STEUBENVILLE - The Barons used a 31-point second half to power their way past Taylor to 45-17 win in the Central East Region Cup championship game, Sunday afternoon.
Franciscan opened the scoring early in the first, taking a 14-0 lead in the first 15 minutes of action. Sophomore David Prezzia got the Barons on the board first with a hard-fought try and junior Matthew Hostutler converted the kick after to give Franciscan a 7-0 lead. Two possessions later, freshman PJ Ernst had a wide open field in front of him and dashed into the tryzone and Hostutler converted his second kick of the game to give FUS a 14-0 lead.
Taylor answered with their first try and conversion of the game on its next possession to cut the Baron lead to 14-7. Taylor got in the tryzone for one more score in the half but missed the conversion as Franciscan held a slim 14-12 lead going into the break.
"We had a rough first half," remarked head coach Dan Kramer. "We allowed Taylor to dictate the pace and style of play. We had a couple of phases, but for the most part, Taylor dominated possession and territory."
Following the intermission, Jacob Borden got the Barons out to a 21-12 lead with his first try of the game and Hostutler came through with his third conversion of the game. Taylor quickly answered to make it 21-17 with 30 minutes to play, but it was all Franciscan for the rest of the game.
"At halftime, we made a mental adjustment," continued Coach Kramer. "Josh Leatherby unloaded on everyone during halftime. He was direct and told everyone to get out of their heads and to get back to Franciscan rugby. He lifted everyone's spirits and determination. He basically re-wrote the script for today – and it worked.
"We came out firing on all cylinders in the second half. We were able to swing the ball wide and make better decisions in contact and close play."
Senior Paul Deschler pushed the Baron lead to 28-17 with another Hostutler conversion after the try and MVP of the game, Josh Leatherby, fought his way into the tryzone for the Barons' fifth try of the game and the 35-17 lead.
Junior Terren Huck and Hostutler put the final touches on the scoring with a pair of late second half tries, Hostutler's coming with less than five to play, to seal the 45-17 win and the Region Cup championship.
"I have nothing but good things to say about Taylor," remarked Coach Kramer. "They gave us the toughest match of our season. They forced us to think throughout the match and gave us looks that we weren't used to."
Following the match, the coaches and NSCRO officials named Leatherby the MVP of the tournament. His leadership on the pitch carried the Barons to the regional championship.
"Other coaches and the NSCRO officials didn't know about his halftime take, but they saw his leadership and skills on the field. He had a great second half and made great offloads in contact and was able to punch in a score himself."
Following the match, Coach Kramer praised his senior leadership. "All of our seniors had a great last game on Memorial Field. James Weiss, Christian Bittner, Paul Deschler, and David Zamora played their hearts out and it showed."
Franciscan will now go on to face Iowa Central in the Region 3 Championship on April 7 for a spot in the NSCRO final four. More information on the location, and time of the match will be made available at a later date. Be sure to check www.franciscanathletics.com for regular updates on the Barons continue their quest of a national championship.