After falling behind early, the Milwaukee Barbarbarians ground out another come-from-behind victory over the visiting Eastside Banshees (Minneapolis, MN) on a perfect Autumn day.
Next week, they move on to the Midwest championship match. Read on for full details of the match and details of the championship.
Banshees start strong with box-kick strategy
The Eastside Banshees had many reasons to feel confident going into today’s match.
This season they have scored more points than any other division 2 team in the Midwest (479) while giving up the fewest points on defense (76). And they are the Midwest runners-up from last season.
So it wasn’t surprising that they started strong and fast from the first whistle.
Following the kickoff, the visitors worked their way just inside the Barbarians half and immediately executed a perfectly-weighted box kick from the base of a ruck. The Banshees recovered their kick and were immediately tackled by the hosts cover defense.
But a deft pass off the deck from the tackled player fell perfectly into the arms of the trailing support runners leading to an early try for the Banshees.
With a successful conversion kick, the visitors were ahead 7-0 with just 2 minutes on the scoreboard.
The rest of the half was a defensive masterclass on both sides, especially for the Banshees. The Barbarians maintained a noticeable advantage in possession and territory, forcing their opponents to tackle relentlessly, usually on the back of impressive defensive line speed.
At the halftime whistle, the score remained 7-0 in favor of the Banshees.
Support the team by purchasing Spirit Wear!
Barbarians deny possession and grind out 3 tries in second half
The sustained pressure by Milwaukee in the first half continued into the second. And just four minutes in, Luke Ellis broke through the defense to dot down in the corner.
A difficult conversion attempt from the sidelines sailed wide, allowing the Banshees to hold onto a narrow 7-5 lead. But the match was now anyone’s for the taking.
With their lead narrowed, the Banshees discovered a second gear and the pressure shifted in their favor resulting in both a successful penalty kick and a try.
With about 20 minutes remaining, the Barbarians found themselves behind 17-5.
Stick to the plan
But the draw in the last match of the regular season had taught the Barbarians a lesson in the value of patience when behind on the scoreboard.
So the home side dug in and stuck to their plan of denying possession and running hard with ball in hand. And the strategy paid big dividends in the final quarter.
First, Kevin Schmidt scored a wonderful try down the sideline by powering through a tackler and having the pace to beat the cover defense. The conversion by Tim Grams brought the match back within a single score, 17-12 for the visitors.
The Barbarians continued to grind down the Banshees after the restart, with fatigue from excessive rucking and tackling appearing to set in for the visitors.
And while the Banshees poached many balls at rucks and in the lineout, they pushed boundaries at the breakdown to get most of their possession. This resulted in a number of penalties, affording even more territory and possession to the Barbarians.
With the end of the match nearing, and after numerous phases in the Banshees red zone, Milwaukee captain Tom Fossell grabbed a ball from the base of a ruck just 5 meters from the try line and barreled forward.
Taking a few Banshees along the way, Fossell appeared to be tackled just short of the line. But his outstretched hand placed the ball just outside the right goal post. All three referees conferenced for a few (long) moments before deciding that the ball did indeed graze the paint, and awarded the try.
Grams nailed the conversion to give the Barbarians the first lead of the day: 19-17 with just a few minutes to go.
Support the team by purchasing Spirit Wear!
Dramatic final moments
With the lead in hand, the Barbarians needed cool heads and accuracy to close out the match. After receiving the kickoff, the home side carefully controlled possession with a series of carries and rucks.
The strategy was sound, but the risk of a turnover was high given the field position near their own 10-meter line.
With about one minute remaining, the Banshees pressure at the breakdown once again disrupted Milwaukee, forced a knock-on, and earned one last possession for the visitors.
The Banshees had scrummaged well all day, and this moment was no different. They won their scrum, and proceeded to attack through their forwards.
But discipline again let down the Banshees as they were penalized for an illegal fend/forearm.
With the clock in the red, a kick into touch by the Barbarians was followed by the full-time whistle. Another come-from-behind victory was complete with a 19-17 scoreline to Milwaukee.
The win extends the Barbarians unbeaten run this season to 9 matches with an 8-0-1 record. Joe Grams received Man-of-the-Match honors from the Banshees, while the Barbarians coaches selected Kevin Schmidt.
Next up: Midwest championship
The Barbarians now move on to the Midwest RFU Division 2 Championship match on November 11 in Lemont, IL (11AM kickoff time) where they will face the Indianapolis Impalas.