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Army Does it, Beats Saint Mary's to Win D1A

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Army Does it, Beats Saint Mary's to Win D1A

The Army Black Knights salute during the National Anthem. Alex Goff photo.

Army West Point defeated Saint Mary's 20-8 to win the 2021-2022 D1A final in a game that lived up to all expectations.

The Black Knights unleashed a blistering defensive front that hit hard and forced or caused several knock-ons from the Gaels. For their part, Saint Mary's played their classic aggressive, free-wheeling rugby, but picked the wrong day to have ball handling errors. Able to get into scoring position, The Gaels had all sorts of trouble finishing.

Army opened the scoring after a superb kick for a 50-22 that set up a lineout and maul and a 7-0 lead.

More pressure from Army set up a penalty attempt from flyhalf Sean McNulty put over for a 10-0 lead. 

Playing with the wind Army kicks and was able to, for the most part, play in the Saint Mary's end. But the Gaels also had their chances and just weren't able to score. Army's scramble defense was ferocious, and those final passes for Saint Mary's never seemed to go to hand.

McNult added a penalty to make it 13-0 at halftime, but Saint Mary's came back. Karl Keane added a penalty goal and then a a bit of controversy. Saint Mary's kicked into in-goal for a 22 dropout. From that kick fullback Eddie King attempted a drop goal. The kick was just off, and was touched down in-goal. Goalline dropout was the call, but actually on a kick for goal, drop or place, it's a 22 dropout. 

Still the call stood, Saint Mary's fielded the goalline dropout and quick shredded the Army chase to score and make it 13-8. 

The game sat on that knife edge for much of the second half. Army was brutal in their physicality, and Saint Mary's wasn't exactly a shrinking violet. With the wind Saint Mary's went for the kick more than they usually do and put themselves in scoring opposition. Once again the desperate Army defense fronted up, forcing the Gaels into touch, making turnovers, and forcing penalties.

Late in the game Saint Mary's had another chance, and earned a penalty off a scrum. The Gaels opted for another scrum, but knocked it on at the base of the scrum. So back we go to a scrum for Army. The Black Knight drove it hard, and got the penalty. They kicked to touch, drive the lineout and go another penalty, and from that one eventually blasted over under the posts. The kick was good and Army had their championship.

Flanker KoiKoi Nelligan was named player of the game and he had a torrid playoffs, scoring tries and boosting the team's emotional level at blindside flanker. The entire Army side took care of business on defense, while Saint Mary's was left ruing their handling mistakes.

"You have good games and you have bad games," said Saint Mary's captain Joe Marchant. "Army played tough and we didn't do what we needed to do. It happens that way sometimes."

For Army, it was about a plan, a plan that included a series of tough games building to the playoffs. Head Coach Matt Sherman knew he had a special team, and didn't want to throw them into playoff rugby without difficult games. It could have backfired, said Sherman. It could have ended with injuries and bad losses that hurt the team's confidence. In the end, though, they got neither, and knew what they had to do.

"We just all came together," said scrumhalf Tiaan Mosconi. "Us 60 guys, from the beginning of the year we said it was going to take all of us to win. I love these boys."