RIO GRANDE, Ohio — The wakeup call might have been a tad late in ringing but, once it did, the University of Rio Grande men’s rugby team put together an effort worthy of a championship.
The RedStorm shook off a sluggish start and an early first half deficit by scoring 22 consecutive points en route to a 34-24 win over Franciscan University in the championship game of the Allegheny Rugby Union Champions Cup, Sunday afternoon, at Red Valley Pitch.
Rio Grande, which is ranked No. 5 nationally in the National Collegiate Rugby Small Schools coaches’ poll and was the top-seeded team in the ARU playoff bracket, improved to 9-0 with victory and punched its ticket to the NCR regional playoffs, which are scheduled for the weekend of Nov. 20 in St. Louis, Mo.
Franciscan, which was ranked No. 9 nationally and seeded third in the bracket, finished 6-2-1 with the loss. Both setbacks came at the hands of the RedStorm.
Freshman Dean Brits (Still Bay, South Africa) got Rio off to an early lead with a successful try with 31:44 left in the first half and senior Caden Harden (Oak Hill, OH) followed with the convert to make it 7-0.
The Barons countered, though, with a pair of scores covering a span of just 5-1/2 minutes to take a lead of their own.
Mike Hardy found paydirt on a successful try with 23:25 remaining in the half and teammate Rafe Lewis followed with one of his own with 17:58 left before the intermission. Aidan Gibbons’ convert made it 12-7.
Brits tied the game with his second successful try just over 12-1/2 minutes later and Harden’s convert gave the RedStorm a 14-12 lead — an advantage, as things turned out, that they’d never relinquish.
Freshman Hunter Collins (St. Charles, MO) tallied his first successful try of the year in extra time to extend the Rio lead to 19-12 at the break, while Harden added three more points to the total on a penalty kick just under 5-1/2 minutes into the second half.
Freshman Christopher Gates (Charlotte, NC) got in on the scoring act with 22:33 remaining and Harden added the convert to make it 29-12, but John Thibault kept the Barons’ fading hopes alive with the first of his two successful tries on the day with 10:26 left to play.
Franciscan’s hopes were officially dashed just over four minutes later when sophomore Holden Fritz (Canton, OH) notched his first successful try of the season to extend the RedStorm lead to 34-17.
The Barons set the final score with 3:27 remaining when Thibault scored on a long run up the left sideline and Gibbons tacked on the convert.
Randy Payton is the Sports Information Director at the University of Rio Grande.