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(Cody Secker Photo)
Both teams had found running space awfully hard to come by, and with the season essentially on the line, neither defense backed down. Central had led 6-0 and then 11-5 before giving up two tries to fall behind 17-11. But right after that second try, the Wildcats responded and took the lead again 18-17. This is where it got good.
With about nine minutes to go Central Washington mounted another attack. Tim Stanfill ran down the weak side on the left wing. He drew two defenders and had support with him. He handed off, but the Central player was brought to ground in the tackle and penalized for holding onto the ball. St. Mary’s defense was scrambling. One more offload could have meant a try, and a 23-17 Central Washington lead.
Instead, St. Mary’s survived, and slowly, methodically, picked their way out of their own 22, then slung the ball out wide, and Tim Maupin did the rest, thundering through a couple of tackles, and brushing away the rest (he had five defenders around him at one point) as he went 50 meters for the try that would win the biggest game of the year … so far.
“We needed a sense of urgency,” said St. Mary’s captain and hooker Andrew Cook. “And we had it, but not as much as I would have liked. We had wanted to put the game away early, and we didn’t. I don’t want to sound cocky, but at the end of the game there, we knew we could win it. We said to each other, the next time we get the ball, let’s just keep it. We don’t turn the ball over, we know we’ll score. Then Tim got the ball, and he’s a former running back from De La Salle High School, and he knows how to run through tackles.”
The try won the game, but it didn’t end the game. CWU had another restart. St. Mary’s did the same thing – hold onto possession – and ran the clock out. For Central Washington, the missed opportunity wasn’t so much those final moments, but the minutes leading up to Maupin’s try, which were played almost exclusively in the St. Mary’s end, and needed to produce points.
“That was very hard to take,” said CWU center Kellen Gordon. “We had prepared very well for the game and we felt we were in a good position. We were up 6-0 at halftime and we just ended it on a mental lapse on our part.”
St. Mary’s scored three tries in the second half to lead 17-11.
“Digging out of that was really hard,” said Gordon. “But we went right back and scored. I was proud of the guys for accomplishing that. But to lose it like that … two years ago we lost to Utah by one point to get into the playoffs. This is my fifth year and I wanted to go out as a playoff team. We just missed it. I just hope people see what we’ve done, and see when St. Mary’s goes into the playoffs, that we’re a good program, and we can play rugby.”