GLENDALE, Colo. – The moment finally arrived when the dedication and preparation paid off for Franciscan University's rugby team. Displaying the best rugby seen in the program's 11 years, the Barons defeated the University of North Florida Deadbirds 29-5 in the National Small College Rugby Organization national championship finals.
The Barons are now No. 3 in the nation.
The entire match was a hard-fought battle, but after Saturday's semifinal loss to Salve Regina University (29-20), the Barons were refocused and ready to win.
"They (UNF) were a good team," said senior co-captain David Cup. "It can be difficult to focus on the whole field, but we concentrated on spreading out and defending laterally and vertically. We had to keep in mind everything we learned in practice."
Head coach Mark Hanrahan noted just that. "The guys were resilient today. They came out and played the type of rugby they knew they could play; the way we taught them and the way they've played all year."
Despite several seniors suffering injuries during yesterday's match, every starter was back on the pitch today.
"Before the game I wasn't sure I would play," said co-captain Michael Brasie. "I woke up in so much pain. But the guys said they needed me—and it was my last game as a senior—so I played through the pain."
Brasie went on to earn the second Baron try of the day.
Senior Tony Gayed was the first to score for the Barons, responding to UNF's try 10 minutes into the competition. Tom Allen rounded out the score following both tries with successful conversion kicks, leading the Barons to 14-5 at halftime. An impressive feat considering the team was down two men. Cup and Tim Knob were penalized and sent to the "sin bin" for not rolling off of a ruck and playing off sides, respectively.
The Barons continued their strong offensive and defensive play during the second half. At one point the Barons held UNF at the 5-meter line for 12 minutes. "It was the best defensive stand I've ever seen," said Hanrahan.
"The seniors played the best game of their career for their last game," noted Hanrahan. "Kay, Cup, Brasie, Lewis, (Jonathon) Cardinal, all of them. I am so happy that they get to graduate and say that they went out on a national stage and showed everyone what Franciscan Rugby is all about."
"All our hard work over the past four years has paid off," noted Brasie. "It feels good going home with a win. Third place is monumental for this program—something we can build upon next year."
Cup agreed. "It's very gratifying that all the work we've put in has paid off," he said. "We accomplished this together. The reason why I play, and have continued to play, is because of the team. Our bond is something no one else can ever fully understand or appreciate.
"I also want to say how much I appreciate all the support from our fans and the administration," Cup added. "We appreciate all the time and work they put in to make this happen."
And the feeling is mutual.
"What strikes me the most is the faithfulness of the boys," said Chris Ledyard, director of Athletics at Franciscan. "Faithfulness to the mission of the school and to each other. They are committed to being better athletes—never saying 'it's just a sport' but really becoming better at what they do."
The Barons finalized their season 14-1-2. After winning the Allegheny Rugby Union championship title in November, the Barons battled their way to No. 3 out of 151 NSCRO members nationwide.
"We're coming back here next year!" said Hanrahan.