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Baylor claimed its first ever Red River title with a 25-22 comeback victory over LSU. With the win, the Bears will make their first ever DIA playoff appearance.
Baylor joined the Red River conference in 2014 and have come a long way since then. The Bears won one game in 2015 and went 3-3 in 2016 before capturing the title this season after garnering a 7-1 conference record.
“We have the raised the bar of accountability across the group,” said Baylor coach Mason Hering. “Their commitment to each other and their willingness to fight for each other for 80 minutes has been phenomenal.”
LSU and Baylor traded tries early in the match and the game remained 5-5 until around the 30-minute mark. Baylor went down a man to a yellow card, however, and LSU proceeded two score two unconverted tries and take a 19-5 halftime lead.
“When our guy went out it really changed the game for them. They not only got a lot of confidence from it but having the extra man really gave them an advantage,” Hering added.
Baylor bounced back after getting back to even strength. The Bears scored a try to cut the lead to 19-12 before the teams exchanged penalties to make it a 22-15 game. Baylor took over the game in final 20 minutes, kicking another penalty and scoring the game-winning try late in the game.
“In the second half we continued to be relentless on defense and that allowed us to put pressure on them and cause mistakes,” said Hering. “On the attacking front, we put together some nice phases and we just started clicking and the confidence started to grow.”
Hering was incredibly proud of the team and credits the team attitude for the comeback.
“The big turning point in our comeback was the never say die, the fight, the confidence we have in each other. We were just controlled, never got too worked up and just went back to work,” an excited Hering told Rugby Today. “That is the defining characteristic of this team. I have been a part of a lot of teams but we fight and we outwork other teams and that is what ultimately what won us this game.”
Now Baylor will set its sites on the DIA playoffs. Baylor won the 2001 DII national title but has not seen many playoff appearances since. It will be a tough test of the program, but one it is happy to take on.
“This is the biggest moment for Baylor rugby since then,” Hering said of the win. “We are just excited to be a part of it and this is a testament to what we are trying to build down here.”