spearheaded by the center tandem of Kelly and Selby “Niu” Niumataiwalu and strong forward play. Niu sent Kelly in for the first two and forwards Tyler May and Rob Irimescu added scores of their own to push the lead to 34-10.
“We moved the ball well. We executed in the red zone pretty well and we controlled possession really well,” said Penn State coach James Willock. “All our seniors were really incredible, particularly Joey and Selby. They had great individual combinations and Selby is a fantastic distributor,” Willocks added about his center pairing.
Army continued to battle back, getting a score right before halftime to make the game 34-17. The Black Knights cut into the lead once again with a try to make the game 34-24 early in the second half. Every time the Military Academy would make the game close, though, Penn State would stymie the momentum with a score of its own.
“We took our foot off the gas a little and they really fought back into it to make it interesting,” said Willocks. “They kept battling back but we responded each time.”
At 34-24, Niu sent a perfectly executed cross kick to winger Ryan McNulty, who finished it off for a 39-24 lead. The same thing occurred late in the second half after Army’s Luke Huen picked up his second try of the afternoon.
After a penalty cut the game to 39-34, Penn State kicked a penalty of its own to increase the lead to eight. The hosts began to take over the game once again and Army compounded the problem with a yellow card. McNulty would ultimately seal the victory with a try at death.
“We knew it was going to take 80 minutes. We knew this Army team was going to compete the whole time. They were going to give it their all. They are well coached and for us, it was a 45 man win not a 15 man win as everybody on the squad helped prepare us to get this victory,” Willocks concluded.
Penn State will travel to Cal for the semifinals next week.