Vikings To Final Four !!!

Matt Tiscornia goes high to mess up a Long Beach lineout
We should have known, when, during the end of Friday’s training session at the University of Arizona Campus Rec Center’s rugby complex, Rincon Vista Rugby Pitch, there was a fly over of the field by one of our military’s legendary fighter planes. We heard the thing approaching and, of course, everyone looked up…and what did they behold? An A-10 Thunderbolt fighter, better known as a… “Warthog”.  Though the current version of Western’s Men’s Rugby team has re-taken the ‘Viking’ nickname, to some the Western Men’s Rugby team will always be known as the “Warthogs”.Whatever trepidation the team had regarding their participation in the USA Rugby Union West Regionals should have gone away with the “Warthog” sighting.But the guys didn’t grasp the significance of the “Warthog” omen even after they took Cal State – Chico apart on Saturday, 47-19.Maybe now, after thumping Cal State – Long Beach in the West Regional Championship match on Sunday, 39 – 26, they will start to believe.While the boys started slow in the game with Chico, waiting ’til they were down one score, and about 13 minutes into the game before Jake Romano touched down the first 5 of 47 points, the Vikings didn’t wait very long against Cal State – Long Beach.


Matt Jensen harassing Long Beach, as he did all day!

Rob Boenish, Western’s outstanding no. 8, who has been out since suffering a high ankle sprain in training the week before the NCRC Championship match against Eastern, made a couple of nice moves, broke a couple of tackles, and touched down a try little over 4 minutes into the game. Quinton Willms couldn’t hit the conversion and it was 5-0, Western.

Western’s forwards, despite being outweighed at each position by quite a bit, controlled the Long Beach pack for most of the game. Western’s scrums which were an issue in the first half against Chico were not a problem at all against Long Beach. The Viking forwards played an outstanding game.

Long Beach scored on a bit of weirdness about 13 minutes later when the referee awarded Long Beach a rarely given ‘penalty try’ because of repeated offside infringements or ‘hands in the ruck’ infringements by Western while defending against a frantic Long Beach scoring effort within a few yards of the Viking’s goal line. The 49’ers converted the gift try and led 7 – 5.

Western answered right back a couple of minutes later with an outstanding try by scrum half Matt Jensen, who had to be Western’s player of the weekend. Willms converted and the Vikings were back on top, 12 – 7, and rolling.

A little over a minute later Willms slotted about a twenty yard penalty kick for a 15 – 7 Viking lead.

And you could sense Long Beach’s frustration starting to build. The 49’ers couldn’t get anything going. They would start to move towards Western’s end and the Viking forwards would step up and take the ball away and/or The Viking backs would gain back all the territory lost (and then some) with well placed kicks that the 49’er back three couldn’t handle. They were “…getting beat like a rented mule…” and couldn’t do anything about it.

And Western wasn’t done with it’s first half scoring and this time it was Kevin Kinloch, the outstanding prop from South Whidbey High, who is headed to med school this fall, who scored a nice, driving try, which Willms converted, for a 22 – 7 lead with about 6 minutes to go in the first half.

At the half-time break you could hear the Long Beach coaches exhorting their team and the 49’ers must have taken their coaches message to heart as they came out storming to begin the second half. Long Beach used their big forward pack to pound the ball down deep into Western’s territory and looked like they were sure to score, but Western’s defense stiffened, took the ball away, were able to clear the ball with the help of a 49’er penalty, and the threat was done and the 49’ers lost a lot of their ‘steam’.

And then it was Western’s turn again as Jake Romano did well to run in another try in the right corner, Willms missed the difficult angle kick, and the score now stood 27 – 7.

Then, with about 23 minutes to go in the game, Western put together a beautiful try that was started by a break my Quinton Willms near midfield, who passed to Gio Trujillo, who passed to Nate Muir, who passed to Nick Solimano, who passed to Damon Rickard, who scored in the corner for the first try of his career. The hard running my Trujillio and Muir drew a lot of the opposition freeing up Solimano and Rickard to run the try in.

But a funny thing happend on the way to the bank…Long Beach started a comeback that looked a lot like the one that did in Arizona the day before. Arizona was up 17-5 against Long Beach and the 49’ers came back and scored three trys, the last being scored with no time left to upset Arizona.

So now Long Beach was trying to do the same thing against Western and Western was helping by committing penalties that allowed Long Beach to kick deep and set-up a lineout within 10 meters of the goal. Then they would use their big pack to create a rolling maul and pretty much walk in for a score. It was the only thing Western couldn’t stop all afternoon.

But a minute after Long Beach scored and converted to make it 32 – 14 Western, Matt Jensen took a quick tap after a penalty, about 30 yards from the goal, and ran it in for another Western try, which Willms would convert, for a 39 – 14 Western lead and leave Long Beach stunned at the suddenness of Jensen’s ansering score.

Surley now Long Beach would play out the string and accept defeat, right? Nope. Aided by a couple more frustrating penalties by Western, Long Beach pushed across two more scores using their tried and true tactic, leaving the score 39 – 26 with about 3 minutes left ot play.

But alas, Western’s defense stiffened and the clock did it’s ‘ticking away’ thing and Long Beach’s day was over.

It was a helluva a weekend performance by the Vikings. They came to Tucson Thursday not sure they belonged and left Sunday knowing not only that they belonged but that they had set the bar a little higher for the rest of these programs.

Matt Jensen, Gio Trujillo, and Quinton Willms had outstanding weekends as did Western’s forwards. Long Beach worked hard to shut down the Willms/Trujillo combination on Sunday but the pair were able to do their damage on defense, Sunday.

So now the Vikings have qualified for the Final Four to be held in Bowling Green, Ohio and hosted by Bowling Green University. But again, there is a question as to whether or not they will have the money to get there. The Tucson trip was about a $14,000 trip and the Final Four will pencil out somewhere north of $15,000 and probably closer to $20,000. Several alumni and friends stepped forward to help fund the Tucson trip but you can’t go to that well too often and the boys realize that.

The team/club officers and leaders met Monday afternoon and have a plan which they are pursuing and we’ll see if they can get it done. They have until Tuesday to secure the funds or let USA Rugby know they can’t make it to Bowling Green.

We’ll let you know what happens…