Gaels Suffer First Loss of the Year in Rematch At BYU | By: Christian Portillo
PROVO, UTAH - Just three weeks ago, Saint Mary’s got their first win over BYU since 2014. It was an impressive win for the Gaels, who had already played five regular season games up until that point. On the other hand, BYU was just starting to shake all the rust off from the offseason and was still rounding into shape as they had barely played three matches, including a friendly against the professional club Glendale Raptors, before facing the #3 Gaels. The win over the three-time Varsity Cup champions propelled the Gaels into the #1 spot in D1A’s Top 20 rankings, a spot they have kept since then by defeating California Conference rivals Cal Poly and San Diego State by an aggregate of 139 points.
Fast forward to today, and much has changed for the Cougars, although they have not moved from the #4 slot in D1A’s Top 20 rankings. Matt Jensen and Calvin Whiting, who both did not play at Moraga, have returned from a stint with the USA Eagles for the Cougars. When you combine the return of two Eagles along with playing more matches since the 27-12 loss at Saint Mary’s Stadium, it should come as no surprise that this BYU side would be completely different than the one that made a multitude of unforced errors and committed too many silly penalties at Moraga.
It was evident right from the outset that this was a vastly improved BYU squad, as Josh Whippy scored a try on the left side within the first minute-and-half of play. Although the conversion missed wide right, the tone for the rematch of these top-five teams was already set. BYU was spreading the ball out wide and this ball movement was rewarded with an Alex Vorster try. Calvin Whiting made the conversion by having the ball bounce off the right goalpost into the middle to give the Cougars an early 12-0 lead. Having given up 12 points within the first five minutes of the match, shades of last year’s 62-15 loss at Provo must have creeped into some of Gael Rugby’s dearest fans. Saint Mary’s looked discombobulated and a step slow early on in the high altitude of Utah.
When all seems lost, just leave it to Dylan Audsley and his accurate boot to stabilize everything. Thirteen minutes into the match, he made a penalty goal to get the Gaels on the board. He also had some nice kicks into touch that gained quite a few meters for the Gaels. BYU, who likes to test the referees early on for how high a level of physicality they can get away with, committed lots of penalties and Audsley made them pay. He made his second penalty goal of the match six-and-a-half minutes after his initial one to cut BYU’s lead in half to 12-6.
Although they looked lost in the first ten minutes of the match, the Gaels’ defense proceeded to pick up and did not relent. They did not allow the Cougars to move past the line, which resulted in constant side-to-side motion for BYU without any forward progress.
A small skirmish occurred between some members of the two highly competitive sides and the physicality continued onto the field of play, where Vili Helu was caught stomping on a Cougar and was given a yellow card, meaning he had to sit out for ten minutes of play. Even down a man, Saint Mary’s was still in the game. They took possession of BYU’s lineout and ran into a bit of luck when Whiting missed a penalty kick. Even more luck was found when BYU was spreading the field out to the left and was passing out wide, when one Cougar decided to bypass the man next to him and sailed an offload past three guys into touch, resulting in a turnover.
Moments later, after a scrum, team captain Kevin O’Connor left his defender behind with a strong stiff-arm and offloaded the ball to Dylan Audsley, who had a great run before he was taken down. Saint Mary’s was doing good job of driving the ball forward before going out wide to spread the field. This type of play was rewarded with less than six minutes until halftime, when Aaron Matthews assisted Cory Kroeger for the Gaels’ first try of the afternoon. Audsley’s conversion was good and gave the Gaels the lead for the first time, 13-12. This was all done with Vili Helu in the sin bin. It is this kind of persistence and perseverance that defines Gael Rugby, even when it goes against traditional logic, because BYU had the advantage of having one more man on the field and should have scored but the opposite held true.
BYU wasn’t just going to give up the lead and stay behind for long, though. Two minutes after Kroeger’s try, Kevin Schofield faked a move before offloading it to Tua Laei for the try to regain the lead. Whiting’s conversion extended the lead to 19-13, meaning that the Gaels would have to score a try and successfully make the conversion to regain the lead once again. However, BYU was awarded a penalty goal after the 40:00 minute mark and Whiting kicked it perfectly from deep to make the score 22-13 in the Cougars’ favor at halftime. BYU had three tries, two of which were converted, at the half in addition to this penalty goal for their 22 points. A big reason that the Gaels were even in the match was Dylan Audsley, who had made two penalty kicks and a conversion for eight of the Gaels’ 13 points.
It was Audsley once again to begin the second half. Right away, BYU knocked it on and he went for the points, successfully making his third penalty goal of the day to make the score closer at 22-16. BYU was called for another penalty at the 22 metre line, where Audsley split the penalty goal right down the middle to make it even closer at 22-19 with thirty minutes to go.
When Saint Mary’s was on the attack, BYU almost picked it off but knocked the ball forward. This was a huge break for the Gaels because if the Cougar picked the pass off cleanly, he was homefree for a momentum-changing try.
When Saint Mary’s had possession again, they were very patient and persistent in their attempt to score a try. The Gaels were gaining every inch they could, moving the ball forward by any means. BYU was called for a penalty. The Gaels could have went for a penalty goal to tie the game at 22, especially considering the close distance and Audsley’s unparalleled accuracy, but they chose to go for the try and take the lead. It was a gutsy move that didn’t pay off against the stalwart BYU defense. The Gaels turned it over at the try line after a bad clearing kick. On the counterattack, Zach Webber had a huge run in the open field and offloaded it to Kingston Matua, who was running as support, for the first try of the second half by either team. Whiting made his third conversion of the afternoon to extend the Cougars’ lead to ten, 29-19.
Six minutes later, after a Saint Mary’s high tackle, it was Whiting, not Audsley, who had ample opportunities for penalty goals. He went for the points and for good reason, as he made the attempt to extend the lead to 32-19.
Minutes later, after a scrum in the right corner near the try line, Saint Mary’s scrum-half Holden Yungert snuck into the right corner for the try and Dylan Audsley’s successful conversion cut the Cougars’ lead to 32-26. There was still a glimmer of hope for a comeback as Saint Mary’s just needed a converted try to retake the lead again.
However, with eleven minutes remaining in the match, Calvin Whiting silenced those hopes by making his third and final penalty goal of the day to give the Cougars 35 points. Saint Mary’s couldn’t make any magic happen in the final minutes and BYU walked away victorious while Saint Mary’s suffered their first loss of the season. BYU showed what they are really capable of compared to their underwhelming performance in Moraga. The 35-26 score at the end is the same final score as 2015’s second match between these two top programs. It was a highly competitive, yet fun, game that felt closer than the nine point spread at the end indicated. This truly was a battle of two rugby titans and today, the Cougars stood on top due to their hot start and great defensive try line stops. Since 2014, BYU has a 6-2 record against Saint Mary’s. However, now that the Cougars are a part of D1A Rugby, it is very possible that we will see these two teams face each other in the playoffs later this year.
BYU finished the match with a total of four tries. Calvin Whiting had three penalty goals and three conversions of his own for 15 total points of his own.
Saint Mary’s finished the match with only two tries, but Dylan Audsley successfully converted both in addition to his four made penalty goals for an individual total of 16 points.
BYU plays next Saturday, March 18th, against Central Washington University at Ellensburg, Washington at 2:00 P.M. MT.
The Saint Mary’s A-Side has next week off, but the B-Side will play Sierra College at home at 12:00 P.M. while the C-Side plays the University of Portland at home as well next Saturday, March 18th. The A-Side’s next match will be on March 25th at Witter Field against #3 Cal Berkeley.