Men's DI crown earned by Mystic River in heavy-hitting Final against Austin Blacks

GLENDALE, Colo. - The Austin Blacks suffered a second consecutive USA Rugby Emirates Airline Club Men's Division I National Championship defeat Saturday, a 45-33 losing effort to Mystic River.

The final match of the day at Infinity Park was a thriller from start to finish, with momentum swinging back and forth through 80 minutes. For Austin there will be disappointment, but Mystic's title has been a year in the making following a Semifinal defeat to eventual Champion New York Athletic Club in 2015.

"This means everything," Mystic River Josh Smith said. "We really thought we had a shot this year. We had some players turn down PRO contracts for this moment. When we got through [the Quarterfinals and Semifinals in] Pittsburgh there was a lot of talk about what these guys gave up, and we got the job done today."

The first half was a time for feeling each other out, and Mystic River sent Austin reeling with fast hands and an even faster No. 13. Alatasi Tupou - Most Valuable Player in the Final - ran a line opposite that of his team's attack and shook off three defenders to open the scoring just four minutes into the match.

The Blacks kept within striking distance of the upstarts from the northeast, matching the first try with a penalty goal five minutes later. Jared Collinson's break in the 12th minute was supported by Evin O'Driscoll, who received the offload far enough from the Austin sweeper to put Mystic River in front at 12-3.

Austin forced the issue with a nine-point deficit, and Levi Kereti sent a pass out to the wing from five meters as he was tripped up by a defender for Pierce Reed to score in the corner. Blacks fly half Stephen Jones used his slick pass to free Matthew Radzavich for the lead-changing score minutes later, 15-12.

Radzavich scored his second before the halftime whistle, and the teams combined for three penalty kicks for a 26-18 score at the break.

"We got to halftime and there wasn't a lot to sort out," Smith said following the match. "We felt good about where we were at - we just needed to clean it up. We had 60-meter mistakes costing us left and right. Ball in hand we're a deadly team, especially on a track like [Infinity Park's], and eventually we got it there."

The game was blown wide open in the second half. Mystic River thought it had turned a bad Austin turnover into points before match official Kurt Weaver checked the replay at Infinity Park, but found the try zone, anyway, in the 50th minute through prop Luke Schlotman.

Mystic had found its stride with the attack, which drew the score to 26-25 in favor of Austin, and the Blacks gave their opponent momentum with a dangerous tackle from Jones on Stephen Dazzo in the 52nd minute warranting a yellow card.

A flick of the wrist from Robbie Malneek near the touch line sent the ball to O'Driscoll in just enough space to score with the man-advantage, and Mystic River took the lead at 30-26. The Blacks only conceded the one try with their fly half in the bin, but O'Driscoll extended the lead with his third try of the match. The center ran a line in the middle of the field and snuck through four defenders to dot down under the posts for a 37-26 advantage.

Austin regained its composure to get a handle on the ball, and flanker Paul Benade went over the line for a 37-33 score with only 10 minutes remaining in the match. Tupou calmed things down for his team with a penalty goal to restore a seven-point advantage at 40-33.

Substitute Christopher Frazier nearly got in on the scoring action late in the second half only to be stopped short on a lengthy run five meters from the in-goal area. O'Driscoll was there to take the ball from the ruck, and switched directions to attack the space and dot down over the line to bring the final score to 45-33.

Austin Blacks | Men's DI National Championship
1. Troy Mussey
2. John Clery
3. Samuel Rooke
4. Tyler Terrazone
5. Timothy Howard
6. Conor Bertrand
7. Paul Benade
8. Ngwako Ralepelle
9. Zak Triplett
10. Stephen Jones
11. Pierce Reed
12. Austin Byrne
13. Levi Kereti
14. Matthew Radzavich
15. Antonio Winn
16. Paul Niewoudt
17. Joseph Taute
18. Eric Martinez
19. David Goss
20. Christopher Parker
21. Diego Sotelo
22. David Comerford
23. Rickey Johnson

Mystic River Rugby | Men's DI National Championship
1. Chris O'Donnel
2. Michael Bozza
3. Luke Schlotman
4. David McKenna
16. Joe Hastry
6. Jon Kokinda
7. Joseph Shurmaitis
8. Sean Rafferty
9. Gabe Perrone
10. Robbie Malneek
11. Stephen Dazzo
12. Evin O'Driscoll
13. Alatasi Tupou
14. Vincent Daley
15. Jared Collinson
18. Todd Theodat
19. Diego Maquieira
24. Andrew Burns
23. Gianni Miceli
21. Michael Armstrong
20. Franco Liebenberg
17. Nathan Fox
22. Christopher Frazier