BG ruggers take Savannah

Wes Holsinger and Wes Holsinger

The search for unfrozen ground led the BGSU rugby team to Savannah, Georgia last weekend. In the process the Falcon ruggers cut a swath through the South, the likes of which hasn’t been seen since William T. Sherman strolled through the region in 1864.

BG won five matches and took the collegiate championship of the 88 team Savannah St. Patrick’s Day Tournament. Indeed, in its thirty-five year history, the Falcons have posted a 103–2 record over teams from south of the Mason Dixon Line.

The Falcons defeated Georgia Southern University 13–5, St. Cloud University 25–6, Kutztown University 13–0, the Savannah RFC 14–0, and George Washington University 41-0. The only setback came at the hands of a group of graybeards disguised as University of Tennessee at Chattanooga by a 21–3 score.

The victories were remarkable in the fact that not was BG playing teams that had been playing for over a month, by also by the fact that the Falcons had yet to have a single outdoor practice. “We looked a little rusty in the first two matches,” BG head coach Roger Mazzarella said. “By the championship final against G.W. we looked pretty good.”

BG captain Vince Staropoli regarded the tournament as “on the job training” as the club readies itself for the National Collegiate Championships in April.

“It was a long way to go to hold a practice, especially considering that the weather in Savannah was colder than Saturday’s weather in BG,” he said.

The winter rust was evident in the first match as dropped passes, mental errors and a lack of discipline kept the score close against a scrappy opponent.

“Georgia Southern must have thought the match was billed as a boxing exhibition and not a rugby game,” Mazzarella said. “This is, unfortunately, something we have to put up with all too often — teams resigned to losing the game but thinking they’ll win the fight.”

The numerous stoppages did take the Falcons off their offensive game but a pair of tries by flanker Andy Luciano and a penalty field goal by prop Brandon Burns proved to be enough in the 13 — 5 victory.

In the second match against Midwest Division I rival St. Cloud, the Falcons started to show more of an offensive rhythm as they upended the Huskies 25–6. The weekend’s offensive fireworks were all the more remarkable considering all the matches were played on fields that were 48 yards wide — a full 27 yards narrower than regulation.

“When we get back to a full size field this weekend it is going to seem a mile wide,” Staropoli said.

Wing Anthony Wanzer opened the scoring with a 50 yard burst down the sideline and was followed into the endzone by scrum half Vince Staropoli who ran around, over and through a good portion of the Huskie defense on his way to a try. Fly half Derek Imes converted both scores.

Imes also booted a pair of penalty field goals and center Travis Budd put the match out of reach with a try late in the second half.

The Falcons beat tournament host Savannah RFC 14–0 in a penalty filled match that despite the score was the Falcons best match defensively. Rain and cold contributed to a slick ball that forced both teams to play a dump and run type game. With its tremendous speed, BG has no peer in that type of a match. Poor decision-making left Savannah kick returners buried under a host of Falcon tacklers. Lock Tom Forbrizzio scored both of BG’s tries and rookie wing Ben Gutek booted both conversions.

BG edged East Coast powerhouse Kutztown University 13–0 in the semi-final to earn a berth in the championship match. In a match worthy of two sweet sixteen finalists, the Falcons and Kutztown hammered away at each others goal lines in vain attempts to put points on the board. BG prop Doug Ulrich finally rammed over a try from five yards out to give BG a narrow 5–0 lead. Derek Imes gave the Falcons some breathing room with a penalty field goal and eight man Bobby Brandenstein iced the match with a try following a misplayed kick reception by the Kutztown fullback.

The Falcons finally broke loose in the tournament final, crushing George Washington University 41–0 in a match that was essentially over just after it started. Vince Staropoli stunned Washington with a try only 30 seconds into the contest. Derek Imes’ conversion was followed by a penalty field goal and Washington was taken out of the match in the span of 90 seconds. Flankers Garrett Fisher and Fred Ackermann, eight man Bobby Brandenstein, and hooker Rob Pace all scored tries as did Staropoli for his second of the match. Imes was almost perfect, hitting four of five conversion attempts.

Now 5–1, the Falcons will host the Michigan Collegiate Select Side on Saturday at 1 p.m. at College Park rugby field. The Michigan Collegiates are an all-star team from schools like Michigan and Michigan State that is preparing to compete in a tournament held each year in Illinois.

“This will be a good strong match for us,” Mazzarella said. “The all-star coaches get to see our guys and we help them prepare for their competition.”

BG’s players will miss the all-star event because it is held the weekend before the national sweet sixteen.