National Small College Rugby Organization LLC: Latest News: St. John’s Prevails to Capture NSCRO Central Region Crown and Earn Place in the 2014 National Championship

SJU vs USI Scrum
St. John's vs Southern Indiana with Referee Josh Houston. Photo by S. Cohen
Tuesday, November 19
St. John’s Prevails to Capture NSCRO Central Region Crown and Earn Place in the 2014 National Championship

Report by Steve Cohen, NSCRO President

Nov. 16-17, 2013 – Elkhart, Indiana

With the weather more than less cooperating, the NSCRO Central Region Championship was held at the Moose Rugby Grounds in Elkhart, Indiana this past weekend. With the defending National Champions, St. John’s University (Collegeville, MN), looking to return to Infinity Park next, it was the Eagles of the University of Southern Indiana (Evansville, IN) who stepped up to meet the Johnnies head on in the final.

On Saturday, the first semifinal clash between St. John’s and the NSCRO Great Lakes Cup Champ, Wittenberg University (Springfield, OH) proved to be “no contest” with St. John’s scoring early and often en route to an 82-0 win. Wittenberg fought hard and never gave up but the skillset of their opponents could not be matched. In the second semifinal, Franciscan University (Steubenville, OH), the 3rd place finisher in the 2012 NSCRO Championship, were aiming for a return visit to Infinity Park, found themselves on the back foot for most of the first half as the scrappy USI Eagles led by tries from No. 8 Aaron Gehlhausen and winger Tyler Duke took a 14-0 lead. However, in the last 5 minutes of the half, the Barons pack started to dominate play and with tries by Connor McCaffrey and Justin Luther both converted by Tom Allen found the match tied at half 14-14. An early 2nd half PK by Tom Allen put the Barons in front 17-14. Both sides found themselves on the wrong side of the whistle from referee Bryan Harshbarger, which at times led to yellow cards. USI flyhalf, Doug Rose, tied the match with a penalty goal at 17-17 but it was their scrumhalf Tyler Pipes scintillating run for a try that gave the Eagles a 24-17 lead. The Barons pressured the Eagles but their strong goal line stand kept the score unchanged. A late try by Berto Campos put the match out of reach and USI’s 31-17 victory meant they would face St. John’s in Sunday’s final.

Unfortunately, Saturday’s match left Wittenberg low in numbers due to injuries and unable to field a full side. Franciscan graciously accepted the forfeit. With an early morning downpour that let up just before the rescheduled 10am kickoff time, the weather was actually quite fine for the final. St. John’s found USI was ready to play. It wasn’t until midway through the first half that the Johnnies finally started to gain control led by line breaks from Tony Bauer, center Charlie Peterson and fullback Joe Thompson’s runs to take a 22-0 lead. A late first half try by Berto Campos made it 22-5 at half time. The second half was a different story as the Eagles showed why they belonged in the final holding St. John’s scoreless but unfortunately could only manage a second try by Campos. The match ended with a score of 22-10 with both teams able to hold their heads high after a great rugby encounter. Speaking with USI Head Coach, Kurt Murrell afterwards, his pride in his club could not have been higher.

The event was run for NSCRO by Jack Matthews. During the post-final awards ceremony, in addition to the team trophies for 1st and 2nd place, Jack presented the MVP Trophy to USI flyhalf Doug Rose along with the NSCRO “Heart & Soul” Award to St. John’s Tony Bauer and USI’s Adam Kunkel, as selected by their coaching staff. This Award of a match ball, which is to be signed by their teammates, is given to a player who is an inspiration to his teammates by his dedication and unselflessness to the club on and off the pitch. NSCRO salutes these fine young student-athletes.

Losing 9 starting seniors from last year’s National Champion team, St. John’s continued dominance in the Minnesota RFU and winning the NSCRO Central Region Championship is a testimony to head coach Dan Franklin and his coaching staff’s ability to teach the game. How far will they go in the 2014 National Championship remains to be seen.

This was the first NSCRO event held at the highly regarded Moose Rugby Ground. As NSCRO President, I decided to make the trip from New Jersey to see the facility first-hand. I was glad I did as it is a first-class operation with excellent fields that are very well-maintained that have an underground drainage system that keeps the playing surface in good condition after heavy rains, as was the case on Sunday.

NSCRO thanks facility manager Bart Bottorff and his staff of Larry Smith and Tom Shelley for their outstanding hosting of this event and NSCRO looks forward to holding future events here. Special thanks to head trainer, Anne Michinski and her staff, for taking great care of the players.

NSCRO wishes to thank Jeff Newport, Chair of the Indiana RRS for his support along with referee Bryan Harshbarger, ARs Ian Wulfsohn and Dan Tuisaula for their fine work along with USAR Referee National Panel appointee, Josh Houston.