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Central Washington came to Las Vegas with a chip on its shoulder, and though the more physical Kutztown tried to knock that chip back to CWU’s campus in Ellensburg, Wash. during Friday’s CRC Qualifier final, it remains and is now validated, as the Wildcats have earned their 15 minutes by going 7-0 over two days in the desert and downing KU 14-0 in the final.
Kutztown put out a bruising, tough side, but CWU was faster and more polished, which eventually pushed them to victory. KU kept it close, as the Wildcats led just 5-0 at intermission, but Central was simply too organized. In the second half, a timely converted try from Tim Stanfill put CWU up two scores and out of KU’s reach.
Though Stanfill could certainly be classified as a stepper, like the legenedary Waisale Serevi who helped Central train for this event, what sprung him wasn’t necessarily a brilliant move, but rather adherence to a game plan that worked.
“Serevi’s been working with us, and we have a great system in place and we just played the system,” said Stanfill. “We got it wide, the gap opened up and I just took it. It wasn’t me. The man inside of me, the man outside of me set it up, pinned the inside guys, which created the gap and gave me the running room.”
Though the humble Stanfill is quick to deflect praise, he was the one who finished off the well-executed attack pattern, just as he’d done in CWU’s semifinal to put away UC Davis. Throughout the tournament, it seemed as though whenever CWU needed a try to make a statement or stretch the lead, it was Stanfill who delivered.
“That’s his job,” said Wildcat head coach Bob Ford. “The boys call him Pistols, and he proved it today.”
What did it feel like when the final horn went off, the ball reached touch and Central Washington had the higher score?
“It’s crazy. Words can’t even describe what I feel for this team, for everybody back home. The work we put in finally paid off,” Stanfill said.
“It’s the perfect moment, right?” said Ford. “We’ve done a ton of hard work, we train at 6am in the gymnasium, we’ve been driving across the (snowy mountain) pass once a week doing training on the field, the guys have just worked their absolute rears off, and they deserve that opportunity, so it’s a great culmination of all that hard work.”
Back to that chip. Central Washington has long been a program on the brink of breaching the upper echelon of college rugby, falling just short of Sweet 16 appearances due to the shark infested waters of the Pacific Coast Territory. Because of that, they feel like they have something to prove – that they are among the nation’s elite.
“No one talks about Central Washington,” said Wildcat flyhalf Aaron Lee. “We’re stuck up in the Northwest. No one knows about us. We have a good team, we have a good coaching staff and we’re here to win.”
Everyone will have no choice but to know about Central Washington now, as they’ll be playing in up to 115 million living rooms from Ellensburg, Washington to Washington DC and beyond. And for that reason, winning the CRC Qualifier under the lights of Sam Boyd Stadium is a notable moment in the program’s 39-year history.
“I think this is probably a big highlight,” said Ford. “We’ve got our moments. Every year we have moments, but to have everything come together the way it did is pretty special, and there’s some seniors on this group that have worked really hard for four years and we’ve missed some vital opportunities for them to go forward in their rugby career, and I think this helps them.”