The Savannah Shamrocks entered the game 11-0 and had earned the right to host the GRU Championship game in Forsyth Park against the Athens Eagles who entered the game with only one loss. A loss the suffered just a few weeks ago in their regular season finale in Savannah. The Division 3 Championship pitted two teams very worthy of appearing in this game and it was truly a test match between two of the finest clubs in the state. The game opened up and was evenly contested for the first 15 minutes. First, Athens pushed the ball into Shamrocks territory and had multiple phases inside Savannah’s 22m line. Multiple times the Shamrocks were able to kick the ball out only to see the Eagles return the ball back into their half. Finally a stolen lineout by the Shamrocks and kick deep down field was able to turn the field on the Eagles. Athens found themselves with their backs to their own try line and after several forward crashes, the ball was spun wide to hard running outside center, Kevin Jackson, who broke through the line to score under the post in the 17th minute, conversion by Matty Shover (Savannah 7 – Athens 0). The teams played strong defense against each other with the ball remaining near mid field until a penalty against the Eagles allowed for kick and resulting lineout to be taken by the Shamrocks from 10m out. The forward pack won the lineout and the ensuing maul was perfectly executed. After three separate peel offs by the pack, starting lock, Ben Kochli, was able to touch down in the corner, conversion unsuccessful (Savannah 12 – Athens 0). Athens would strike back in the 34th minute when their flanker would break through after several strong forward crashes, conversion successful (Savannah 12 – Athens 7).
Halftime Score: Savannah 12 – Athens 7
The second half opened the same way the first half had, strong running, strong rucking and even better defense by both teams. Savannah’s gained possession of the ball in the 53rd minute and after several phases was rewarded and offside penalty against the Eagles near the 22m line. Dissention from the Eagles gave the Shamrocks an additional 10m and a head’s up play by flanker, Gavin Rourke, allowed him to quick tap and dive over the line for the try, conversion by Shover (Savannah 19 – Athens 7). Athens would respond in the 66th minute of the game when a Savannah mental lapse allowed the Eagles to take a quick tap from 8m out without the Shamrocks making the effort to retreat to their own goal line, conversion successful (Savannah 19 – Athens 14). Athens took the opportunity to seize momentum in the game and immediately pushed the ball back into Savannah territory. Unable to take possession back from the Eagles the Shamrocks were kept on their heels for five consecutive minutes defending their try line. Ultimately in the 71st minute, a pick and go from Athens’ scum-half, allowed him to dart through for the try, conversion successful, giving Athens their first lead of the game (Savannah 19 – Athens 21). Savannah, finding themselves down late in a game for the first time in a long time, were able to rally back and in 2 short minutes found themselves back in Eagles’ territory. Another penalty against Athens allowed Shover to slot through the kick and give Savannah back the lead with 6 minutes to play (Savannah 22 – Athens 21). Athens would not go away quietly and after a frantic 4 minutes of play were able to spin the ball wide to their wing who put on a chip kick which took a fortuitous bounce and was then recycled wide to the opposite side of the field for a score near the corner, conversion successful (Savannah 22 – Athens 28). Savannah faced certain defeat with just a few minutes left in the game. The ensuing kickoff went directly in to touch and the Eagles requested the scrum center. An error by the Eagles in the scrum resulted in a free kick which was taken b, y the Shamrocks who played with as much ferocity as they could muster knowing full well any infraction may result in full time being called. Numerous hard forward runs and rucks allowed Savannah to take possession to just inside their opponents 22m line when finally a ball was taken into contact by fly-half, Matthew Midgett, who was able to off load at the last second to a streaking flanker, Bruce Hicks, who took the ball at pace and raced for the try line and the score. The entire season came down to a conversion kick. The referee informed both sides that their would be no time left for a restart and the Shamrocks and all their fans held their collective breath as Matty Shover slotted the kick straight through the uprights (Savannah 29 – Athens 28). The referee’s whistle blew for full time and Shamrocks’ sideline erupted in joy as the players mobbed each other in celebration. Truly one of the great games played in the GRU and heartbreaking defeat for the Eagles. A game that will be talked about by everyone in attendance for some time.
Final Score: Savannah 29 – Athens 28
Savannah now moves on to the National Regional Tournament to be held in Charlotte on May 3 and 4. With the field narrowed to 32 teams left playing in the country, Savannah will take on the Florida state champions. Information on the national tournament can found here.