Rugby advances to championship

Eagles complete comeback against Huskies to earn trip to Seattle

By Josh Friesen, Sports Editor

Winger Tanner Hoskins sprints down the sideline with Huskies in tow. His jaunt set up the Eagles’ final score to give them the lead and ultimately the victory. Photo by Josh Friesen


The dismal weather was analogous to the hopes the Eagles had at prevailing during the closing minutes of their semifinal game against the Washington Huskies.

Then the sun came out, and Cameron Bowers scored a try, giving the men’s rugby club the lead. With the 19-15 win, the Eagles advanced to the Northwest Collegiate Rugby Conference Championship Game in Seattle.

The match started well for the Eagles as Justin Dreyer scored first to give his team a 5-0 edge. Forwards captain Eric Populous scored shortly after. Populous’ conversion attempt was good, which gave the Eagles a 12-0 advantage.

That was when Washington took the momentum as well as the lead. After scoring themselves to make the score 12-5, the Huskies mounted a strong goal-line stand to keep the Eagles from scoring a try to end the first half.

In the second half, the Eagles’ offense remained stagnant as the driving wind, rain and occasional hail made it difficult to move the ball efficiently.

“We couldn’t kick it, because if we kicked it’s going to go backwards,” first year head coach David Ratcliff said. “We had to run it out, and they knew that. So it was very hard for us to get out of our own zone.”

With about five minutes to go in the match, winger Tanner Hoskins caught a pitch from Populous and tore down the sideline, giving the Eagles one last shot at punching the ball in to score. After a scrum, Bowers delivered.

“[Bowers] made a great play, and he scored right on the post,” Ratcliff said. “Then he got crushed by everyone on top of him.”
According to Populous, the team did not waver after Washington scored three consecutive times. After the Huskies’ third score, the Eagles huddled around each other.

“I just kind of let everyone know, ‘Look, we’ve practiced this every single day for practice. We’ve practiced goal line stands, we’ve practiced rucking for 45 minutes every practice,” Populous said. “I made a great break. … Justin Dreyer was on my tail, came and made the break and scored.”

Washington rallied back to get close to scoring, but time expired.

“You kind of want to give in when they’re riding your line,” Ratcliff said. “You think, ‘Well they’re bound to score eventually.’

These guys never think that. They always think that they can keep fighting and they did.”
Ratcliff joked that letting Washington hold the lead so late in the game was part of the Eagles’ strategy.

“We planned to give them a lead and give them a full sense of security, and then we would come back and beat them right at the end,” Ratcliff said. “We’ve been planning it for a week.”

Next for the Eagles is the NCRC Championship Game on April 13 against Western Washington University, who has dominated the conference and handed Eastern a 44-12 loss on March 16. WWU is coming off a semifinal blowout win against Oregon, 58-10.

The victor of the championship game will go on to compete in the Sweet 16 of Nationals in Texas.

According to Populous, the team had not had much rugby knowledge before Ratcliff took over.

“We have a lot of athletes. We have a lot of heart. We don’t have a lot of rugby skill,” Populous said. “He just hammered us into great rugby players.”