By James Nelson
MORAGA, Calif. -- After ending last season with a loss to Life University, the Saint Mary’s rugby team has been on a mission all year, hoping for the chance to avenge the crushing defeat.
Thanks to their 72-7 win over Lindenwood on Saturday at Pat Vincent Field, the Gaels have finally earned that right. Saturday’s victory clinched a spot in the championship game of the USA Rugby National Championship Series and waiting for Saint Mary’s will unsurprisingly be Life, which defeated Arkansas State 34-27 to advance.
The two schools enter the match as the only two remaining undefeated teams in Division I-A rugby and, given their recent history, next weekend’s game at Stanford will certainly not be lacking in intensity.
“We definitely wanted Life,” said senior Mark Bowers. “We felt as if we could have won last year but we just came up a little short. This year, playing back on the West Coast and hopefully not in a rain storm like last year, we really like our chances.”
As for the semifinal itself, the Gaels dominated a young and talented Lindenwood team, never truly letting the visitors in the game. From the opening kick, Saint Mary’s attacked the inexperienced Lindenwood forwards, running countless “C” balls that battered their opponent’s smaller forward pack. The strong play by forwards Ryan Pratt, Mike O’Neil, Dino Waldren, Mark Bowers, Michael Tillson, Luke Sauser, Kyle Peterson and Kevin O’Connor was huge for the Gaels, allowing them to control the ball and to draw the defense in, resulting in mismatches on the outside.
This strategy became apparent early, as the Gaels opened the scoring just three minutes into the match when an errant pass from Joey Reavey was scooped up by Bubba Jones and subsequently run in for the try. Lindenwood answered with its only score of the match, a long 45-meter run that quieted the crowd and gave the visitors hope that proved to be short-lived.
Just a few minutes later, Jones once again broke into the open field and shed Lindenwood’s fullback with a great hesitation move to score his second try. That made the score 10-7 in favor of SMC.
Lindenwood would have several great chances to score in the next few minutes but time and time again the Gael’s defense stopped the Lions cold. Saint Mary’s team defense was in good form all game long, combining great one-on-one tackling with solid discipline and support to stymie the powerful Lindenwood attack.
Despite the fantastic defensive play, the score still stood at only 10-7 over 25 minutes into the match. That all changed when Dino Waldren made a fantastic play to help get the Gaels offensive attack on track. After going through several phases of play, Saint Mary’s lost the ball inside the 5-meter line of Lindenwood only to have Waldren steal the loose ball right back. It eventually ended up in the hands of Kevin O’Connor, who scored the try that would put the game away for good.
Saint Mary’s added a penalty kick before the half to make the score 20-7. Although Lindenwood fought valiantly, the Lions were no match for the offensive onslaught brought on by the Gaels in the second half and the match quickly got out of hand. Jones added his third try of the day just two minutes into the half and Ryan Pratt added another a few minutes later to break the match open.
Nick Schlobohm added his first of the day a few minutes later, followed by Jones’ fourth of the day and individual scores by Michael McCarthy, Mark Bowers, Kingsley McGowan, and Chase Herring.