Two years ago when the Western Carolina men’s rugby team made it to the Southern Championship, they where proud and honored just to get the opportunity to play for the Division III South title.
As the rugby team took the field in this year’s championship weekend, however, it was apparent that they would only be happy coming back to Cullowhee with the Gold Cup. They received the opportunity to play for the South Championship by beating Duke in the State Championship three weeks ago.
The rugby team’s first challenge was against Furman in the South semi-finals. Furman had a quick team that attempted many pop kicks in order to keep Western out of their territory.
Western would not be shut down for long and, closing in close to the tri zone, veteran senior Mike Bike decided to show Furman the proper way to kick the ball and attempted a challenging pop kick that gave WCU a 3-0 lead. Playing off the momentum from the kick, Mike Bike assisted All American Edwin Rios, with a ball that allowed him to bust some moves and score the only tri of the game and give Western Carolina an 8-0 lead.
Late into the second half, with no change in the score, Western sent forward rookie scrumhalf Matt “Skinny” Carow to attempt a 3-point kick off a penalty, which he converted. Playing down a player due to a penalty, WCU had no troubles keeping Furman from scoring the entire game and won in the Semi Finals with a final score of 11-0.
Despite the tournament being held in Myrtle Beach and the Championship game being against Mississippi State the following day at 9 a.m., WCU was able to overcome the rough morning and was pumped for the final game. Right before WCU took the field, head coach Cory MacGillivary emphasized the importance of hard hitting and keeping possession.
Mississippi State relied very heavily on their large pack, however, it did not take long for WCU’s pack to intimidate MSU by laying down brutal hits. By marching down the field, WCU’s pack put the backs in good position, which allowed Edwin Rios to assist Marcus Johnson for an early tri. The Bulldogs quickly showed Western they were not going to just go away, however, and came back with their own tri.
With a tie score going into the half, it was the second half that would determine which team was worthy of the title “Best in the South”. The pack was tested time after time, with numerous goal-line stances, but their determination and hitting ability stopped every chance Mississippi had to score.
The strong defense of the pack allowed the backs to concentrate on scoring, so when Bike gave Marcus Johnson an accurate pass, Johnson took no time in cashing in the pass for five more points. With victory becoming apparent, WCU continued to play good all-around rugby, which set up Matt Carow for another 3-point penalty kick.
There were no fireworks and the trophy was the size of a typical chugging cup, however, when the final whistle blew, no team was more proud and honored then the Western Carolina’s squad to achieve the title of the best Division III rugby team in the South.
The team is now preparing for the East Coast Championship, which will be held in Pennsylvania on the weekend of April 26. Look for details in the upcoming Western Carolinian.