By Douglas Strother
Rebounding from last week?s loss to Air Force, the BYU rugby team took it to archrival Utah in style, with a ferocious 32-19 win at Helaman Field on Saturday, March 13, 2004.
“When you?re on your home field, playing for the playoffs and with the rivalry, there is a lot of meaning in the game,” said forward captain Mike Poelman. “I?m so proud of the guys, just for how they stepped up and faced the challenge.”
The powerful Ute forward pack dominated possession for much of the first half, but it was the Cougars who got out to an early 6-0 lead after two penalty goals by fullback Paul Heapy. Soon after, outside center John Blaser dazzled the crowd with an 80 meter run to score the game?s first try, extending the Cougars? lead to 11 points.
Not surprisingly, the Utes fought back with a try of their own after constant pressure on the Cougars? line. A second Utes? try came when they charged down a kick inside the Cougars? in-goal area [equivalent to an end zone] and took a slim 12-11 lead going into the half-time break. Despite the deficit, the coaching staff insisted on sticking to the game plan in the second half.
“At the expense of not getting as much ball to our backs, we kicked it a little more,” said BYU assistant coach Kendall Erickson. “We did some things to help us play high percentage rugby.”
Standout performer John Blaser started where he left off in the first half, scoring a try that would put the Cougars back in front 18-12.
“Blaser, the guy is amazing,” Poelman said. “I just put my finger up and watched him run and hoped he made it.”
Poelman followed suit with a try of his own, bursting past several would-be tacklers to give the Cougars a healthy 25-12 advantage.
The Utes weren?t done though, and replied seconds later with a try after an inspirational run by captain Steve Anderson. The Cougars would not be denied however, as Blaser intercepted a pass and ran 70 meters to complete his hat trick of tries.
The Cougars? win ensures them of a spot in the national tournament, and makes them the holders of the inaugural Canterbury of New Zealand Wasatch Cup.
BYU head coach Jared Akenhead said he is pleased with the team?s intensity level and only hopes they can continue to improve.
“Each week we need to become a better team,” Akenhead said. “And I think we will do that to the point where if we make it to the final four, we?ll be the best team we can be.”