#3 Gaels Defeat #4 BYU 27-12 | By: Christian Portillo

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Photo by taken: Rebecca Harper

MORAGA, CALIF. - On Saturday, two of collegiate rugby’s powerhouses met yet again. #3 Saint Mary’s, well-rested after a bye week, hosted #4 Brigham Young University on what started as a cloudy afternoon at Saint Mary’s Stadium. The two sides have gotten familiar with each other over recent years, having agreed to playing a non-conference home and away series. In 2014, the two sides split the matches. The BYU Cougars won the 2015 series by a grand total of 13 points, winning the first match 32-28 and the second one by a score of 35-26. 2016 was not much better for the Gaels against the Cougars, as they rallied back from a 27-8 deficit only to lose 30-29 at the very end. The away match in Provo, Utah, was an aberration for Saint Mary’s as BYU had their number all match long and easily won 60-15. BYU’s 5-1 record against Saint Mary’s since 2014 took place when they were members of the Varsity Cup and won the Varsity Cup Championship three consecutive years before placing as a runner-up to Cal Berkeley last spring.

This time around though, in 2017, BYU is a part of D1A Rugby, meaning the two top-five teams could meet in the D1A playoffs. They joined D1A this season as an independent and have not skipped a beat, as they are currently ranked #4 on Canterbury’s D1A Top 20 weekly rankings. The Cougars easily defeated Cal Poly 91-3 and also beat #19 San Diego State 50-14. But Saint Mary’s came ready to play and had a large crowd eager to support them all match long.

The highly anticipated match began with lots of intensity. BYU deflected a Saint Mary’s pass but ended up knocking it on, resulting in a Gael scrum. Holden Yungert quickly picked the ball up and ran for a few meters before dishing it out to Chris McDonell, who went right up the gut for the opening try of the match. Dylan Audsley successfully made his first conversion of the match to give the Gaels a 7-0 lead.

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After a Saint Mary’s penalty, BYU elected to go for points near the 10 meter line but the kick went to the left. Saint Mary’s then had the opportunity to go for points after a BYU penalty, and with Dylan Audsley’s boot, it is no surprise that they went for it as well. Kicking from the left side of the pitch, the inaugural Scholz Award winner’s penalty goal went left and the score remained 7-0.

After several knock-ons from both sides, Audsley had a chance to make up for his botched penalty goal because BYU went offsides. With 13:25 left in the first half, Audsley lined up from the middle and made his second penalty goal attempt to get the Gaels into double digits at 10-0.

The Cougars had an excellent opportunity to get on the board before halftime but the ball just did not bounce their way. BYU chip-kicked the ball from the middle to the right winger, who was all alone in the corner, but the kick was just a little too hard and no matter how hard he hustled, he just could not get to the ball in time to catch it cleanly and score a try. He made his best attempt but proceeded to knock it on as he couldn’t collect it and the ball went forward.

This was a big break for the Gaels, but it paled in comparison to the huge defensive stop they got to end the half. Although the scoreboard read 0:00, BYU kept driving down the pitch and was near the try line. If the Cougars would have scored, they would have gotten a huge boost of momentum heading into the half. But the strong, mighty Gaels stood their ground against the much larger Cougars and took the ball away from them at the goal line. The takeaway saved the half for the Gaels while simultaneously taking away any potential of a momentum swing in BYU’s favor.

Although 10 points was Saint Mary’s lowest scoring first half of the season, they confidently headed into halftime knowing that they held BYU to zero points.

About seven minutes into the second half, Saint Mary’s prop Payton Telea was given a yellow card and had to sit out for ten minutes. However, the Gaels wouldn’t be at a disadvantage for long because BYU’s Josh Whippy was also given a yellow card only five minutes later. With both sides each playing shorthanded with 14 men on the pitch, the stakes were raised and it appeared as if Mike Wallace of Saint Mary’s had answered the call by sliding in for a try in the left corner, but a knock-on was called and the try was negated.

About two minutes after this controversial call, BYU was called for an intentional knock-on and was given another yellow card. Now that the Cougars were down two players, Dylan Audsley took advantage of the discrepancy by going for points and making another penalty goal to give the Gaels a 13-0 lead with 23 minutes remaining in the match.

Telea returned from the sideline soon after and the Gaels had 15 men to the Cougars’ 13. Although down two men, BYU did not stop clawing back into the game. They made it to the try line and Tua Laei scored their first try of the match to cut the Gaels’ lead to 13-5. Whippy, kicking with his left foot, missed the conversion wide left.

Both teams had all 15 men on the field at the 14 minute mark. With just under ten minutes to go, Vili Helu scored a try at the try line with his extra effort to extend the Gaels’ lead to 18-5. Audsley’s conversion was good to make the score 20-5.

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Photo taken by: Rebecca Harper 

With under four and a half minutes to go in the game, BYU’s Jared Whippy returned an intercepted pass all the way to the house for a pick-5 try. The conversion was good to cut the lead to 20-12.

Holden Yungert, who assisted Chris McDonell for the first try of the match, was awarded a penalty try in a strange play where there was obstruction of a potential try by BYU and the penalty was aborted in favor of the five points that would have been scored if there was no obstruction. Audsley made his third and final conversion of the afternoon to make the score 27-12. BYU knocked the ball on to end the match as the official called time. But it won’t be the last time that these two see each other as D1A powerhouses.

On their way to 27 points, 12 of which belonged to Dylan Audsley, the Gaels had three tries, made all three conversions, and made 2 of 3 penalty goals. For BYU, the Cougars’ 12 points came via two tries and one successful conversion.

In what was a great rugby match, Saint Mary’s knew that they need to play good defense for all 80 minutes of the match to beat BYU and they did just that with great tackling and containment. The Gaels knew that the Cougars like to play physically and used this to their advantage by electing to go for points via penalty goal three times.

After the match, the Gaels went up to the home crowd and waved in appreciation of all their support, to which they received a well-deserved round of applause for what was an instant classic.

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In addition to being a great all-around display of the game of rugby, this match gives credence to a potential BYU and SMC rivalry for years to come as both are now members of D1A Rugby. But first, the Gaels will play the Cal Poly San Luis Obispo Mustangs. They then will play their final home match of the season against San Diego State March 4th. It is only after these two matches that they will face BYU in a rematch in Provo, Utah, on March 11th. The Cougars will be eagerly awaiting to get their revenge on the Gaels at Helaman Field. But before that, they will travel one state eastward to face Colorado this Friday and then take on #15 Air Force the next day.

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Photo taken by: Rebecca Harper 

All in all, it was a great day for Saint Mary’s Athletics as the women’s basketball team defeated BYU in McKeon Pavilion just a few hundred feet away from Saint Mary’s Stadium where the men’s rugby team defeated the Cougars 27-12. All the way in Provo, the nationally ranked men’s basketball team came away with a tough road win against the Cougars to complete the Saturday sweep of BYU.