Fisheads Share Rugby Crown In Season Finale
The Rockaway Fisheads bid to be undisputed Division 2 Rugby Champions fell short last Saturday at Ft. Tilden. The visiting Union (New Jersey) Mudturtles wrested a hard fought 10-8 victory from the host Fisheads, and in doing so, claimed a portion of the Division 2 crown. Rockaway let a rare opportunity slip away but coach Bob Johnson, ever the optimist, saw reason to celebrate despite the disappoinment: “We had an amazing season and it means a lot to me to finish 6-1, with our only loss coming in an epic struggle like this one. Hats off to the Mudturtles. We outplayed them most of the way, but they kept their poise, avoided mistakes, and took advantage of the few opportunities we gave them. Sometimes you just get beat....that’s life and that’s sports.”
The Fisheads have much to be proud of but Saturday’s loss will stick in their collective craw for a long time to come. It was the second consecutive season in which Union took a 2 point decision from Rockaway and the consensus among those in attendance was that Rockaway lost the match more so than Union having won it. “It was like death by a thousand cuts” said veteran second row Phil Tufano. “We dominated them but kept hurting ourselves with penalties and miscues when we were about to score. We didn’t keep our wits about us and made too many unforced errors as they say in Tennis. We will have to play our play-offs on the road now. That makes it tougher but we thrive on adversity and I am confident we can beat anyone.”
Rockaway looked to be headed for glory early on as they pushed the very formidable Mudturtles all over the pitch for most of the first half. The high scoring visitors were unable to break through Rockaway’s defense and were repeatedly repelled by good tackling and well placed kicks. The Fisheads threatened numerous times but failed to capitalize offensively. A string of minor infractions thwarted Rockaway penetrations and allowed the Mudturtles to continually kick their way out of trouble. Kermit Egan took two penalty kicks for Rockaway in the first half, converting one, but seeing the other sail wide left courtesy of the strong ocean breezes at Ft. Tilden. Rockaway went to half up 3-0 and seemingly had things going their way. Long-time Fishead fan Bernie Hague had an uneasy feeling despite the Fishead lead. “When you play a quality team you have to cash in when you have so many chances. I was concerned because I knew Union was tough and would fight hard all game long. I had a sense that we could have finished them but failed to land a knock-out punch”
The second half began much the way the first ended, with Rockaway continuing to threaten, then shooting themselves in the feet when they got close. Union continued to Rope-A-Dope their way out of trouble and finally broke through on a multi-phase attack into Fishead territory that culminated in the game’s first try. The conversion was successful and Union took a 7-3 lead at the midway point of the second half. Undaunted, Rockaway continued to threaten but couldn’t finish to paydirt. Like Wile E. Coyote of cartoon fame, the Fisheads continually blew themselves up with mistakes, allowing Union to slip away with their lead intact. A penalty kick widened Union’s lead to 10-3 but the locals were only one score behind and had plenty of time to get it with 15 minutes.
They finally did at the 7 minute mark. “Grouch” McCann took a lineout and the Fisheads used their patented driving maul to finally break through to the try zone. The conversion was at a difficult angle and was complicated by swirling winds in the east end zone. Egan was unable to get it through for Rockaway, but the Fisheads trailed by just 2 points at 10-8. The final 6 minutes saw the Fisheads battle like champions but the Mudturtles held them off. Former “Local Ladies Man” Tyrone Sperling got into open space and bursted upfield with about one minute on the clock, but was unable to get a pass through the Union defense. The ball rolled out of bounds and the whistle sounded. Rockaway’s “Impossible Dream” season proved to be just that, as perfection, in the end, eluded them. The Fisheads finished in a 3 way tie for first with Union and Montauk (whom Rockaway defeated earlier in the season 13-12) and were forced onto the road for the play-offs due toa point differential tie breaker.
“We have won by razor thin margins most of the time this season, and this time we lost that way” said Fishead flanker Lee Osborne. “I say look at the positives...we are in the play-offs and can go as far as we want if we play our game. We can learn from this match and use it to our advantage. I still think we are the best club in the league and we will have a chance to prove it in the spring play-offs.”