Fighting Irish Sevens Battle at Qualifier for USA Sevens National Championship Tournament

September 05, 2012Don Schindler

Notre Dame at MAC Tournament

On September 1st, the Fighting Irish 7s squad traveled to Bowling Green University to compete in a tournament where the 1st place winner and tournament champion would qualify for a spot in the USA 7s National Championship Tournament in December later this year. The tournament featured 11 other teams from the Mountain Athletic Conference as well as some other independents such as newly formed varsity program, Wheeling Jesuit University.
The Irish began the day with two pool games against Western Michigan and Ohio University. The Irish started off strong against their first opponent Western Michigan. After stealing the ball off the opening kickoff, Center Bobby Manfreda cut through the defensive line and scored the first try of the tournament for the Irish. The Irish then conceded a couple of tries due to a couple of missed tackles and found themselves behind 14-7. But after that, the game was all Irish, a couple of long breakaways by scrumhalf Byron Henry and winger Ryan Robinson put the Irish ahead. Tries were also scored by prop David Harrington and hooker Rob Mungia. The first win of the day came convincingly with a score of 33-14.
The next game against Ohio University featured an entirely different Irish side from the opening game. Firstly, the Irish found themselves on the defense for most of the opening moments of the game. Ohio University was banging on the Irish’ try-zone, but a stout defensive line and stellar tackling held-up the ball on two separate occasions. Secondly, the Irish offensive was struggling a bit. Weather began to play a factor, and the Irish gave up 10 scrums due to poor ball handling. The Irish in the first game were spectacular on sharing the ball and moving the ball to either side of the field, but against Ohio University, the Irish were trying to force their way through the middle, which proved unfruitful. The only score of the game came near the closing moments of the second half, when Henry scooped up a loose ball off of a scrum. With the help of flyhalf Sean Peterson who sold the hard cutback, Henry was able to cut through the defense and touch the ball down in the corner of the try-zone. The final tally was 5-0 after the unsuccessful conversion.
After a brief intermission in the day, the Irish faced Central Michigan in the quarterfinals. This game was a return to form for the Irish. They played their best game of the day. As a team, they were completely in sync on both offense and defense, shutting down the Central Michigan attack. Although they gave up a try very early in the contest, the Irish were able to capitalize on a number of breakaways, made by Robinson, Peterson, and Henry. From then on, the Irish held Central Michigan scoreless right up until the final whistle. The Irish were advancing to the semifinals with a score of 33-12.
In the semifinal match, the Irish met a very good Davenport side, ranked 7th in this nation this year. Initially the Irish seemed shell-shocked by the speed and experience of the Davenport side, giving up 2 early tries at the beginning of the game. The Irish found themselves though and mounted a number of attacks, controlling the ball for most of the remainder of the first half, and much of the second half. However, the Irish were unable to put the ball over the try line. A final score by Davenport late in the game sealed the deal, and the Irish received their defeat loss of the day by a score of 19-0. 
The loss suffered against Davenport pitted the Irish against a newly formed, yet skillful Wheeling Jesuit. They were a young squad made up entirely of freshmen. Both teams seemed evenly matched, with more of a focus on quickness and skills over size and brute strength. The Irish gained the upper hand when Henry hounded the opposing scrumhalf after a Wheeling scrum; the ball was stripped and found its way into the hands of prop Tom Hickey who took the ball the remainder of the way. Wheeling did not give up however, and continued to press on, they were able to find a crease down the middle of the field and scored right before halftime, giving them the lead 7-5. However, the Irish were not to be outdone. The Irish continued to press forward and, using their skills, worked the ball sideline to sideline. The ball found itself in the hands of Hickey who broke through the line and took it 50 meters for the score. That score would prove to be enough as the Irish won the game 12-7 and finished 3rd overall in the tournament.
While the goal for the day was to walk away as tournament champions, the Irish were proud of their accomplishment and held their heads high as they made the drive home to South Bend. The Irish saw that their abilities held up to top competition, and they will continue to work on their skills and fitness as they strive to improve. The 7s squad will be in action in 2 weeks when they travel to Ohio State to compete in a national tournament which also includes top teams Navy and Cal.