Baylor head coach Mason Hering preached to his team all season long about playing with intensity, executing a complete 80 minutes of rugby, and that it’s never over until the final whistle. The Red River Rugby Conference Championship was no exception, and on Saturday the Bears used that mentality to the fullest in a 25-22 come from behind victory over No. 16 LSU.
It was nearly a year to the day that Baylor’s hopes of an upset were dashed by the ranked Tigers in a 41-3 defeat. The victory on Saturday however is a major stamp on the turnaround of the program.
With the game tied 5-5 early on LSU capitalized on a bad clear attempt by Baylor to set up scrumhalf Mike Lloyd for the go ahead score. The Tigers pounced once more on the Bears prior to halftime with a second try by Lloyd. The second conversion of the day by Hunter Breit gave LSU the 19-5 lead.
Shortly after the break, Baylor’s momentum got a huge push from wing Abu Kamara. After a yellow card, Kamara made for for his error by going untouched for a try to pull his team to a 19-12 deficit.
Hering commented it was the play of the game in his opinion.
“[Abu] had gone off with a yellow at the end of the first half and he was begging for the opportunity to make up for it. Seeing him go untouched to score under the posts the guys just fed off that and it really gave us some confidence we could come back and win,” he said.
After exchanging penalty kicks, LSU was on the brink of putting the game away when flanker Brennan Falcon was tackled just short of the tryline. Baylor 8-Man Pete Hamm then helped orchestrate a long drive down field, eating clock before settling for a penalty kick by Parker Vincent, his second of the day, to make it a one possession game, 22-18.
With time running short Baylor won a critical lineout before beginning the siege down field. Vincent was pivotal once again when he found wing Westin Pruski on a pass which set up the go ahead score.
“Parker’s vision has been clutch for us all year and that play was a great example of locating a mismatch and letting our finishers do what they do,” Hering added. “He’s a great distributor and is learning to read the game well, which is making us more dangerous on attack.”
Vincent’s ensuing conversion made it a three-point advantage for Baylor, and after a penalty on LSU’s final possession, it was time for celebration on the green and white side.
Next stop for Baylor is the D1A Playoffs, a goal that the program has been building towards for nearly a decade. In the last two years alone the program has made impressive strides to the present day. In 2015 the Bears finished with just one conference win, the same season that Mason took over as head coach. The team improved to three Red River victories the following year.
It left a lot of room for improvement, and under the leadership of Hering, the 2016-17 Bears were perfect in the conference, minus a loss to Oklahoma in November. Clawing out a win over the Top 20 ranked Tigers will be a prime confidence booster as the Bears wait how the postseason picture blurs in to view.
“LSU has been the class of the conference since joining last year so being able to dethrone the champs is huge,” said Hering. “They certainly gave us one heck of a match and my hats off to them. We’ve been in so many close games this year we are just finding ways to win. Whatever it takes. Now it’s on to the playoffs and regardless of who we face, we are going to be geared up and ready.”
LSU remains in the D1A Playoff picture despite the loss. It is the lone Red River loss on the team’s schedule this year, and the only conference game they have lost since joining the Red River last year. The goal is to return, as well as avenge a first round knockout from last year’s loss to Arizona. The Tigers’ resume will speak for itself when it comes to decision time, but the team remains confident a bid will come their way.
The championship game was the final Red River match on the day at Austin Huns Field, which also featured third, fifth and seventh place games for the conference. Oklahoma held off Texas A&M in the third place game by a final of 39-26. The two schools also appeared in the B-side 15s Championship game prior to the match, with the Aggies pulling out a 35-18 victory.
Arkansas shut out Texas in the fifth place game 72-0, and Texas Tech topped Houston 26-12 in the seventh place match.