The third installment of the Mid-Atlantic qualifiers featured the same two teams battling for the top spot to Nationals. At the 38th annual Monk Vaughan 7s in Richmond, Va., the Beltway Elite won its second consecutive tournament with a last play 22-21 victory over Schuylkill River. With the win, Beltway leads Schuylkill two wins to one with the fourth and final MAC qualifier on Saturday at the Philadelphia 7s.
In the final, Schuylkill took the early lead with a converted try, but Beltway answered with a Dave Hightower score. A Schuylkill penalty try upped the ante to 14-7 but the Exiles were unable to capitalize on the ensuing yellow card with a held ball in the endzone to complete the first half.
Beltway found some life after the break as Hightower's second try made it 14-12, but a third Schuylkill converted try extended the lead to 19-12. At this point, Beltway coach Jon Grasso said that his team adjusted its defense to the Schuylkill attack.
"We realized that all of their breaks were coming from the middle of the field with them supporting the ball well," Grasso noted. "We made a concerted effort to tighten up the middle of our defense and force them to take us on the outside where we were comfortable with our speed. Once we started that, we shut down their attack for the last few minutes of the game."
With the defense shored up, the Joanel Joseph show took over. Speed kills and Joseph connected on back-to-back tries to end the game. After dotting it down to make it 21-17, phase play turned into a 50-meter break for the intrepid wing to score with no time left for the 22-21 tournament win.
"The biggest game-changer for us this week was Cam Johnstone from Mount St. Mary's," Grasso added. "He played with us in the Eastern Open but he was trying to figure everything out there. This weekend, he started handling all of our kickoffs and we were competing more for the ball in that area."
The early stages of the tournament saw Schuylkill finish pool play undefeated and Beltway going 2-0-1 with wins over Washington Irish and Rocky Gorge and a tie versus Washington. Rocky Gorge and NOVA joined the top two clubs in the cup semifinals with 1-1-1 records.
In the semifinals, Beltway dominated NOVA for the 41-5 win and Schuylkill got its revenge from the Eastern Open by defeating Rocky Gorge, 26-5.
Beltway will need to put in a consistent performance on Saturday to wrap up the MAC spot to Nationals at Schuylkill's home tournament. "The biggest thing for us is putting in a complete performance for 14 minutes," Grasso concluded. "We feel confident that with the talent of the guys running the system correctly and committing to their one on one tackles that we are a very difficult out...The commitment to tightening up our defense is essential because we know we have the offensive weapons. Our focus this week will be on defense and keep points off the board for other teams."