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Comeback Time as Saint Mary's Hauls in Tough Central Washington

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Comeback Time as Saint Mary's Hauls in Tough Central Washington

David Barpal photo.

In yet another exceedingly close game between top-ranked D1A teams, Saint Mary’s came back from 19 points down to edge Central Washington 30-27 in Ellensburg, Wash. on Saturday.

It was yet another indication that Central Washington is a force to be reckoned with, but at the same time the Wildcats have to be shaking their heads after losing games against Saint Mary’s and, previously, BYU that were within their grasp.

“I think this is the first time we’ve played Saint Mary’s where we were winning ball consistently in both the scrum and lineout,” said Central Washington Head Coach Todd Thornley. “So with that, we also did a great job in slowing them down, which allowed us to come up hard on defense and put those amazing skill sets they have under some pressure.”

The result? Errors. Saint Mary’s looked dangerous when they ran their pattern, but weird passes, dropped balls, and penalties put them into difficult situations.

“Their errors allowed us to get down in the right area of the field and we had enough of a set piece platform to make them pay.”

Five minutes in the Wildcats shoved flanker Marques Fualaau over for the opening try off a maul. Just a few minutes later CWU ran a snappy backline play off a scrum that saw fullback Conner Grande race through a pretty massive hole and make 30 meters. Caught just short of the line Grande was able to recycle and out it went to wing Drew Farrington who dove over in the corner. Jac Tregoning converted from the touchline and it was 12-0.

Saint Mary’s replied with a superb piece of work. Inoke Waqavesi sent a wide pass to wing Mario Storti who popped it back inside to his brother Erich for a try.

So now it was 12-5 and scrumhalf Karl Keane hit a penalty to make it 12-8 at 25 minutes. But CWU owned most of the next 40 minutes or so. Just before halftime, and with a Gael in the sin bin, a break down the right-hand side got CWU close and a penalty set them up for a lineout deep in Saint Mary’s territory. After the CWU maul was stopped scrumhalf Kyle Jones just went right through the ruck to score. Tregoning converted and it was 19-8 at halftime.

Consistent phase play put Central back in the Saint Mary’s 22 in the second half and once again Jones spotted some iffy defense around the ruck, sold a dummy, and was through. Tregoning added a penalty five minutes later and Central Washington led 27-8.

But slowly, and then quick, Saint Mary’s came back.

“My message to the team was we have to keep playing,” said Thornley. “As soon as you shut it down against these guys they will make you pay. We want to play expansive rugby and I wanted to reinforce that we needed to stick to our identity. But 25 minutes is a long time, and Saint Mary’s needed just one or two opportunities. And we gave them a couple.”

Erich Storti capped off a well-taken move by the Saint Mary’s backs where this time it was Central that left a big old gap in the middle.

Then flanker Francois Piererse capped off a long period of pressure, looping around to take the pass and burst over. Keane converted and it was suddenly 27-23 with Saint Mary’s on the front foot.

With time up Saint Mary’s got back at the CWU line and after a series of pick-and-go’s, got it over the line. Keane converted and it was 30-27. It was the only time Saint Mary’s led.

“They’re big and very powerful when they go forward and play with great structure,” said Saint Mary’s Head Coach Tim O’Brien. “They have a great team. Todd has done an amazing job, and we had our hands full.”

O’Brien acknowledged that errors hurt them, but he praised his team for sticking with the plan.

“To see the guys make mistakes and then just walk it off and stay with it we great,” said O’Brien. “You need to learn how to win tough games and for Saint Mary’s it was just playing our asses off to the end. It was great to have the win, but the effort level says a lot about the kids. We were fighting uphill the whole way”

And learning to close out games was on Thornley’s mind, too.

“It’s a bit of an achilles heel for us, finishing the game,” he said. “It’s frustrating, but also encouraging that we were that close. Credit to Saint Mary’s. They kept playing and we ran out of steam a little bit. And They’ve had a few more shared experiences of finishing those games off, against Life, UCLA, and BYU. We’ve got to learn that.”

Both coaches praised the effort level of the teams and also the work of referee Brett Johnson, who called a consistent, fair, and ultimately very entertaining game.