Falcons rugby takes 37th straight MAC championship

Zane Miller and Zane Miller

The Falcons rugby team defeated the Western Michigan Broncos 35-21 on Sunday afternoon to win their 37th straight Mid-American Conference championship.

However, the team feels this one wasn’t one of the easier championship rounds.

“(Western Michigan’s) just a very hard-nosed team,” Falcons head coach Tony Mazzarella said. “They play very physical, the run tight to the contact area and they try to overpower you, we had to be extremely disciplined, stay in our lanes and make the tackles every single time and not let them gain too much ground, we were able to do that today.”

To make it into the MAC championship, the team had to defeat the Cincinnati Bearcats on Saturday, which the Falcons won 32-21 after the teams were evenly matched for much of the first half.

“We just had a really good game plan,” Mazzarella said. “We played solid defense and we just executed from that point, they kept inching close and kept coming back, but we were able to keep them out.”

On Sunday, the Falcons got on the board first with a penalty kick from senior center Griffen Palmer, putting the team up 3-0 early. On the team’s next possession, junior fullback Tim May ran for a 60 meter try, however the ensuing conversion kick was no good as the team held an 8-0 advantage. However, Western Michigan, fresh off of beating the Louisville Cardinals 31-22 earlier in the day to move into the championship game, ran for a try of their own and scored the conversion kick, making it an 8-7 game. Late in the half, May was able to score another try, this time with Palmer getting the conversion to give themselves a 15-7 advantage as the teams went into halftime.

“Western’s definitely one of the hardest fought teams that we play,” Junior Phil Bryant said. “We knew that they were pass heavy and they had some very, very good guys on their team, we kept trying to get low to the man and everything like that, we definitely had some things that we capitalized on.”

The second half saw Western Michigan cut into the lead once again as they scored the try to make it 15-14, then getting their first lead of the game with an interception for a try, going up 21-15. After a couple of possessions, the Falcons took advantage of a Western Michigan penalty as Palmer nailed the penalty kick to cut the lead in half. However, on the team’s next opportunity, they were able to get a try from Andrew Quisnell to regain the lead, however the conversion was missed as the team held a 23-21 advantage. With just over 10 minutes remaining in the game, however, May scored a big insurance try on an interception, this time with the conversion good to bring it to a 30-21 lead. As the team looked to run down the clock, May put in another try for his fourth of the match, but the conversion attempt was no good. However, Western Michigan would run out of time for a comeback as the Falcons took the MAC championship 35-21.

“The emotion (of the 37th championship) is huge,” Bryant said. “Winning the MAC is definitely something that we as a team want to go out and win and hold close to our hearts… our emotion for this weekend and for this game, we’ve just been so devoted to this. This gets us to the Nationals, this gets us as far as we can go and shows that we’re the top team in our conference.”

The team will next play on Nov. 18th in the first round of the National Collegiate Championships.