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Saturday, October 24, 2015

“All-In” for Army, Kutztown, And The Rest Of The Rugby East

Photo credit: Cordell Hoffer, Army West Point Athletics
By Ryan Trost

The fierce competition for conference supremacy in Rugby East got even tighter with Army’s surprising loss last week. Technically, four teams are all still within reach of the conference title. Standings points (SP) and bonus points are definitely going to come into play in deciding the conference champion this season. For Army especially, it is all on the line this afternoon. Two losses in league play could see them dropped all the way to third in the conference standings. Coach Matt Sherman expects a solid turnaround in the way his crew handle themselves today, and so do we. Still, even if Army defeats Kutztown today, their loss against Iona has put them at risk to both KU and Penn State in the conference title chase. So, while Penn State and Iona look on during their bye, before going head to head themselves next week, it is 100% Go Time for the Black Knights… and so too for the Golden Bears of KU.

Let’s take a closer look.

This is Army’s final conference game of the season. As of this evening, they will have met the field, and had their say against all comers. With a record of 5-1 and carrying 26 Standings Points (SP) into the match, it is Army’s last chance to put any distance between them and the crowd. Penn State and Iona both currently stand with 21 points, KU is carrying 20 into the weekend. If Army beat KU today the Black Knights will finish the season at 6 – 1, with at least 30 points. If they score a 4th Try bonus in a win they will go to 31 SP.

In that scenario, Iona and Penn State will both be drowned out of a shot at the crown, and only KU will remain with any air to breath. Victories over both PSU (earlier in the year) and the Golden Bears (today) will command a solid Tie-Break advantage for Army, if either of those two manage to also finish league play with 31 SP. With their only loss coming to Iona, who already has two conference losses, a 6 – 1 record with 31 SP then should still be enough to seal the conference. For Matt Sherman and his West Point men, it is that simple. Win today and win strong, if you want to win the conference.

If we break it down the other way and Army wins without a bonus and thus end the season at 30 SP, it will still be too much for Iona to overcome, but would much more certainly leave the door open for Kutztown and for Penn State. Both of them still have two more games beyond today, one of which will be their head to head conference capstone on Nov. 7th. With bonus points being almost a guarantee in every game they’ve played, this 30 point scenario for Army does allow a chance for one of them to wrest the title from the Black Knights’ grip.

Now, Iona has only next week’s match with the Nittany Lions left to play, and while there is no scenario in which they can earn more than 26 SP on the season. If KU wins with a bonus point today AND hold Army to no loss bonus, that puts them in a tie with the Knights at 25, and then all bets are off. In this scenario, one of either Iona or PSU will be well equipped to make up those 5 SP in their match next weekend and we will be looking at a possible three way tie at the top of the conference, with 26 points apiece. In this scenario the KU vs Penn State match on Nov. 7th will without a doubt decide the conference once and for all.

Should KU then defeat the Nittany Lions in that tilt, they will have won the conference. If however, Penn State wins that match, the conference champion will have been decided by the events of Oct. 30th. That week, Kutztown will take on the hard pressed, but hard charging West Virginia Mountaineers, while PSU and Iona rumble for those precious 5 SP each needs in order to keep Kutztown close. At any rate, if Army falls to Kutztown, they may drop all the way to third in the conference after leading just about everyone in the nation for more than a month. That would be a heck of a story for the conference. More a sign of how good the competition is than anything else.

So, there we have it. Today they play for all the marbles, if Army wins, KU and maybe PSU are barely alive, and will need bonus points the rest of the way. If KU wins it kicks the door open for themselves as well as for Penn State and even in a very - VERY long shot for Iona (IONA!). That scenario would be longest sniper shot of all, as Iona would need KU to then lose to both WVU and Penn State with absolutely zero loss bonuses, while beating PSU with zero loss bonus allowed and earning a 4 try bonus themselves. It’s certainly not a likely scenario, but as we learned last week, likelihoods are not actualities. Not in sport, and most certainly not this year in Rugby East.

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