The all-new sevens team, Beltway Elite, started its season with a bang. An undefeated run through the semifinals matched Beltway against the defending Mid-Atlantic Champions, Schuylkill River.
Beltway had to get through Frederick and Schuylkill River’s second side first. Beltway Elite 7s kicked off its season with a 43-7 victory over Frederick and a 40-14 win over Schuylkill Black. The new team then faced a stiffer test against Reading, but pulled out a 19-10 win, with two late Reading tries spoiling a strong defensive effort against a hard-running team. That win put Beltway through to the semifinals, where it faced tournament host Lehigh Valley.
The home team showed its pride by handing Beltway its first deficit of the season, jumping out to a 5-0 lead. Beltway fought back to take the lead before halftime, 7-5, then scored 12 unanswered to seal its berth in the Finals.
“We knew this would be the first of several times we saw Schuylkill River this season,” said Beltway coach Jon Grasso. “They’ve been the class of the conference for sevens for several years now. So it was important that we came out and sent a message in this first match.”
A fired up Beltway squad marched down the field quickly. After a turnover in SR territory, Beltway stole it back, kicked the ball through the defense, and scrum half Joe Hughes jumped on the ball for the early lead. But a veteran Schuylkill team that has seen it all was far from intimidated.
SR dominated possession for the remainder of the first half, patiently breaking through the Beltway defense for two tries. Both were converted, so Schuylkill headed into the break up 14-5.
The first four minutes of the second half remained a stalemate, with both teams circling, looking for a kill shot. Prop Dave “Sergeant” Hightower broke through the left side of the defense to close the gap. Fly half Will Taylor, who was strong in all facets throughout the day, missed the tricky conversion but confidence remained high from the Beltway side. Hightower again broke through the left side and outpaced a number of defenders to put Beltway up 15-14 with 30 seconds left.
Sevens matches have been won and lost with less time so this one was far from over. Beltway recovered its own kickoff, patiently wound down the clock, and booted the ball out of bounds to capture the 2017 Lehigh Valley Sevens Championship!
“This was a solid start,” said Grasso. “We know Schuylkill will get better, and we expect to as well. We had some quality players at the USA-Ireland match, or otherwise unavailable. We’ll incorporate some of those guys at Slug 7s next week. It’s still early enough that trainings are open invites—so players that are interested but have not made it out yet will get a fair look.”
With over 50 players considered for the team already, Beltway will send two full teams to Slug 7s in Columbia, Md. on June 17th. Players interested in playing for the Beltway can choose whichever training is closer to them on Tuesdays: 7PM at Rosedale Park in Baltimore, or 7:30 at Model Secondary School in DC. On Thursdays, practices are joint at White Oak Middle School at 6:30.