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Same Old Bowling Green? Maybe More

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Same Old Bowling Green? Maybe More

Ryan Steinmetz scores the game-tying try in Bowling Green's comeback quarterfinal win over Lindenwood-Belleville. Photo courtesy Bowling Green Rugby.

Bowling Green State University has been at the forefront of Men’s DI College Rugby for many years.

Under the guidance of Roger, and then Tony Mazzarella, the Falcons have dominated the MAC and much of the Midwest for years. But they have never made a national final … until now.

The Falcons were third in DI rugby in 1987, and 4th in 1988. Then they made the top four again when the divisions split into DIA and DIAA, making the DIAA semis in 2011, and once again in 2014.

This coming weekend is the fall DIAA championship, a special moment for the Falcons in part because Bowling Green’s leadership has long been an advocate for honoring the fall season. But also, if the Falcons win, they are eligible to play in a winner-take-all final in the spring against the spring winners.

For Head Coach Tony Mazzarella, this season has been a special one simply because the coaches and players have come together in a single purpose.

The change from a really good team to a team that is thinking national title came after the coaches decided to make things a bit more simple.

They brought in David Larham from England to work with the Bowing Green players. 

“It’s good for the guys to hear things from a different voice, even if it’s the same message,” said Mazzarella. “David worked with the players and the coaches. It was a good refresher course for all of us, and he was there to help us progress as a program. The players really responded, and we got a lot out it as coaches.”

Larham’s two-week visit in the early part of the season prompted the BGSU coaches to change up their trainings, de-emphasizing drills and emphasizing in-game decision-making. How players responded when everything goes to hell was what they wanted to teach the players, and it worked.

The result was unrelenting Bowling Green dominance. Where in recent years the Falcons had won their conference, but faltered at times, this time around, they were solid from the get-go. In a 11-1 season, they logged wins against DIA teams Ohio State and West Virginia, as well as Varsity Cup team University of Notre Dame. They also beat their main rivals for the MAC title, Western Michigan and Cincinnati, by a total of 71 points. Their average score was 51-12 (and would have been more if one of those results hadn’t been a forfeit). Their only loss was to DIA team Davenport, 29-20. 

So they were used to controlling games. Adam Regini has been brilliant out wide, and Phil Bryant is quite the find at hooker. Adam Kubicki and Chris Labadie have emerged as hugely influential players, while Mitch Sora, Nick Ross, Griffen Palmer, Ryan Steinmetz, and NIall McNamara have all had many moments.

But all of that would have been for nothing had they faltered against Lindenwood-Belleville. And they almost did. The Lynx gave Bowling Green everything they could take, and almost won. A couple of called back tries and a turnover - BGSU had a try called back, too in game that was always going to be on a knife edge.

In the end, the test was, how could the Falcons respond?

“We went into the game a bit overconfident,” said Mazzarella. “There was a lack of execution.”

Exactly what you worry about when you’re winning by a lot.

But they adjusted. With Lindenwood-Belleville keying on Regini, they had to find a plan B.

“We settled down, went back to the basics, and worked on ball security,” said Mazzarella. “In the first half we lost 10 turnovers. In the second half, we lost the ball only once. That was a major upgrade for us.We still didn’t play as well as we can but we played well enough to close it out.”

Will all of that be enough? Well, Bowling Green remembers last spring, when they gave up 52 points to Notre Dame College in the DIAA Round of 16. They didn’t like that at all. But while many of the players from last season are back for this coming weekend’s Fall Final against those same NDC Falcons, the team seems to be very different.