BG ruggers take invitational

Wes Holsinger and Wes Holsinger

Like a trophy animal head, an Ohio State t-shirt is tacked on the wall of the shed next to BGSU’s College Park Rugby Field. Scrawled across it in magic marker is BG’s Latin motto, “Nulli Secundus” — Second To None.

Never in the 35 year history of the team has that motto shined more brightly as it did this weekend as the Falcon ruggers won the inaugural Pepsi Falcon Rugby Invitational. Seventh ranked BG defeated the number three ranked United States Military Academy 20–18 and fifth ranked Ohio State University 32-8.

Conceived and organized by BG assistant coach Chris Hopps, the tournament brought together the highest ranked gathering of college rugby teams until the National Collegiate Final Four on May 3. Its results have rocked the college rugby world since the final whistle late Sunday.

“These are huge victories for us,” stated an elated BG coach Roger Mazzarella. “Nothing in our past history compares to this. In a ranking of all-time top ten matches for BG, these wins have shot right up to rank as numbers one and two.”

Mazzarella should know, having been on the field as a player or on the sideline as coach since the club’s inception in 1968. In addition, the Army victory was BG’s 1500th and the club, who has never posted a losing season, now has an all-time record of 1503–332–78.

“None of the weekend’s matches were easy,” Hopps said. “Every single one was a nail biter. No sports fan could ask for more.”

Ohio State broke a 3–3 tie with a last second score against 12th ranked Indiana Saturday to get into Sunday’s final. In Sunday’s consolation match, Army edged Indiana 16–15 on the strength of a botched last second Hoosier conversion kick.

“I like the chess match aspect of the close match,” Mazzarella said. ” But I’m a big fan of the blowout, it’s easier on my blood pressure.”

Part of the chess match calculations had to take into account the ever-present Bowling Green wind. Army coach Major Andrew Field probably captured the essence of the problem best when he said, “Could’ve run all day with the wind, but going against it was like running up a very steep hill.”

Bringing the subject up with any of the teams’ fullbacks brought a barrage of profanity as they watched punts go backwards for negative yardage.

“The secret?” Mazzarella said. “Score gobs of points with the wind and hang on for dear life against it.”

For the most part, BG’s victories followed that very script. Starting against Army with the wind, center Pete Cromly opened the scoring with a 35-yard penalty field goal only to have the Cadets come back to take a brief 5–3 lead with a try. Wing Kevin Mongold put BG back on top with one of his patented 50-yard pinball routes over, around and through the defense for a try that coupled with Cromly’s conversion made it 10–5. Eight man Fred Ackermann picked up a loose ball near the BG goal line and turned it into an 80-yard jaunt that was finished off by wing Andrew Riddell for another try and a 15–5 lead.

With fans barely settled into their seats for the second half kickoff, scrum half Vince Statopoli slipped through a gap in Army’s defense to touch down and increase BG’s lead to 20–5. Now it was Army’s turn to use the wind to fire off huge 70-yard punts in a kick and chase offense. Slowly the Cadets chipped away at the point differential. Fly half Grant MacDonald hit a 15 drop goal to make it 20–8 and a race of time and points was on. While the Falcon defense was generally up to the challenge, small mistakes nearly cost BG the game. A dropped pass led to an Army try while what seemed a certain Falcon scoring opportunity was turned into a 90-yard kick and chase for yet another try. It wasn’t enough, however as BG hung on to win 20–18.

The win put the Falcons into the final with Ohio State. The Buckeyes are the only team that has had BG’s of late. BG last beat Ohio State in 1998 and has gone down to defeat four straight times since then. That includes a narrow 33–25 victory in last fall’s Midwest region championship — a game that concluded with Buckeye coach Dan Porter saying the BG was ” just a fairly good second tier division one team”.

With that quote burned into every brain cell, BG took the field and went on a scoring rampage that very nearly swept the Buckeyes out of the stadium. Eight Man Fred Ackermann opened the scoring by burrowing in from 10 yards out and wing Andrew Riddell made it 10–0 by scooping up a drooped pass and winning a 50 yard sprint to the end zone. Hammering away at the Buckeye end zone brought another try from center Travis Budd. Each try was greeted with a cacophony of car horns from the dozens of vehicles surrounding the field and filled with BG fans trying to stay warm. Pete Cromly’s sole conversion made it 17–0.

Good teams just don’t lie down and die, and such was the case with Ohio as they slowly started to chip away at BG’s lead. The Falcons fumbled the kickoff after Budd’s try and Ohio State turned it into a try of the own. A try and conversion on a backfield overload by Cromly led to yet another fumbled kickoff and yet another Buckeye try. A Cromly penalty field goal put BG ahead and what, on a normal day, seemed like an insurmountable 27–10 lead.

A normal day doesn’t account for the howling wind and it was BG’s turn to face it in the second half. The Buckeyes quickly landed two huge penalty field goals and once again the Falcons faced a race of time and points. Things looked bleak indeed when prop BG Kris Black was sent to the penalty box for the last ten minutes of the match and the Buckeyes scored a converted try to trail just 27–23.

“Sometimes heroes just seem to step out of the darkness from the most unlikely places,” Mazzarella said.

That hero came in the form of wing Zac Molnar who was playing in place of injured scoring machine Kevin Mongold. Picking up a dropped ball on the 45 yard line, Molnar set off up the field on a run that was seemingly paced step for step by the 500 or so BG fans on the sideline. His leaping dive into the end zone sent the crowd wild and put the match out of reach for Ohio. A garbage time try by the Buckeyes made the final a respectable 32–28 but Molnar’s try had essentially ended the match five minutes earlier. The Falcons, now 16–4, will host Ohio University this Saturday in their final home match of the season. Game time is 1 p.m. at the College Park rugby field.