The Southern Pines men’s rugby club hosted the first round of the Carolina Union playoffs in the rain Saturday versus Atlanta Renegades, the team that defeated the Big Cones in the sweet 16 last year on the last play of the game.
The Big Cones were coming off a last-minute win at Charlotte 29-26 to steal first place in the division from the Queen City foes. Charlotte travels to Atlanta Old White to see who will face off next week in the union championship.
The first half started out quickly, before becoming a defensive battle. Southern Pines held off an early Atlanta drive, and Zach Miller started the day with the first try, converted to put the Big Cones up 7-0.
Atlanta answered back just four minutes later off a turnover to make the score 7-7.
Neither team was able to put in another try and, with nine minutes left in the half, Jeramy McCarty was issued a yellow card for a dead ball altercation, and with three minutes left Austin Hooper was given a yellow card after the team committed multiple penalties in a row. Hooper was called out by the ref as the last person to commit a penalty.
The Big Cones were able to hold off an Atlanta drive and Miller literally ran off the clock to bring it to the half.
The second half started quickly for Southern Pines as Emerson Bessel put a try in off the kick off and McCarty was brought back into the field.
Miller hit the conversion from the far side, to give the Big Cones a 14-7 lead. The lead was short-lived, as Atlanta answered back to tie it up 14-14. The Big Cones took a 19-15 before Miller added a penalty kick with 20 minutes left to extend the lead to a two-possession game, 22-14.
Atlanta answered in the corner to cut the lead to 22-19 with 17 minutes left. Bessel made a nifty pass to Thomas, who scored in the corner to go up 27-19, and Miller converted it to extend the Big Cones’ lead to 29-19 with six minutes left.
The Big Cones were able to run out the rest of the clock and preserve the victory.
Southern Pines has advanced to play Atlanta Old White next weekend for the union championship and both sides have also qualified for the South Championship May 2-3 in Savannah, Ga.
The champion from Florida will be the second seed and the True South, which is made up of Alabama, Louisiana and Tennessee, will be the fourth and final seed.
This is the fourth consecutive year the team has advanced to the round of 32 and has advanced to the round of 16 each time.
Southern Pines continues to win versus teams from cities much larger than our small town, but the country is on notice, said a spokesperson for the Big Cones.
The club is working on raising $1,500 for the trip through its Facebook page.