Rough first half, lapses sink Vipers in Baltimore, 24-19

For the second game in a row, the Raleigh Vipers fought back after falling behind on of the league’s top teams. And for the second straight game, a bonus point for a loss provided the barest of consolation after a 24-19 loss to Baltimore-Chesapeake.

Outside center Michael Melendez-Rivera scored two tries for Raleigh (3-5) in a second half won by the Vipers, but one that included a crucial lapse from which the team could not recover.

The host Brumbies (6-1) dominated both possession and territory in the first half, but failed to put the Vipers away. The Vipers showed no interest in keeping the ball when they managed to get their hands on it, and missed tackles helped put the visitors on their heals for just about the entire first 40 minutes.

Yet Baltimore only managed a single converted try, scored by winger Anthony Wamwea in the seventh minute. Brumby mistakes bailed Raleigh out more than once, and an inconsistent Viper defense stiffened at the goal line.

The Vipers, having every reason to feel lucky coming out of halftime down just 7-0, fired out of the gate in the second half as an impressive run from Melendez-Rivera cut the gap to 7-5 just a couple minutes into the second half.

After some back-and-forth, Baltimore would eventually respond to extend their lead in the 56th minute as prop Aaron Goldberg capped a team effort to march the ball down the field. But the real backbreaker came less than two minutes after the conversion for that try, when wing William Trentzsch knifed through a suddenly non-existent Raleigh defense to score in the 58th minute.

With the score 21-5 and momentum ceded back, Raleigh found itself battling back from a too-deep hole as it did against Potomac Exiles two weeks prior. Not to say the Vipers didn’t make it interesting.

Veteran Tim Taillon put in a try in the 62nd minute after coming on and providing a steadying influence near the end of the first half after a knee injury knocked out scrum half Jared Belovich. Gareth Jones’ conversion made it 12-21.

Baltimore fly half William Knipscher added a penalty in the 65th minute to his 3-for-3 effort on conversions to push the gap to 24-12. But Melendez-Rivera had another burst in him as he finished his second try in the 74th minute. Jones cut the gap to five with the conversion.

Raleigh couldn’t break through in the end though with the limited time, and the ref blew the final whistle after Baltimore kicked a ball to touch near its own 22.

The weekend’s results kept Baltimore in second behind undefeated Potomac; both will almost certainly make the playoffs. Norfolk, which beat Pittsburgh, sits at 5-2 with 27 points, seems to be in good shape to grab one of four playoff spots, but with four of their wins against winless NoVa and winless Pittsburgh, they still have work to do with five games against contenders left.

If Norfolk doesn’t collapse, though, Raleigh and Schuylkill could end up fighting for the fourth and final playoff slot. Schuylkill (4-3, 21 points) passed Raleigh (3-5, 20 points) with a win over Nova this weekend. After next week’s matchup with Pittsburgh, the Exiles will likely stand at 5-3 with at least 25 points and put pressure on Raleigh to keep pace against Norfolk at home this weekend ahead of a crucial showdown with the Exiles in Philadelphia on Nov. 22.

Raleigh kicks off at home against Nova Saturday at 2 p.m.

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