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Falcons soar to Midwest title

It would’ve taken a lot for the BG club rugby team to add on to a season in which the “A” side went undefeated and won its 27th straight Mid-American Conference championship, but last weekend they were able to do just that.

By winning two games over Northern Iowa and then Minnesota, the ruggers were able to win the Midwest Regional Championship, a title the team hadn’t earned since 1988 and only had four of in a 27-year span. Prior to their win over Minnesota on Sunday, the team had finished in second place in the event eight times.

As a whole, the team went a combined 34-1 on the fall season, collected the MAC title and won its 10th Michigan Collegiate title in the past 11 years. The “B” side won its 100th straight game, a feat that started way back in 2003. In short, the fall season went well.

BG moved up this past week in the national rankings from 10th to sixth and earned a No. 1 seed in the upcoming National Collegiate Rugby Championship in April.

To get to that point, the Falcons first had to take on Northern Iowa.

The game started off on a bit of a different note, with Northern Iowa winning the opening coin toss and choosing to play into a stiff blowing wind.

Flyhalf Nick Viviani was the story of the game, as he connected on five straight penalty kick field goals in the first half to give BG an early 15-0 lead. Wing Ian Gagnon later scored on a 50-yard kick and chase and center Scott Wallace carried the ball up the middle of the field for another try. Viviani added two conversion kicks.

At halftime, BG had the Panthers in a 29-0 hole.

The second half played out very well for BG. Hooker Eric Nutter and Wallace both had tries and BG was able to advance to its third Midwest final in five years with a 41-12 victory over Northern Iowa.

BG coach Roger Mazzarella said that an early goal line stand, as well as some solid defense, set the tone for the game.

“UNI had a chance to pick up some momentum at the end of the first half, but our goal line stand took whatever steam they had left right out of them,” he said.

On Sunday, BG faced off against the winner of the other Midwest semifinal game, Minnesota. The beginning of the game could be labeled deja vu, as the Golden Gophers won the coin toss and again elected to face the rough wind. BG would eventually make them pay for it.

The Falcon defense was solid from the beginning while Minnesota’s offense was sloppy. A series of bad Minnesota passes led to a loose ball in their end zone, which was picked up flanker Ryan Bonek for a score. Later in the first half, Viviani connected on another penalty kick and prop Bryce Pitney scored. At that point, BG led 13-0.

Later on in the half, Wallace scored and Viviani added a conversion kick.

Minnesota came out in the second half looking to get back in the game, and did so by scoring three tries. It would prove to be all the Gophers could muster.

The Falcons were able to put themselves ahead for good when eight man Rich Hines ran 10 tough yards into the end zone. Viviani hit his conversion kick and later had a penalty field goal. BG took the game, and its first Midwest championship since 1988, with the 30-17 win.

According to team captain Ryan Deal, BG was able to win because of their philosophy.

“We controlled the ball well,” Deal said. “We work on things that other teams don’t really focus on. We really make defense a priority and try to score off our defense.”

Viviani added that the team has jelled well.

“We had good team chemistry [over the weekend],” Viviani said. “Everyone stepped up. We worked together really well.”

Mazzarella said that Minnesota’s style of play was like a lot of other teams.

“Minnesota is like a lot of clubs that use the current international model and play a predictable, boring, stilted and easy-to -defend offense,” he said. “Three yards and a cloud of rucks we call it. We just had everyone stay home and watch them gobble up all the time going nowhere.”

Viviani was very pleased with the team’s success over the weekend.

“It was a big accomplishment for the team and the University,” Viviani said.

With nationals coming up in April, Deal said the team really has something to work hard and focus for.

“I wrote an e-mail to the guys saying that although the teams out West get talked up a lot and blow everybody out, any team can be beat on any given day,” Deal said. “[The e-mail] said that we’re as good as them, if not better.”

“I remembered something else I had often preached to [the team],” Mazzarella said. “Glory is the only thing you can take with you when it’s your time to go. I’m glad each one of them got to have a taste.”

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