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After being down by eight points at halftime, top-ranked BYU scored 22 points in the second half to outpace No. 4 Saint Mary’s 32-28 in Moraga, Calif. Saturday. It was a tough, hard-fought match between two National Champions, BYU the two-time defending Varsity Cup champion and St. Mary's the D1A titleist.
BYU is undefeated in six games this season and stretches its winning streak to 18 games dating back to a 2014 loss at Saint Mary’s. The Cougars avenged that result a couple of weeks later, 35-21, in Provo, forcing a draw in the season series. The Gaels will visit the Cougars March 14 to settle this season's brace.
“St. Mary’s did a really good job in first half of starving us of possession,” said BYU assistant coach Wayne Tarawhiti. “They kept the ball for most of the first half. When we did get our opportunites, we were able to score. It was very physical, we were expecting that. We knew it was going to be a fast paced game and so had prepared.”
BYU was first on the board in the fourth minute with a penalty kick by flyhalf Jonathan Linehan. The Cougars extended the lead to 10-0 after a kick by scrumhalf Luke Mocke and a turnover – fullback Ryan Blaser recovered to touch the ball down under the posts.
The Gaels responded with 18 unanswered points to take the lead at halftime. Fullback Cooper Maloney scored both tries for Saint Mary’s, which sandwiched two penalty kicks by center Dylan Audsley. The first started from a lineout that was whipped out wide where Maloney found the inside gap to scamper in for the score. The second came from a pop kick by scrumhalf Holden Yungert, which was recovered by Audsley then offloaded to Maloney for the try. Audsley made the conversion on the second try, and Saint Mary’s held an 18-10 lead at the half.
BYU came out of the half on fire, scoring 15 points in the first nine minutes, including the first 50 seconds after the whistle. Following a turnover by SMC, the Cougars spun the ball out wide after a lineout where reserve fullback Josh Whippy broke the defense for the try. Six minutes later, Linehan hit a penalty kick to tie the score at 18-18. Calvin Whiting scored a minute later off a SMC turnover following a BYU kick after the restart. Linehan made the conversion to give BYU the 25-18 advantage.
“They came out and really spread the field,” Saint Mary’s head coach Tim O’Brien said. “They nailed us, they spread the field and played with a lot of power. They found us in a pretty compact position of defense. They spread it, they moved it, they found the right spaces, and they brought power when they needed it. I don’t see a team more powerful than BYU when they want it and get up on the front foot. They were running us over. “
Audsley added a penalty kick to cut the lead to four points, but the Cougars were on the hunt again in the 55th minute when the ball was swung out wide to wing Hoseki Kofi for the try to extend the lead to 32-21. In the final minutes of the game, BYU attempted to slow the pace of the game and were penalized multiple times amounting to a yellow card with a minute left to play. Saint Mary’s no-quit attitude was prevalent as Mike McCarthy scored in the final minute, but the whistle blew and BYU was victorious, 32-28.
Coach Tarawhiti gave credit to Whippy for coming in and charging up his team in the second half. “Josh Whippy was a difference maker in the second half. He came in and scored the first try. Whippy as been playing rugby all his life, so his experience and communication out there definitely aided us into getting back on track. The forwards played really well as a unit and consequently as a team, we were able to put things together and do very well.”
“The difference in the game was possession,” Coach O’Brien said. “An amazing number was that Holden Yungert had 83 touches of the ball in the game. He had 47 in the first half and 36 in the second half. 47 is unbelievable and 83 on the day, that's a lot of ball. But, during that short period after the break, we didn’t have a lot of possession and the possession wee did have we squirreled it away, we made errors. BYU really capitalized on some errors by us and they had us under a lot of pressure.”