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Surprises Mark Florida College Opening Weekend

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Surprises Mark Florida College Opening Weekend

South Florida upended the defending champions.

Both 2022 finalists in the Florida Collegiate Conference were upset this past weekend, showing once again that the FCC is competitive, and full of surprises.

South Florida beat defending champs Florida State 25-19. 

This is an indication of how hard South Florida has worked to get back to the level they wanted to reach, following on from them winning the conference 7s title in the fall. COVID was very hard on USF and they had to rebuild almost completely in 2022. They finished 2022 with a 2-4 conference record but they managed to score four tries in four of those games, with an average points deficit of only about a try.

"Our core group, led by seniors Jon Carlo Salani, Matt Bradley, and Bryce Bannister, are setting a strong example for a young but extremely talented crop of new Bulls to follow," said Head Coach Austin Dacanay. "After all of the trials and tribulations that the last of our core group has had to endure, this club is ready to achieve some of the goals it has set for itself a couple of seasons ago."

And since several of those leadership players will graduate in the spring, it's just in time.

Returning forwards Derrick Lei-Sam at lock and Kaleb Lowe at flanker were solid in the opening game, and wing duo Dimitri Rose and Kaden Hankins have been very dynamic.

Adding to that are a freshmen halfback combo in Naples product Lucas Speece and . We have also added a couple of freshman that are making an immediate impact on our starting lineup, international flyhalf Pau Marcilla Larcarra from Valenciana in Spain. Those two have enormous potential.

The Florida Gators beat Central Florida 26-20.

A team that was 1-5 in 2022's conference season, the Gators certainly have turned heads.

"A win has been a long time coming," said Head Coach Ken Simmons. "The FCC is a very competitive conference with no guaranteed winners for any game.  The players have been working hard, but last year we could not seem to get the win, even though we were close so many times.  The great thing was that our players never quit and worked to improve each week. It finally paid off this week."

This observation is borne out by the overall stats. In 2022 Florida logged one close-loss bonus points, scored four tries on three occasions, and had an average scoring deficit of only nine points per game.

"We have a young team," said Simmons, who has a team wherein most of the players are in their first or second year of rugby. "This past fall, however, we did have an influx of high school players and exchange students. The influx of experienced players, combined with the work ethic of the inexperienced players should help us achieve our goal to become contenders for the FCC Championship."

Freshmen Martin Gentile and Felix Olivero and exchange student Santiago Arias have provided a nice injection to the Gators. Gentile scored two tries against Central Florida and all three player well. Transfer Brian Stock kicked two conversions.

But it wasn't perfect. After running out to a 19-3 lead Florida saw UCF come storming back. The result was in doubt until the end, but was sealed in the end thanks to captain Ande Mortensen making some crucial tackles in the latter stages of the game.

"Our plans are to keep working and fixing the things we find during each game," said Simmons. "We are at the early stages of our development and plan to peak by the end of the season.  We have a lot of work to do, but this win will give the players the confidence to know that we are on the right track if we keep at it."

The third game of the weekend in Florida also was a bit of a surprise. In this one, two teams that were 3-3 in 2022 faced off, but this was the least close game of the day, with Florida International defeating North Florida 38-14.

So what does this mean for the conference? It means keep an eye on it. Are there favorites at all? 

Florida Atlantic had a bye and will open their season this coming weekend and will host South Florida ... so who knows? UCF is at FIU, and that game suddenly becomes a big game for the Knights. And Florida is at Florida State, and FSU will want to regain some momentum against a Gator team that's feeling really good.

Florida Int. 1 0 0 38 14 24 1 0 5
South Florida 1 0 0 25 19 6 1 0 5
Florida 1 0 0 26 20 6 1 0 5
Florida State 0 1 0 19 25 -6 0 1 1
Central Florida 0 1 0 20 26 -6 0 1 1
Florida Atlantic 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
North Florida 0 1 0 14 38 -24 0 0 0