Vipers fall in defensive struggle with Potomac Exiles

After two disappointing tight home losses, the Raleigh Vipers ventured north to Washington, DC, where results did not improve even if the effort did. Injuries from the prior game and work conflicts limited the traveling squad to 18 players, a shorthanded team sent to battle one merged from two clubs including a perennial playoff team.

The Vipers lost 17-0 to Potomac Exiles. But after expressing mostly frustration with the effort in two tight home losses the two previous games, coaches characterized the game as the team’s best effort of the young season. A talented hybrid of familiar PAC and Maryland Exile players managed just a pair of tries against an aggressive Raleigh defense.

The home team also played sound defense for which the visitors, short a few playmakers, couldn’t crack until a near-try at the end was thwarted by a missed connection on a final pass. The slow, methodical drip of points started with an Exiles penalty 20 minutes into the game, and about 14 minutes later a converted try made the score 10-0 at half. The only other score in the game came with a converted try in the 46th minute.

The penalties that plagued Raleigh against Baltimore and Charlotte were reduced substantially. Ball control, effort and work-rate also saw improvements (with perhaps an assist provided by the cool, rainy weather providing respite from sauna-like conditions the previous two Saturdays in Raleigh).

The Vipers’ scrum, often manhandled during the Baltimore loss last week, made some adjustments, and it showed: the team was never pushed off the ball, and stole a few Exile put-ins. Lineouts were generally crisper as well. Although a physical, technically-sound and experienced home pack presented plenty of challenges, most were at least met.

Despite shuffles at hooker and back row, forwards managed a semblance of continuity if not depth. The backline however had a completely new look from the prior week. Three of the team’s fastest playmakers couldn’t make the trip, and with captain Ryan Ford shifting from 10 back to fullback and Brian Maxwell slotted into the fly half slot, only two players from 9 to 15 resumed the same role as the previous week: center Will Compton (sometimes a flanker himself) and wing Matt Pounds.

The absences and fluctuation reduced the quick-strike capacity of the backline and made putting up a ton of points on the DC Frankenteam a tall order. But the group nonetheless produced a sound, workmanlike effort. The real difference maker, noted by the opposing captain, was an organized defensive line that stayed disciplined during the wide array of switches and efforts at misdirection of the Exiles.

On offense, hard runs and good ball retention helped prevent the team from spending an inordinate amount of time on defense. The team, which avoided any substantial injuries, hopes to get some players back for next week’s trip to Norfolk.

– Kyle Jahner

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