The Marist men’s rugby team came out victorious on a windy championship Saturday with a 36-31 win over the United States Merchant Marine Academy. The team finishes with a perfect 6-0 record heading into nationals.
In a hard-fought game against an opponent who they have faced twice previously this season, the red foxes got the scoring going quickly with a try by sophomore forward TJ Finnegan just under three minutes into the match.
Marist would go on to dominate the first 10 minutes of play, keeping the mariners hemmed in close to their own goal line.
Marist continued to pour on chances, sparked by captain Federico Gubana utilizing his kicking ability to spring the wide backs deep into enemy territory. His one particular target was junior back Benji Hanneman.
“Fed is the best kicker in our league, so we like to do that and have chasers go and get the ball. Either backs or forwards can chase. It gives us better field position,” said sophomore forward Mohammed Diop.
Just before the midway point of the first half, USMMA was able to break out and score a try with a long run through the Marist line. That would tie the game, but not for long.
Just over a minute later, Benji Hanneman scored a try after good passing by Marist and the use of speed on the edge to break the short-lived deadlock.
Marist would continue their pressure with aggressive tackling and fluid movement to the ball. The players were in constant communication and Gubana was directing his teammates at every moment.
“He stands in the back and yells to shift left or right. He is our eyes on the field when our heads are down. We keep our ears open to listen to his calls,” said sophomore forward Tomas Falcon.
After a scrum win by USMMA, the Mariners broke out again and were striding to a try before Marist put in a hard tackle, resulting in an injured player and a stoppage of play. The USMMA player was able to continue playing, showing the toughness that the game requires.
For the next several minutes, both teams exchanged possession as the first half neared its end.
However, Marist extended their lead with about six minutes left in the half with a try by freshman forward Christian Gregor.
Three minutes later, USMMA scores a try of their own to keep the game close before halftime with a score of 17-14.
“At half the coaches wanted more fight out of us. Our defense needed to come together better,” says Falcon.
Going into the second half, Marist was on their heels, forced to deal with the early storm to keep their lead. The Mariners also utilized the kicking game to put the ball over the Marist line and advance their field position.
Ten minutes into the half, Marist had a mishap in the back as they could not handle a kick, and the mariners scooped and scored to shrink the red foxes’ lead.
Knowing they had tp respond; the Red Foxes do just that scoring a try of their own three minutes later by senior Albert Severini and another try by sophomore Braydon Downs in quick succession. Marist put themselves back into a comfortable position up 29-17 with 20 minutes left.
As USMMA was scraping to get back into the game, they were given a red card for an illegal high tackle. Now with over 15 minutes left, the Mariners were playing down a man.
Marist showed their depth with a key substitution to secure the win. Sophomore forward Mohammed Diop entered the game for senior Justin Webster and immediately made an impact, bruising mariner players with his power and strength with the ball.
“He told me to run as hard as I can and run forward,” said Diop about coming into the game.
The game’s momentum clearly shifted to the Red Foxes, and they were able to put more points on the board.
Soon after the red card, Marist scored again with senior captain Enrique Pesantez adding to the lead. Marist was in cruise control, but not for long.
USMMA scored a try with eight minutes left, cutting the lead to 36-24. And in the waning minutes, the Mariners scored again to make it a 36-31 game.
Marist was now scrambling to protect their lead with the championship at their fingertips. The crowd began to feel nervy as the momentum shifted.
“We got lazy and thought the game was over. We did not make our tackles effectively and had multiple penalties that cost us,” says Diop. “When we were under the poles, we fixed our mentality to lock in for the last couple minutes.”
In the dying seconds of the match, the Mariners looked to move the ball up the field on last time to possibly complete a comeback and upset victory. However, the home team was having none of it.
After a turnover in possession, Marist kicked the ball down the field to secure the win and complete an undefeated season.
Now moving into a play-in game to advance to nationals, Marist are unsure who their opponent is for next Saturday, Nov.12.
Edited by Jonathan Kinane
Photo from Jonathan Kinane