Yankees rugby wins first Empire title since 2004
WESTPORT — Hoping to keep its season alive, the Fairfield Yankees rugby club had fought back and forth with Rockaway (New Jersey) in the Empire GU Division III final on Saturday at Staples High School. Each team had a double-digit lead in the second half, and the visitors scored a try as time expired to pull to within one point with a potential game-winning conversion to come.
All the Yankees players could do was stand in the end zone while the Rockaway player attempted to send his team to the next round. Fortunately for them, the player missed the attempt wide right.
But it still wasn’t over yet.
Fairfield’s players were penalized for shouting in the direction of the kicker, giving him another attempt at the kick. The second attempt — taken on a field as silent as if no one was there — was hooked wide left and the players and fans erupted in celebration.
“When it was up to the kick I was pretty nervous,” said Yankees club captain Myles McQuone. “We just had to stand there and it was up to the kicker. The team’s fate was in his hands; luckily we just came away with the win.”
The moments capped a wild 47-46 win for the Yankees, who advanced to a regional qualifier against a club from Boston next Saturday in Albany. The winner of that contest will participate in a national qualifying tournament in Pittsburgh later this month.
The regional title was the first since 2004 for the club, which also won the national championship that season.
“These boys have got a lot of heart and when they need to dig deep and find it they do,” said head coach Dave Lyme. “It’s really phenomenal; that’s the beauty of this team. It’s very exciting to get into a position like this and the boys deserve it.”
Trailing by 10 points early in the second half, the Yankees exploded with four straight trys to take an 11-point lead with five minutes left. Rockaway fought back and threatened to spoil the party with two late trys. A conversion on either try would have won the visitors the match, but misses on both proved to be the difference.
In his second season with the Yankees, Lyme has a strong connection with his group. The team trains twice a week and most of its players work year round to hone their skills for competition. Much of the team is in its mid-20s and have years of experience from high school and college days.
The tight-knit group comes together from across the area after work to dedicate themselves to the sport that has created a unique bond.
“We all come together every Tuesday and Thursday, but every other day we find time to hang out,” said McQuone, who is a marine mechanic in Greenwich. “We’re all best friends, everybody on the team is great; there’s no negativity on the team. Some of us have played together for a long time so the chemistry is all there.”
The Yankees went 9-1 during the regular season, which took place in the fall. They’ve been preparing for this postseason run since and hope to reach the national competition in Colorado. They have a chance to do so thanks to one kick that went wide.
“We expected a very tough game and we got that,” Lyme said. “Sometimes the bounce of the ball can end the result for you. We got away with it that time.”