The Franciscan University rugby team found themselves on the winning end of the Central East Region Cup Championship, as they overcame Taylor University on Sunday in a 45-17 victory characterized by 31 second-half points.
Play opened on a chilly afternoon at Franciscan University, conveniently the host site for the championship showdown. Scoring started from the onset of the competition, as the men amassed a 14-0 lead after only 15 minutes of play. Sophomore forward David Prezzia, a bright spot for the team all season long, registered the match’s first try, and junior prop Matthew Hostutler converted the kick immediately afterwards. Freshmen PJ Ernst and Hostutler combined for another try and kick respectively only minutes later.
For as much as the Franciscan offense is rightly due credit for their scoring successes, it was the Barons’ defensive efforts which put the ball into their hands. After trimming the Baron lead to only two at halftime, Taylor University sought to take the lead after the break.
“At halftime,” said Head Coach Daniel Kramer, in a post-game interview with the university’s Athletic Department, “we made a mental adjustment.” Kramer further cited a passionate halftime address from junior Josh Leatherby in which the prop “was direct and told everyone to get out of their heads and to get back to Franciscan rugby.”
True to form, the Franciscan defense held strong, allowing junior lock Jacob Borden to record a try immediately after play resumed in the second half. Hostutler converted his third consecutive kick of the game to give Franciscan University a 21-12 lead.
After allowing another try, the Barons finally closed the door on any Taylor comeback hopes. Senior Paul Deschler pushed his way into the tryzone to extend the Barons’ lead to 28-17, a lead further extended to 35-17 after game MVP Leatherby registered a try of his own.
When junior fly-half Terren Huck and Hostutler recorded tries of their own, the game was put well out of reach. Five minutes after Hostutler’s score, the game expired, and Franciscan University was officially crowned as the 2017 Central East Region Cup champion.
The Franciscan University men’s rugby team will next face Iowa Central on April 7, as they contend for the Region 3 Championship. The winner of that competition will be afforded a spot in the NSRCO final four. Until then, the ruggers have more than earned a well deserved respite.