Sullivan hold nerve for win
Sullivan Upper 20-13 Down High
It was an unsurprisingly hard-fought contest, at a chilly and breezy Holywood, and Sullivan Upper's desire to prevail was taken to the wire by a determined Down High School in what was a mighty fourth round Danske Bank Ulster Schools' Cup clash.
The manner of Sullivan's victory, showing an impressive will to not only fight back to tie the scores at 10-10 after the opening 35 minutes and then resist once the lead was theirs in the second half, should be of considerable value to coach Adam Craig's side.
And they will need to mine all these resources again as they face holders, and favourites, Royal Belfast Academical Institution at Osbourne Park in the quarter-finals.
Inst overcame Ballyclare High School 17-0 to advance and bag their home quarter but the pick of the last eight games looks to be at Fox's Field where Campbell College - who easily swept past Dalriada 41-0 - will collide with Ballymena Academy who have made the quarters after their 28-10 victory at Enniskillen Royal Grammar.
In the other quarter-finals, Wallace High School host Royal School Armagh after both had big wins at Royal School Dungannon and Cambridge House respectively while last year's beaten finalists Methodist College meet Bangor Grammar at Pirrie Park off the back of their respective victories over Coleraine Grammar and Rainey Endowed.
While not shying away from the demanding task now facing his squad, as they bid to wreck Inst's hopes of keeping a fourth straight Schools' Cup success on track, Sullivan coach Craig heaped praise on their efforts in making it to the quarter-finals.
"We showed real heart in terms of how we played and we got off to a slow start when we struggled to contain Down at the start, especially up front," he said.
"It's special," he added of making the last eight.
"We've quite often come in at the fourth round and then gone out.
"We came in the third round this year and we've worked and really built up to this win.
"The turning point (in the game) for us was getting to half-time with the scores level.
"We were against the wind and they had a lot of territory and possession and so to keep them to just 10 was pretty good.
"We said to the lads that 'this is it, no second chances and you've one half of rugby and you need to perform' and they came out of the blocks so well in the second half.
"All credit to Down High but it was good to end up on the right end of the result."
And as for the committed defending Sullivan showed towards the end when Down High turned up the pressure, Craig, again, spoke of their huge desire to succeed.
"That fight and hunger was in the boys. They showed real character and they did really work for it at the end.
Though clearly disappointed that his charges had failed to at least tie the game with their second half surge, Down High School coach Charlie Knox expressed his pride at the huge effort they had made to rescue the game.
"The boys gave everything and we knew Sullivan would be very physical but I felt we matched that physicality for large parts of the game," said Knox, whose squad now host Dungannon in the Subsidiary Shield quarter-finals.
"I'm very proud of the boys as they had done so much work to get here.
"Our early score gave us a lot of confidence but we were disappointed we didn't get in again about 10 minutes later and then they went and scored their try.
"But the boys never gave up and kept going," Knox stated.
"They created chances but we just weren't as clinical as we should have been but, then again, credit for getting there in the first place and not letting our heads drop."
Sullivan scored two tries on their way to victory with replacement prop Will Cave's 29th minute effort, and Conor McKee's conversion, tying the scores after Down High prop Aaron Haslett's 10th minute score and Greg Hutley's conversion had stunned Sullivan to put the visiting team 7-0 ahead. Hutley and McKee had then exchanged penalties to tie things up again at 10-10 at half-time which saw Sullivan then get the strengthening breeze at their backs.
Centre Andy McConnell's 51st minute try, with an assist from winger Shay Storey, after Sullivan moved the ball from a scrum proved decisive with McKee - who had earlier landed a penalty - converting to push Sullivan 20-10 ahead.
Down, though, immediately struck back with a Hutley penalty and, though Sullivan centre Andy Weir had a late try ruled out, the remainder of the game was mostly about the visitors piling on the pressure and they came agonisingly close to scoring on two occasions.