September 16, 2015
The final whistle sounded as the rain thickened, but the real downpour came from the Marshall Rugby team’s relentless pace which rendered the Eastern Kentucky University Colonels helpless over the course of 80 minutes of action in the Herd’s 34-12 victory Saturday.
In the pregame huddle, team-captain Corey Sowards and head coach Justin Apgar gave few words, yet they were abundantly filled with both history and a simplistic endeavor to set the standards.
“We’ve never lost and we’re not starting now,” Sowards said. “I want five minutes of pain out there,” Apgar said. “Don’t give them anything in the first five minutes.”
The team however, did not reciprocate the message immediately.
The opening five minutes featured sloppy rugby, with Marshall reverting back to its old ways: too much independent playmaking.
Backs were slow to rucking, and, as a result, stalemates to a less-skilled team repeatedly commenced at centerfield. Though Marshall had the speed and agility to move the ball forward, the lack of support from Marshall’s backs made it more difficult.
Head coach Justin Apgar attributed the initial errors to being on the field for the first time.
“We were just working the jitters out and knocking the cobwebs off,” Apgar said. “It was a first time getting into contact for a lot of the players. They were kind of hesitant with the rucks and weren’t really executing the right techniques that they’ve been taught.”
However, Marshall eventually implemented the fundamentals and mental willpower stressed in practice.
“They ended up pulling it out and actually easing back into it and doing a good job,” Apgar said.
Led by Jake Harter and other numerous open field runs for 15-plus yards by various Marshall backs, the Herd steadily drove up field on two consecutive possessions, but had a momentary lapse toward the end of the first half when EKU cut the lead to 12-7 after drawing five Herd players to the left corner of the goal only to lateral the ball 10 yards back to an inside center running through newly-created space.
Apgar made sure his squad wouldn’t surrender its lead, however, telling his team at halftime, “We’re watching the ball move and we’re not supporting like we should. Anytime that ball moves there should be someone right with it. No one should ever be caught by themselves.”
From then on, Marshall would score 22 unanswered points, by simply outplaying EKU in nearly every aspect of the game. Better rucking and tighter support in train-like fashion repeatedly had the Colonels on its heels as the Herd displayed a stronger will to win the opening game of the season.
What started as a potentially messy and muddy performance turned out to be a clean, but fear-inducing rugby performance from the Herd that led to elation from its head coach.
“You guys have a whole lot to be proud of,” said Apgar. “I can’t tell you guys how happy I am. You guys keep this momentum going; we’re going to go really far. We’re talking playoffs; they’re well within our grasp.”
Marshall will continue their pursuit of the playoffs against Xavier University on September 19 at 1:00 PM on the St. Mary’s 29th street field.
Scott Bolger can be contacted at email@example.com.