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Mary Washington used a strong second half to defeat St. Joe’s 37-13 in the DIAA Fall Championship on Sunday at the campus of Furman University.  The Mothers trailed 13-5 at the break but slowly took over the game to take home the school’s first ever rugby title.

St. Joe’s took an early lead with a penalty but Mary Washington stormed back with a try from fullback Bradlee Nicholls to take a 5-3 lead. The Hawks, however, managed to stymie the Mothers and answer back with a try of its own. After breaking through the Mary Washington line several times through the backs, it was lock Mickey Chapple that found pay dirt to give the Hawks a 10-5 lead. The Hawks would add a penalty before halftime to extend the lead to 13-5.

Mary Washington had been putting up points in bunches this season and use the halftime break to recalibrate. The coaching staff indicated that they needed to slow down the potent 10-12 combination of Noah Niu and Jimmy Wolfer and maintain more ball possession.

“At half time we talked about Mike Tyson and his famous quote 'Everyone has a plan until you get punched in the mouth.' St. Joe's had punched us in the mouth and we had to make some adjustments.  The players kept their composure knowing that they had not played their best rugby.  We had to increase our pressure on defense and stop contesting the breakdowns so much,” said Mary Washington coach Min Sae Chae.

The strategy paid off in the second half. Mary Washington maintained ball possession and shut out the Hawks. Tom Williams started the scoring off with a try around the fringes. Nathan Neri, at wing, added two more tries by exploiting space out wide. At 29-13, the Mothers added one more score to seal the victory.

“The second half was executed almost to perfection,” Chae added. “We dominated possesion and territory and the score reflected that. St. Joe's had one or two chances inside our 22 but our defensive pressure led to them making mistakes and we were able to keep them out.”

The Mary Washington program has come along way in the last four years. As an upstart NSCRO program four years ago, the club was rising. Due to an off field incident the program was temporarily suspended but thanks to the leadership of Director of Rugby Tim Brown, the program was resurrected and folded in the Athletic Department as a varsity sport.

Over the course of the last few years the team made steady progress, rising form NSCRO to DII and now competing in the DIAA Chesapeake Conference. The team was picked to finish last in the Chesapeake last year and managed to finish 5-3. This year, things started to click.

"This season it all came together with a big influx of talent from overseas and some in state talent as well. The team leaders did a great job of keeping the team focused and knowing when to push or relax. The new players pushed the old players and it lead to a healthy competition which led to everyone becoming better players,” said Chae.

The Mothers will now await the winner of the spring DIAA playoffs for a chance at a true national championship. Mary Washington is excited but is hungry for more in the future.

“Yesterday's win meant that we are headed in the right direction.  It also means that we will have to work even harder to stay at and improve the level that we are at.  We will no longer have the benefit of surprising teams and now we will have the targets on our back.  It will be a great challenge for us and we look forward to what the spring season holds for us,” Chae concluded.