Burrell rugby team is pushed to the brink
DOWNINGTOWN — Things didn’t look promising Sunday for the Burrell rugby team.
For the first time this season, the Buckheads were going up against a team that was able to match them physically, match their speed and their tenacity, and match their skill level. For once this season, Burrell was being pushed to the brink.
The Buckheads responded to this unique scenario the way you might expect from an undefeated team.
With less than six minutes left to play, Colten Staley flopped on a Monsignor Bonner fumble in the try zone, and Nick Robinson added a 2-point conversion kick that spelled the difference in a 19-17 Burrell victory and a win in the first state rugby championship, sponsored by the Eastern Pennsylvania Rugby Union.
After being splashed by teammates with a bucket of Gatorade, Buckheads coach Ron Zanella got a chance to reflect on the special way his team responded to its first encounter with adversity.
Zanella referred to all the training drills he put his team through during the season. All that time his team put in, while not enjoying some of those arduous drills, paid off.
“It’s why I knew we had the endurance to come back and score the way we did in the end,” Zanella said. “It was getting a little tense out there in the second half; we were flat. We weren’t playing with emotion.”
One kick changed all of that, and set up Staley’s winning score. With around eight minutes to play, senior Nick Robinson nailed a perfect kick, which in football would be equivalent to a coffin-corner punt. Robinson’s kick backed Bonner up deep in its own zone.
A few minutes later, a lackluster second half ended with a great moment this group may remember and share forever. Staley barreled through two Bonner players and fell on a fumbled lateral to tie the match at 17-17. A few seconds later, Robinson won it.
“I really don’t remember a lot, because I was knocked into next year a few plays before that, but I knew I gave it (heck) to get to the ball and landed on it,” Staley said. “This is one of the greatest moments of my senior year. This wasn’t easy; Bonner is by far the best team we faced this year. In the second half, we were all dogging it, but we found some momentum, and I think that came with Nick’s kick.”
Robinson doesn’t play any other sport at Burrell, like most of his Buckheads teammates, but he quickly fell in love with a game he knew little about. Zanella said the lanky senior was all skin and bones when he was introduced to the rugged sport three years ago.
“I didn’t know anything about this game three years ago and now look — I’m on a state-championship rugby team, the first in state history,” Robinson said. “This is an awesome feeling. I love this game, you get to hit anyone as long as it’s legal.
“This is it for me. I’m going into the carpenter’s union after I graduate, but I’m going to continue playing rugby. I wasn’t on any sports teams at Burrell, but I was part of something I’ll remember for my whole life.”