By James Nelson
MORAGA, Calif. -- The Saint Mary’s rugby team wrote another chapter in its storied history Saturday, downing No. 1-ranked BYU 30-24 at Pat Vincent Field.
With the win, Saint Mary’s once again firmly established itself as one of the pre-eminent rugby programs in the nation. The No. 6-ranked Gaels avenged one of their three losses from last year, and beat the team that Rugby Magazine had ranked best in the nation coming into the game.
“There is a perception of us as a run and gun team.” said Gaels coach Tim O’Brien. “We are a punch you in the mouth type of team. We believe that we can play with anybody in the nation.”
The first half of the game was a fast-paced battle for field position as each team kicked the ball back and forth, attempting to trap the other deep in their own territory.
The first real scoring chance for Saint Mary’s came about 10 minutes into the match. Dylan Audsley missed a penalty kick for the Gaels, but they recovered the ball and went back on the attack. A knock-on momentarily halted their momentum, but, in what would become a trend of the whole match, the Gaels forward pack dominated the resulting scrum and regained possession. Joey Reavey then grabbed the ball and made a run inside the 22 meter line before offloading to Garrett Brewer, who dragged several defenders with him while scoring the try.
The missed conversion made the score 5-0 in favor of Saint Mary’s and the battle for field position resumed. BYU went on another drive deep into SMC territory but a brilliantly timed interception by Bubba Jones got the ball back for the Gaels. Unfortunately, they did not hold it for long as a knock-on and a subsequent penalty on the scrum gave the Cougars a penalty kick from the left hash. This made the score 5-3 in favor of Saint Mary’s after around 20 minutes.
A long BYU run set the Cougars up inside the 5-meter line but the Gaels held strong and held BYU to yet another penalty kick. This made the score 6-5, and on the ensuing kickoff Luke Sauser made one of the plays of the game, sprinting downfield to jump and steal the ball. He then offloaded to Jones who finished the play off by scoring the try and putting Saint Mary’s up 12-6.
After yet another long BYU drive stalled out and ended in just three points, the score stood at 12-9 with roughly 13 minutes left to play. However, yet another spectacular play by Bubba Jones gave the Gaels the ball deep in BYU territory. After winning a line-out, the Gaels again shipped the ball wide to Jones who took it in for his second try of the match.
BYU quickly answered with a try of its own and the score stood at 17-16 with nine minutes left to go in the half. Saint Mary’s would then add a Dylan Audsley penalty kick to make the score 20-16 and went into halftime with the four point lead.
This lead would not last however, as BYU came out charging in the second half and scored a try just two minutes in. This made the score 21-20 in favor of the Cougars and for a long time looked as if it might be the deciding score of the match. BYU added another penalty kick to make the score 24-20 with only 20 minutes left to play and looked to have momentum on its side.
Just as things were beginning to look bleak for Saint Mary’s, an unbelievable play by Dino Waldren turned the entire game around. BYU had the ball deep in SMC territory when Waldren executed a perfect counter-ruck to steal the ball and regain possession. Kingsley McGowan then made several nice cuts along the sideline before offloading to Brewer, who took the ball all the way in for a 70-meter try run. This sequence not only regained the lead for the Gaels at 27-24, but it changed the momentum in favor of the Gaels.
Playing with a second wind of confidence, the Gaels defense held strong against several tough BYU attacks. This included a game saving tackle at the 5-meter line by Cooper Maloney, who was able to bring down the BYU attacker and strip the ball at the same time resulting in a change of possession. The Gaels would add one more penalty kick to make the score 30-24 but BYU’s last gasp effort ended when Waldren once again came up with a brilliant counter ruck to regain possession for Saint Mary’s.
This was by far the Gaels hardest test of the season to date and though they struggled at times, the team came through with big plays each and every time that they needed one.
“The key to the game was well organized team defense.” O’Brien said. “BYU is a team that can easily put up 100 points on a team, so to hold them to only 24 was very impressive.”