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Saint Mary's Completes Sweep of BYU ... Barely

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Saint Mary's Completes Sweep of BYU ... Barely

Tavite Lopeti had another big day. Karen Drinkwater photo.

Saint Mary's defeated BYU 35-28 to move to 4-0 in this shortened college rugby season.

The Gaels have beaten BYU twice, both close games, and also beaten Cal and Central Washington. For BYU, it was yet another close game the Cougars didn't quite win—they have been within reach of Cal, and twice with Saint Mary's, and tied Central Washington.

Saint Mary's broke through on their first real possession in BYU's half, with flyhalf Inoke Waqavesi sending a flat ball for center Tavite Lopeti to burst onto. Lopeti was through the line and with one man to beat fed loose forward Miles McCormick who was in under the posts.

The second try came midway through the first half. Saint Mary's got a penalty ten meters inside the BYU half and wing Joe Yacoubian put the ball right in the corner for the lineout. BYU stymied the maul but Waqavesi sidestepped out of one tackle and around another defender and he was in under the posts. That made it 14-0 with Yacoubian's second conversion.

The third Saint Mary's try came 12 minutes later after some good phase work. Ronan Murphy got the flat pass and he was hit just as he passed out to hooker Max Simmons. Yacoubian converted and it was 21-0. That's how the first half ended, and while BYU had some chances, they didn't have really good chances. They had seen success in using their kicking game, but not this day.

BYU started the comeback early in the second half, resorting to a more bash-and-crash option, forcing the Saint Mary's forwards to halt the charge. Flanker and captain Seen Tarawhiti then picked up and went straight ahead under the sticks. Ezias Bigelow converted and it was 21-7.

Saint Mary's replied instantly. After a Lopeti tackle jarred the ball loose, a smart box kick when BYU's fullback was up left it easy for Jonathan Hackett to race in, gather, and score untouched. Once again the try was scored under the posts and Yacoubian happily kicked the conversion. 

Cougar center Taysan Hammer scored off an excellent short ball from Bigelow and after Spencer Ika had taken the Cougars close. 28-14 with 25 minutes to go.

Once again Saint Mary's replied quickly. After getting a penalty on the BYU 22, the Gaels pulled off a surprise. Yacoubian, instead of kicking to touch, tapped and lofted a high ball to the wing that Hackett ran under. No one on BYU was ready and Hackett just had to catch it and touch down, which he did. Yacoubian finally had a difficult conversion to kick, and he did it. 35-14.

It took BYU all of two minutes to reply. A crossfield kick from Bigelow also set up a try, but the support was there and Alma Schoenfeld was there to get the pass and somehow squeeze in at the corner.

Bigelow was money on the touchline conversion and it was 35-21. BYU kept on the attack but the Saint Mary's defense made them work for it. Then wing Tielu Sagala cut through two defenders around the ruck and beat two more to score from 40 meters out. The Gaels pillar defenders will have been kicking themselves on that one. Bigelow was good on the kick again and it was 35-28 with five minutes to go.

Saint Mary's pinned BYU in their end, but then Hammer cut through for a massive run. He was dragged down by Yacoubian, and had he not been he might have tied the game. Still, BYU got a penalty right on the Saint Mary's 22. The Cougars tried for the crossfield kick but Saint Mary's was ready for it, gathered, and consolidated. BYU got another shot, but the Gaels defense was quick over the ball and got a holding-on penalty. After a chat with the ref the Gaels opted for a scrum in their own 22 (!). They won it, ran three phases and booted the ball dead to finish the game.

So it was an exciting game, but perhaps one where neither defense was at its best. Saint Mary's seemed in command at 35-14, but with 20 minutes to go there was plenty of time for the Cougars to come back. They almost made it all the way back.