by Brett Anker
In front of hundreds of rugby alumni and fans, Clemson defeated Dartmouth 36-29 to advance to the quarterfinals of the Penn Mutual Varsity Cup. After losing to Dartmouth two years ago in the first round, the Tigers enacted some revenge thanks to a strong second half performance.
Dartmouth got off to a strong start with Max Parker scoring a try in the corner for a 5-0 lead. Clemson responded almost immediately, however, getting a converted try via Liam Helstrom.
The visitors managed to take control of the match scoring two tries. Parker got his second on a well-worked cross-field kick from Dawit Workie and extended the lead to 17-7 on a try off a stolen line out minutes later.
“Gavan Hickie is a rugby maven. I am sure he studied a ton of film and saw what we do and prepared well for it,” Clemson coach Steve Lynch said of Dartmouth in the early stages of the game. “They were very effective against what we do early on in the game and intercepted a play off a line out for a try.”
Clemson bounced back towards the end of the first half. After a few phases flanker Joel Jaldin pounded is way over the try line. Clemson nailed the conversion and went into the half trailing 17-14.
“I felt like we were winning the physical battle throughout the game but we just needed to focus a little better,” said Lynch.
Colin Gregory continued the momentum for Clemson by scoring the first two tries of the second half. The winger was the recipient of a nifty offload on the first try and finished the second one after a number of hard runs from the Clemson pack.
“The second half we expected them to do certain things which the continued to do. We were able to change our lines up. We were hitting wide in the first half but we adjusted to under lines and hit the middle of the field. When we made that adjustment it really put us on the front foot,” Lynch said of the strong second half.
The Big Green cut the lead to 26-22 after Jaldin received a yellow card. Dartmouth pounced on a lose ball and ended up in the try zone to make it a one score game.
Despite being down a player, Clemson scored what turned out to be the backbreaking try. After sustained pressure, Ethan Harr found a gap in the Dartmouth backline and powered over for a 33-22 lead.
With less than five minutes to play, Dartmouth was given a lifeline. Clemson botched a pass and Luke Bienstock scooped the ball up for a try under the posts. With very little time remaining, Dartmouth trailed by four.
“It was high energy, it was excitement and it just flipped the other way. The boys came right back up, stayed positive and kept the game where it needed to be,” Lynch said of the his team.
The Big Green fielded the ensuing kickoff and ran several phases. Eventually, Clemson forced a knock on and won back possession. Dartmouth tried frantically to turn the ball over but took a penalty in the process. Hunter Dawsey nailed a tough kick and the referee blew the final whistle for a 36-29 victory.
Clemson will welcome Cal to South Carolina for the quarterfinals of the Varsity Cup next weekend.