It was chippy, physical match, but in the end Old Glory didn't have enough to pull past the NOLA Gold. Segra Field was as full as it's ever been this year, and crowd certainly didn't keep quiet. Even given the loss, the atmosphere, exciting play, and tight finish made this a great match to watch.
Despite a strong red-zone defense that lasted several minutes, the visitors took the first score. A scrum on the five meter line gave NOLA the space to make a powering run over the line for an automatic seven. However, Old Glory's two captains struck back with interest. Thretton Palamo broke through the center and dodged two would-be tacklers to make it over the line. Then, after the water break, Mungo Mason spun his way through a goal line defense to grab a try of his own.
Another break by NOLA was covered beautifully by Sam Cusano, who charged across with a try-saving tackle. Mike Dabulas almost did the same, but he wasn't able to hold the player all the way to the ground, so he was able to get up and run again for another try. A lucky conversion kick bounced off of both posts before going over.
Discipline started to slip for both teams, and repeated fights saw players from both teams sent off with a yellow card. Then, cynical play from the NOLA Gold on the try line saw a second player sent off with a yellow. However, Old Glory weren't able to get a score before the end of the half. The score going into the second half was tied, 14 apiece.
It wasn't too long into the second half that NOLA scored again, first kicking a penalty and then offloading successfully to put a try in the corner. The conversion was missed, but it put the Gold up two scores.
Old Glory really took off after that. D'Montae Noble came on and had multiple highlight-reel runs that put Old Glory in prime position. however, the team wasn't quite able to convert. Another successful penalty kick put NOLA up 25-14 with 10 minutes to go. In the end, with the seconds ticking off the clock, Noble got his due, beating two defenders to the corner for the try. Dabulas drop-kicked the conversion to beat the clock, but the ref declared the match over, much to the displeasure of the fans in the stands.
Final score: NOLA Gold 25-21 Old Glory DC
1. The youths impress yet again
Old Glory's young players have been bringing an energy and fire to the team that is fun to watch. Sam Cusano's cover tackle was a thing of beauty: he could have given up, given the distance between him and his opponent. Instead, he accelerated impressively quickly to catch him and bring him down. D'Montae Noble, despite having less than twenty minutes on the pitch, looked like the most dynamic attacking player on the entire roster.
Mike Dabulas, for his part, did well at flyhalf. This wasn't the first time he started at the position this year, but it was the first since Jason Robertson came back from injury. Dabulas isn't quite as good in that role as Robertson (who is, though?), but he is clearly good enough to fill the role on attack. On defense, however, he is lacking just a little bit of the size necessary to take down the big crash runners. We saw a couple times where he was in the right place at the right time doing the right things, but just couldn't quite match up to more physical ball carriers.
2. We saw the best and the worst in the set piece...
We saw three different front row lineups this match.
First, it was stalwarts Jamie Dever and Stevie Longwell as props with James King at hooker. This set up worked very well, earning a couple of scrum penalties and nearly getting a few more.
Dever and Longwell came off after 50 minutes, replaced by Jack Iscaro and Dante Lopresti. This set up was a disaster, with NOLA destroying the scrum every time. It felt like a penalty was guaranteed every time the sides packed down.
Not long later, we saw King come off, Lopresti move to hooker, and Jack Carroll take over at prop. This set up stabilized the scrum, but introduced a new problem: the lineout. Lineouts are complex maneuvers at the professional level, requiring a strong connection between hooker and jumper. Lopresti has likely only had minimal practice at hooker since switching to prop, and it showed on the multiple failed lineouts.
3. ...and a lack of depth is to blame
This isn't anyone's fault. Lopresti is being asked to switch up positions at dizzying speed, which isn't fair on him. Hooker and tighthead prop are two of the most specialized positions on the pitch, and he's being asked to be competent at both at a professional level at the age of 23. However, the coaches have to deal with the situation somehow, and this seemed like the best option available.
What it really highlights is the lack of depth on the team. It was a concern going into the season that Old Glory had one of the smallest squads of any MLR team with just 37 players (38 since DTS joined). That sounds like a lot at first glance, but it isn't when you dive into it. The season is long, and injuries happen. If you can't sustain two injuries at a position and still have starter and a backup, then you don't have enough depth.