The men’s rugby club at Slippery Rock University competed in the Allegheny Rugby Union’s Small College Championship on Saturday, defeating Franciscan University 22-12 and advancing to the Midwest Championships.
Franciscan spent much of the first half defending their try zone, but it was not until 27 minutes into the 40-minute half that Aiden O’Shea put his team on the scoreboard. Finally successful offensively but unable to clear the conversion kick, Slippery Rock led the game 5-0.
The game quickly intensified after the first score. Franciscan promptly broke out of their shell and regained the points previously given up. The Barons took the lead 7-5 with a try and successful conversion with just five minutes remaining in the first half.
Franciscan only celebrated for a short time due to Slippery Rock bouncing back before the end of the half. Moments before half-time, a Franciscan player earned a yellow card for a high tackle against senior Rock Rugby player Anthony Houston.
Head Coach Matt Heasley said a heads-up play by Houston put the team in the lead during a crucial game-time moment. The Rock collected a penalty try and automatic conversion, gaining the advantage once again, and finishing the half 12-7.
Anticipation was growing from both sides of the field at the beginning of the second half. The score of the game was too close for comfort. Both teams were seemingly giving their all.
Nearly 15 minutes into the second half, O’Shea scored again, this time assisted by junior Josh Bonetti. The successful try and missed conversion kick tallied five more points to SRU’s score. Five minutes later, Bonetti added to the score, now 22-7, after an assist by freshman Keith Perrotto.
Rock Rugby held their own for most of the half, but Franciscan did not back down. Penalties and fatigue seemed to start weighing down the Rock, who finished the game two players short due to yellow cards in the last ten minutes. With just five minutes left in the game, the Barons broke double digits 22-12, adding a try but missing the conversion kick.
“It was a violent game but so much fun to watch,” said Heasley. “I’m so proud of the effort the boys put in today.”
After beating Franciscan, Rock Rugby clutched their spot in the Midwest Championships and will be heading to St. Louis for the second consecutive year. This time though, they are ranked #10 in the nation.
“This is a monumental win for our rugby program,” said Heasley. “Franciscan has a long tradition of high-level rugby and is nationally ranked almost every year. To beat them twice in one season is definitely a feather in our cap.”
It has been over a decade since the club won a conference championship, even with their strong run in the playoffs last year. Being undefeated in the conference is new to the players on the rugby team at SRU, who faced one loss all season to D2 rival, Indiana University of Pennsylvania.
Rock Rugby will be traveling to compete in National Collegiate Rugby’s Midwest Championships in St. Louis later this month to face off against Saint John’s University on November 19, 2022.