“It matters not how strait the gate, How charged with punishments the scroll, I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.”
William Ernest Henley
The Maryland Exiles knocked off the Bethesda Roosters 17-12 to win the Maryland High School Club championship on Saturday, capping something of a comeback after a shaky start to the season.
The Exiles underwent a big player turnover at the beginning of the season, when the Bethesda Roosters were started. The Roosters drew mostly from three specific high schools in town, and some of those players were with the Exiles last season.
The Roosters, with a French style of play, started the season well, while the Exiles had a few hiccups, including a loss to Bethesda.
But last week the Exiles got revenge in the semis, beating a North Bay team they'd lost to earlier. And that set up Saturday's final against, of course, Bethesda.
The Roosters opened the scoring when Stanford-bound fullback Nicholas Bernhardt-Lanier burst through for a try in the 17th minute. The Exiles struck back when flyhalf Noah Lucas intercepted a pass. He almost made it to the tryline but was taken down by a high tackle. That meant a yellow card for Bethesda and a penalty try for Maryland.
Boris Ngouabe, who will be playing at Mount St. Mary's University next year, converted to put the Exiles up 5-7 to close the first half.
In the second half, Bethesda struck early with a long kick from flyhalf Pierre Marcandella that winger Elijah Bruce (Robert Morris) gathered at the corner and scored in the center. Marcandella converted to put Bethesda up 12-7.
Th Exiles did well to control possession for the rest of the game, using their forwards to work their way down the field and, crucially, keep the ball away from the Bethesda backs.
The patient Exiles forward pack and scrumhalf Hunter Mueck (Towson) made inroads. Then high school All-American prop Adam Tounkara went over. Ngouabe's conversion hit the post, and the game was tied 12-12. The score remained tied until the 27th minute, when the Exiles mixed their forwards and backs to turn the corner and send Tounkara over the line for his second try of the day and the game winner.
It was an impressive finish for the Exiles, who weren't even sure early in the season whether they would have enough players to field a team.
"There's lots of potential for this young group of kids," said Exiles coach Daniel Soso, who says his program is stronger than ever now. "It will be interesting to see what Salty Thompson and his selectors think about them at the RCT. We're ambitious about the future of our club. We will be looking to add additional coaches and administrators. We're looking to take the team overseas for spring break next year. We're looking to add a JV team in addition to our second 15."
Updated 14:42 - 3 Oct 2017 by Mark Lucas