Photos Michael Geib (homepage) & Rebecca Harper (right)
MORAGA, Calif. – The notable winning streak Saint Mary’s has been on thus far in 2014 became that much more impressive after posting a 30-24 victory over Brigham Young University Feb. 15.
The Gaels have repeatedly challenged themselves over the first month and a half of the new year, including wins against Division I clubs San Francisco Golden Gate and Olympic Club, but the visiting Cougars presented their biggest test to date.
Saint Mary’s, whose fast-paced style in the loose does not lack confidence, looked forward to the encounter with BYU.
“Going into the game we were really pumped up to be playing a team like BYU,” said senior winger Bubba Jones. “They are nationally ranked and known throughout the rugby community as being one of the best college teams.”
Flyhalf Garrett Brewer got the Gaels on the board first with an unconverted try. BYU, also heading into the match undefeated, was limited to two penalty kicks early on after failing to break through a resilient Saint Mary’s defense for tries in what looked like try-scoring opportunities.
Holding onto a 6-5 lead, BYU’s restart at midfield was gathered with authority by Luke Sauser, who immediately attacked the BYU defense. The Cougars were able to wrangle Sauser to the deck, but not before the flanker popped a perfectly timed pass to former high school teammate Jones. Jones would not be caught until the five-meter line, but his support was able to bulldozer him over the try line.
After successfully converting Jones’ try, the Gaels led 12-6. BYU countered, but again elected to kick for points, closing the margin to 12-9.
Saint Mary’s attack was able to put BYU on the back foot once again, and Jones found enough space to dot down his second try of the half. The Cougars responded with a converted try, but Saint Mary’s was able to add a penalty kick before the half and the Gaels held a 20-16 lead at the break.
Looking like the fresher team opening the second half, BYU quickly regained the lead with an unconverted try. The Cougars would add yet another penalty kick to increase their lead to 24-20 with only 20 minutes left.
Playing in front of their home crowd, Saint Mary’s would not succumb to doubt. Following a Gaels takeaway, Kingsley McGowan’s pass put Brewer in enough space for him to scamper to his second try of the afternoon. The converted score gave the Gaels a lead they would not relinquish. A late penalty kick was tacked on, making the final score 30-24.
The Saint Mary’s rugby program is no stranger to high profile matches and signature wins. The Gaels played in college rugby’s Division I Semifinal in 2012, and just last May nearly beat Life University in the National Championship match.
Still, beating BYU is always a massive victory no matter what name is across your jersey. The Gaels feel a win of this caliber is especially important for the school because of the sense of pride the sub-3,000 enrolled students feel.
“It’s good for our community because we are such a small, close-knit school,” said Jones. “Everyone knows each other. So it’s just been an all-around positive for Saint Mary’s.”
The home team allowed themselves to celebrate briefly with fans, family and fellow students, but shortly after began their preparation for next week’s match.
“We have to give our full attention to who’s in front of us,” said Jones. “The day after we beat BYU we are already watching film, getting ready for Santa Rosa Men’s Rugby Club.”
Following its Feb. 22 match against Santa Rosa Rugby Club, the Gaels get back into their D1A schedule when the play Cal Poly March 1. A week after their California Conference showdown with Poly, Saint Mary’s will travel to Provo, Utah, where BYU will have an opportunity to exact revenge on the Gaels when the two teams meet again March 8.