Four wins from four games propelled Park to a well-deserved victory in their first year entering this tournament. With a mixed roster of D2 and D3 players, this was a true club performance keyed by a stalwart defensive effort with only 3 tries conceded across the four games and two of those coming with practically the final play of the game.
An early morning kickoff versus their cross-town rivals, the SS Irish, saw Park begin their campaign with a convincing win after a cagey start. Only a Bean penalty separated the two teams midway through the first half but Park pulled away over the second ten minutes. A long Ehlert break set up Allen and then two lineout steals from Schwartz saw him score one try and set up another for Dougherty to slam-dunk for his score.
Ehlert completed the first half scoring and even after making multiple substitutions in the second half, Park never lost their momentum with Griffin and debutant Pat both adding to the total before the Irish dived over from short range on the game’s last play.
The second match against Fox Valley proved to be the most difficult of the day with Park’s opponents proving tough to break down and a physical team on attack. Despite having a lot of territorial advantage, Park was unable to break through in the first half. There was some fine counter-attacking from Borretti, Finnegan, and Davis from the back three but the Maoris held firm.
Allen scored early in the second half but Fox Valley replied with just a few minutes left leaving the game finely balanced.
With a prop shortage, Park was forced to adapt throughout the day and kudos must be given to stand-in props Dougherty and Leyman for resolutely holding up Park’s scrum bolstered by a couple of guest appearances from Bitar and ‘The Godfather”, Bob LaPorte.
It was the front-row who eventually broke the deadlock but not in their usual manner. If you are thinking of grisly. gnarly mauls, then think again. A 60-yard burst from the self-proclaimed “World’s Fastest Prop”, Leyman, rounding the opposition fullback, gave Park their lead for good.
An adjusted schedule meant Park were faced with back-to-back games in the afternoon. To balance the fatigue factor, Park started their usual finishers and they stepped up to the mark to propel Park into the final.
Finnegan opened the scoring, the recipient of a Huschen chip kick and ‘Little Joe” Drew debuting at 10 added to the score. Piekarski could have further added to the total but proved to be too fast for the short try zones. A Schwartz try put the game beyond doubt but the NIU team showed good determination to get a late try of their own.
And so to the final against suburban rivals Chicago Blaze. This was a game keyed by superb defense. Time and again, the Blaze put together 1o-12 phases of play but rarely did they even edge forward as Park, lead by their back-row of McDowell, Laux, and Schwartz stood firm and stopped dead each Blaze runner.
For the second time on the day, Park went in at the half tied at 0-0. However, in the second half Park turned on the style. From the opening kickoff, recovered by Schwartz to run under the posts for the first try of his hat-trick to his game-ending score, Park was on the ascendency.
Schwartz’s second score was the result of following up a Brady half-break and taking a pop pass as Brady stumbled and Finnegan added Park’s third try, touching down in the corner after his forward pack had rumbled inside the Blaze twenty-two with a driving maul.
All in all a fine all-around performance.
Squad: Dougherty, Leyman, Primdahl, Bitar, Laporte, Rasmussen, Mullen, Allen, Baum, Jahner, Schwartz, Laux, McDowell, Johnson, Hildreth, Pat, Brady, Aiello, Bean, Drew, O’Malley, Griffin, Marunde, Huschen, Frisch, Boretti, Finnegan, Piekarski, Weed,Ehlert, Davis