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South Carolina claimed the final spot in the 2017 Penn Mutual Collegiate Rugby Championship with a win in the SCRC Qualifier. The Gamecocks outlasted a tough Kentucky side 26-12 to book their trip to Philadelphia in June.
The Gamecocks came into the tournament as the number one seed thanks to winning the seeding tournament last week. As a result, South Carolina faced off with Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi State in pool play today. The Gamecocks dispatched all three pool opponents and earned a date with Tennessee in the semifinals.
Tennessee came into the day facing no pressure as the Volunteers already received an invitation to the CRC. Tennessee, however, was hosting the tournament and hoped to spoil its conference rival in the process. It was not to be, however, as South Carolina blanked the Volunteers 32-0 to reach the finals.
South Carolina faced off with Kentucky for the Cup. The Wildcats came into the day as the three seed and ended up winning all three pool games to take the spot in group B. Kentucky knocked off Alabama in the semis 19-15 to set up a date with the Gamecocks.
The Gamecocks scored the first two tries of the final to take a 12-0 first half lead. Dan Callaghan opened the scoring off an offload from Christian Harrell. Tom LeCann added the second after busting through a missed tackle before Kentucky got on the board.
“They were typical us. We worked ball possession, looking for gaps and got some breaks up the middle,” USC coach Steve Darnell said of the scores.
As halftime approached, Kentucky began to battle back. The Wildcats scored a try to cut the lead to 12-5 and then forced a turnover off a deep kickoff to even the score at halftime.
“It was a couple of mistakes but I will give Kentucky credit for it, they took advantage of them,” Darnell added.
Although Kentucky had the momentum going into the second half, South Carolina managed to get the first score of the second half. Thomas “satchel” Coar regained the lead for USC early on in the second half. Up 19-12, Harrell sealed the victory with some nifty footwork off a feed from Micah Stewart.
“At half I told the guys we needed to seed momentum immediately. The guys responded and put tremendous pressure on Kentucky and never let up,” an excited Darnell told Rugby Today.
South Carolina will return to the Penn Mutual Collegiate Rugby Championship for the first time since 2014.
“It was a big goal of ours to get back to the CRC. We were a bit disappointed that we did not get an invite but at the same time, we have always been in the mindset that if we can’t win our conference we don’t deserve to go,” Darnell said of returning to the CRC. “Today we were on point and I am immensely proud of what we were able to do."