Defeat in its first match in the Elite 8 tournament in Jonesboro, Ark., ended the USF rugby club team’s dreams of participating in the national championship game.
The Bulls fell 27-12 to Sam Houston Saturday and in the process lost the chance to be National Collegiate Division II champions. In their consolation match the following day, the Bulls edged out a nailbiter, coming out 29-26 winners over Claremont. The Bulls finish the season as the No. 6 Division II team and expect to be ranked as a Division I outfit next season.
Jerry Morrone, USF head coach, said he did not want to detract from the performance of Sam Houston, but he believed the Bulls’ poor performance had gifted them the victory.
“They are a team we could have beaten,” Morrone said. “Everyone of (the team) to a man believes we could have beaten them.”
Too many Bulls players had underperformed, Morrone said, and the team had failed to execute in crucial areas.
“We didn’t play with the intensity that we showed previously,” Morrone said. “There were defensive breakdowns, offensive breakdowns, miscommunications.”
The Bulls dominated the first 30 minutes, building a 12-3 lead and pinning Sam Houston back in its own 22. However, two defensive lapses, resulting in two unconverted tries, allowed Sam Houston to go in at the interval with a 13-12 lead.
The second half was scoreless for 25 minutes, at which point the Bulls missed a crucial opportunity to score when they knocked-on in the try zone. It was probably the turning point of the match, Morrone said.
“We didn’t quite recover from that,” he said.
Bolstered by the Bulls’ failure to retake the lead, Sam Houston added two further tries and a conversion to clinch the win.Sunday’s consolation game gave the Bulls the opportunity to regain some pride, which they achieved, running out 29-26 winners in a close-fought encounter against Claremont. Leading by 10 at halftime, the Bulls held on in the second half to claim the victory.
“We came out a lot better intensity-wise,” Morrone said. “By the midpoint of the second half, we had become a little complacent and let them back in the game, but we had enough to hold on.”Morrone said the team’s achievements this season represented real progress.
“Our goal was to be in the Elite 8 and we did it,” Morrone said. “And we actually did a little bit better than that. With our success this year the (league organizers) will put us in Division I.”
Although the Bulls will lose several key players to graduation, Morrone said he expects next season’s team to at least emulate the success achieved this year.
“We’ll use the fall to introduce new players to the squad and to try players in new positions,” he said.
“We set the bar higher, now we want to maintain it.”