UC Davis reclaims D1AA title with late try

MORAGA, Calif. - The University of California, Davis, proved its 2015 Men's Division 1AA title was not a fluke at the 2016 USA Rugby College 15s National Championships Saturday, beating Notre Dame College, 17-13, at Saint Mary's College.

Davis traveled fewer than 70 miles for the D1AA Final, as did a large supporters' section that took up most of the Saint Mary's Stadium seating Saturday. It was Notre Dame College that gave members of the crowd something to cheer about early, however, forcing Davis to defend by keeping ball in hand through the Aggies' aerial game.

The Falcons did well to not give up much territory in fielding the Aggies' kicks, with several not finding touch following the referee's whistles. The rain played havoc with ball-handling and footing on the pristine pitch in Moraga, but Logan Weinstock spun around multiple defenders in the 12th minute to get to the try line and John Santiago finished off the attack with the dot-down in-goal.

Watch the Men's D1AA National Championship replay on The Rugby Channel

Though the conversion was unsuccessful, Notre Dame fly half Cory Graham extended the lead to 8-0 with a penalty goal in the 18th minute. As the teams familiarized themselves with each other, more players began to challenge their opposite numbers while not discounting the team aspect of their respective attacks.

Sensing the unrest in the stands with Davis' side of the scoreboard reading 'zero' nearing the end of the first half, the Aggies looked to kick to touch after Notre Dame conceded a penalty. The kick, again, did not find its intended target, but a chase by the Aggies saw the Falcons dragged into touch within 10 meters of their try line.

The ensuing lineout was won by the California-based team, and fly half Ryan Morgan chipped the ball over the defensive line and dove for it at the try line to beat Graham and cut into the deficit at 8-7.

A strong supporters' section for UC Davis cheers on its team at Saint Mary's Stadium
Karen Drinkwater

The defending champs kept their newfound momentum going into the second half, even taking the pitch before the match officials were ready to resume the proceedings. The Aggies were ready when the Falcons dropped the ball in the 50th minute, with Niall Smith toeing it from the Notre Dame 22 to the in-goal area. He chased, but it was teammate Joshua Farnsworth who reached it first for the go-ahead score.

The Falcons did not let the 12-8 score line last for Davis. Wing RoNeil Reynolds kept in a kick from the Aggies at his team's 10 and sent a wide pass under pressure to Marcus Tupuola in the middle of the field. The full back broke a few tackles with the Aggies leaving gaps in their line, but Davis kept Notre Dame from crossing the try line.

Davis turned the pressure back onto its opponent in the middle part of the second half, but a 64th-minute counter from the Falcons saw the "home" team's advantage erased. With a lineout within 10 meters of their own try line, the Falcons worked the ball through hands to Weinstock, who ran more than 60 meters before offloading to inside center Zach Forro with Davis defenders in tow. Forro was able to get out of three tackles before dotting down over the try line through another tackler to restore the Notre Dame lead at 13-12.

Facing defeat with 10 minutes remaining for the second time in a championship match in as many years, Davis stuck to the game plan and went forward in attack. The Falcons conceded a late penalty in front of the posts in the 73rd minute, but rather than take points and a new possession, the Aggies went for the win. Guilherme Maia Silva received the first pass from the tap, catching the Falcons off guard, and stepped Notre Dame wing Evan Bradshaw to put his side in the lead at 17-13.

Davis stifled Notre Dame in the final five minutes and even played some extra rugby through the 80th minute before kicking the ball into touch to draw the final whistle.

"I think it's quite an accomplishment," Davis Head Coach Kal Incendy said of his team's second title in two years. "They dig deep. That's all I can say. We practiced and preached competitive excellence - knowing and being able to dig deep when we need it - all year, and that's what these guys did."

Davis lock Ian McCaffrey was recognized as the Most Valuable Player of the Final with influential tackles and decision-making with the winning side.