The rugby players on the KU pitch were amped to begin a fierce battle between two exceptional opponents on Saturday, Apr. 6. The Golden Bears faced a strong sixth-ranked Penn State team. KU with the 10 ranked spot upset the Nittany Lions, 31-21, to improve their ranking and earn a seed in the upcoming rugby playoffs.
It was brutal from the jump; neither team was gaining the advantage as the ball travelled back and forth just before the try line on either side. Both teams knew a place in the National D1-A playoffs was at stake. Competition escalated so high that an opposing player was carted off on a stretcher after a devastating Golden Bears tackle. Medical personnel assured the player was fine afterwards.
When the action resumed after medical assistants were safely on the sidelines, KU came out with a spark. Their hits were even harder, and the Lions were slowing down. Suddenly, from fifty yards away, Robert Stortz broke away from the pack. He weaved in and out to touch the ball down for KU’s first points. By breaking tackles, Stortz made an easy conversion attempt for Tim Acker, who booted it in to put KU up 7-0.
Holes just looked bigger for Stortz against the Lions. He travelled the sidelines in hope to reach the endzone for a second time. He would with an excellent pitch from Gareth Lourens who took on two oncoming tacklers before dumping the ball off. Acker again hit a conversion.
Still, victory didn’t seem certain. Penn State quickly scored after KU to settle the half at 14-7. Penn State seemed dominant on their scoring drive. KU couldn’t tackle and seemed rather sluggish, which stirred up some inspirational yelling from the sidelines by coaches and fans alike.
Like the first half, the second started like an even tug-of-war match. Neither side budged an inch until Penn State gave in. Mike Lawrenson broke through Penn State’s uninspired tackling to improve the score to 19-7. Soon after, Bruce Dolan made his first, but not last, appearance to push the score to 24-7.
Just when it seemed certain that KU would win, they let up two goals within four minutes of each other. This made the last couple minutes much more entertaining as the score was just 24-21 for the Golden Bears. Dolan took the ball from Niku Kruger in the waning minutes. He squeezed through just enough space and gave a final dive in the try line.
Other reporters described the 31-21 victory as “the best rugby game ever played at Luckenbill Ave.” This could also be the most important game too. The win sealed their position as second best team in the east and a spot in the National D1-A playoffs. Additionally, the win moved KU to the sixth spot on the rankings, surpassing Penn State who now holds the eighth spot.
Head Coach Doc Jones commented on the game on the Rugby website, “I’ll be glad when this game is over, so I can go on with my life.”
There is still much more to come for KU men’s rugby club. This is the first playoff appearance for the young KU rugby team. The playoffs will be held in Greensboro, NC on April 27 and May 4. The finals will take place at the Lincoln Financial field and will be nationally televised on NBC, on June I and 2.
Though their opponent has yet been determined, KU has an idea of who their upcoming opponent in the playoffs may be. If Ohio State wins their division, KU must defeat them to play in the quarterfinals. However, if Wisconsin wins the division, KU will move straight to the quarterfinals to meet with either Life or Arkansas State University. ASU is currently ranked first and Life is second. Ohio State is no slouch either with a tenth place ranking.
KU will not take a break before playoffs commence. They will travel to Davenport University this coming Saturday, Apr. 13. The game means nothing in regards to the playoffs, but the Golden Bears will certainly want a solid win moving into their first playoff appearance.
By Frank Lippincott