Rugby rolls on against Spartans

James Kuper and James Kuper

A season on the brink would have been an apt description of the Bowling Green rugby team’s situation following last week’s loss to Indiana University.

Not anymore. Battling near blizzard conditions, the Falcon ruggers swept Michigan State University 38-0 and 22-17 to earn an at-large spot in the Midwest regional of the National Championship.

“Yes, we’re in, but every game from here on out is a single elimination playoff match,” BG head coach Roger Mazzarella said. “Everybody and their brother are going to be gunning for us. The Indiana loss tells everyone we may be down this year and an awfully lot of those teams have scores to settle.”

Festering wounds might be a better description and this week’s opponent, the University of Michigan, is a prime example.

The Wolverines sport a wound that has been rubbed raw by BG since the Nixon administration.

“Michigan hasn’t beaten us since 1971, and they will be coming down here undefeated with the Michigan Collegiate title and Midwest seeding position on the line,” Mazzarella said. “Now that’s big-time. It’s too bad every game can’t have that much riding on it.”

Things weren’t looking as rosy for the Falcons after the Indiana loss.

“We’re a young team,” Mazzarella said. “It was important to find out how these guys were going to react to the Indiana loss and the challenge that lay ahead. A lesser team would have just folded up and blown away.”

Judging from the start of the Michigan State game, the issue was still in doubt.

Playing in the face of gale-force winds, as well as facing a determined Spartan squad, the Falcons found themselves backed up against their own goal line the first 10 minutes of the match.

Leading a ferocious defensive effort were flankers Brian Farrell and Bryan Kupper and lock Chris Campbell.

The Spartans, who were also trying to end a three-decade long losing streak of their own to BG, piled up on BG’s defense like waves on rocks, unable to punch over a try or even draw a penalty.

Their unsuccessful offensive thrust gave the Falcons a needed wake-up call.

With a workmanlike effort, the Falcons crafted a methodical attack that took the wind out of the equation as well as the Spartan defense.

Center J.D. Ackermann lit up the scoreboard when he took the last of four passes to score the only points the Falcons would need on a try in the corner.

Fly half Derek Imes raced 55 yards up the middle untouched to put in BG’s second try. Imes’ deadly accurate punts were a huge part of BG’s ability to keep the Spartans pinned down in their own end for three quarters of the contest.

Taking a 10 — 0 into the second half, the Falcons completed the whitewash of MSU in the first swirling sleet and snowfall of the season. Spartan coach Dave Poquette, who watched the weather destroy any chance of his club making a comeback stated, “We knew we had to score with the wind in the first half because BG and that offense of theirs was going to own the second half.”

Own it the Falcons did as BG kept the ball in tight with the forwards the rest of the match.

Scoring tries were prop Scott Holden on a try from five yards out which was matched just five minutes later by his partner Andrew Hughes.

After having plays instrumental in stopping the Spartans at the BG goal line in the game’s first moments, flankers Bryan Kupper and Brian Farrell finished the job with each scoring solo tries. Despite the wind, Imes hit on four of his six conversion attempts to make the final 38 — 0.

Michigan State put up more of a fight in the second match after BG raced out to a 22 — 0 lead, but the effort fell short as BG won 22 — 17.

A Bowling Green High School graduate, hooker Eric Nutter had his best day as a Falcon, scoring a pair of tries while center Brian Mifflin, flanker Mike Marquis also added tries.

Fly half John Woodman’s lone conversion made the final victory margin 22 — 17.

The Falcons will host the University of Michigan this Saturday at 1 p.m. in their final home game of the season. The Wolverines enter the game with a 6 — 0 record in the conference to match BG who is also undefeated in conference play.

“We’ve always known that Michigan was a sleeping giant,” stated BG assistant coach Chris Hopps. “It looks like the giant has awakened.”

At stake is the Michigan Collegiate Conference crown that BG has locked up for the past eight years as well as seeding position in the Midwest regional.

The match will start at 1 p.m. at the College Park rugby field.