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The final ten minutes of the marquee match of the weekend nearly culminated in an epic comeback as the Varsity Cup Champion, #1 Brigham Young University, edged the defending DIA National Champion, #3 St. Mary’s College of California, 30-29, on Saturday in Moraga, Calif. Down by 15 points with ten minutes remaining, a BYU yellow card gave St. Mary’s the opening it needed. Requiring three scores to either tie or take the lead, the Gaels showed immense heart to put in two converted tries in the time remaining, but came up one point short at the whistle.

Both teams traded blows and struggled to sustain drives without turning the ball over or being penalized. BYU was a big, physical, organized presence on the field, but showed that they are green with not many games under its belt. On the other hand, St. Mary’s found opportunities hard to come by fighting against the Cougars’ stout defense. The Gaels’ resiliency and ability to play hard for 80 minutes kept them in the game.

The first scoring chance came for BYU after an offsides penalty. Inside center Calvin Whiting went for points, but the 38 meter kick was wide. When St. Mary’s’ Dylan Audsley had a similar kick soon after, the outside center nailed it to take 3-0 lead in the 10th minute.

BYU responded when Whiting stopped Audsley in his tracks forcing a turnover at the 22. After phase ball, flyhalf Jared Whippy sent a beautiful chip to the corner where wing Kevin Schofield beat the opposing wing for the try. Whippy missed the conversion, but the Cougars took the 5-3 lead.

On the ensuing kickoff, BYU marched 60 meters to get into scoring position. Eightman Joe Pikula finished off the scoring drive running around the open weak side of the ruck to score in the corner. The Gaels’ answered with a try by wing Tommy Wallace after prop Dino Waldren broke the line for a long gain. The conversion missed, but the lead was cut to 10-8, BYU.

After a Whippy penalty extended the tally to 13-8, the Cougars took further advantage when outside center Josh Whippy intercepted a Holden Yungert pass for a try. The subsequent conversion was good and BYU went into halftime up 20-8. Unfortunately for St. Mary’s, Waldren was injured late in the half and didn’t return to play.

BYU picked up where they left off in the first half by scoring in the first two minutes of the period. After a 40 meter break by Whippy, lock Matt Jensen found the tryzone and the 27-8 lead. On the next series, BYU’s Josh Whippy was binned for a dangerous tackle and the consequent Gaels’ PK attempt was wide. Down a man, the Cougar defense rallied and killed the penalty without allowing a try.

When the teams were at full strength, St. Mary’s found cracks in the defensive front and stormed into the 22. After a stolen scrum and multiple attempts at the tryline, a swift tap pass from Mike McCarthy to Audsley resulted in a try. BYU came back with another Whiting penalty kick to size up an epic last ten minutes with the Cougars leading 30-15.

St. Mary’s was knocking at the door again inside the 22 where BYU’s Pikula was yellow carded for repeated infringement. The Gaels attacked with the man advantage and flyhalf Aaron Matthews evaded his defender from ten meters out for the try at the 74th minute.

With precious minutes remaining, St. Mary’s opportunities were slipping as a fullback Charlie Loudon break and support by Wallace ended with a turnover. The Gaels were not finished and on the final play, Matthews found the tryzone once more off a quick tap. Audsley made the kick, but the referee blew the final whistle and BYU held on for the 30-29 win.

The two teams will meet again in three weeks on March 12th in Provo, Utah. In the meantime both teams will face high quality opponents as St. Mary’s will take on Cal and Utah, while BYU welcomes Air Force and Central Washington to South Field in the coming weeks.