Thrilling Comeback Sends SMC Men's Rugby to National Semifinals

A stirring second half comeback brought the Saint Mary’s men’s rugby team back into its D1A National Championships quarterfinal against BYU and a boisterous home crowd eventually left smiling as a try by Inoke Waqavesi and conversion by Karl Keane with less than two minutes to play provided the final score to help the Gaels punch their ticket to the national semifinals with a 24-22 victory inside Saint Mary’s Stadium.

Overnight rain did little to dissuade a hearty bunch of Saint Mary’s fans from turning out to support the Gaels in their final home game of the season but the home crowd had to wait a bit to bring the enthusiasm as BYU built a 17-5 lead just a few minutes into the second half.

The deficit didn’t faze the Gaels. Jonathon Hackett got the comeback started with 30 minutes remaining, scoring a hard-earned try to make the score 17-10. Waqavesi cut into that margin further 12 minutes later, as his try with 18 minutes left left SMC down by two and a conversion by Keane tied the score at 17-all.

Though Saint Mary’s took the momentum, BYU had an answer, and a try put the Cougars ahead 22-17 with 12 minutes left. The conversion kick sailed wide right though, opening the door for the Gaels.

Saint Mary’s made its final charge in the game’s waning moments. After multiple attempts to break through from close range, the ball finally found the waiting hands of Waqavesi and with five Cougar defenders attempting to tackle him, the junior found a small crease, split two defenders and lunged forward with a BYU defender on his back to score the game-tying try.

That set Keane up for a straight-on conversion try and the junior didn’t miss, splitting the uprights to put SMC ahead 24-22 with one minute to play. BYU managed to get down the field in extra time but the Gaels held tough to ride out a hard-fought victory.

Saint Mary’s now moves on to the national semifinals where it will get its chance at a rematch with Cal at Witter Rugby Field in Berkeley. The Golden Bears defeated Central Washington 43-26 to advance to the semifinals. Game time is set for 1 p.m. on Saturday, April 23 and the match will be streamed live by Cal