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South Carolina defeated Alabama, 50-22, to take home the 2014 SCRC conference championship in Columbia, SC, Sunday. With the win, the Gamecocks earned the right to take on in-state rival Clemson at the ACRC Bowl Series next weekend.
USC got on the board first thanks to a try from the forwards' man-of-the-match, Zach Mullineanux. Alabama responded with two unanswered to take a 12-7 lead. South Carolina retook the lead with a converted try, but Alabama battled back to take a 15-14 lead with a penalty. The Gamecocks, however, finished the half strong adding another penalty and a late try to take a 24-15 halftime advantage.
“The first part of the game was pretty tight,” said South Carolina coach Mark Morris. “Their forwards continued to play well, and their backs continued to tackle well.” South Carolina tried to disrupt the breakdown and poach the ball, but Alabama held up well. “It got to the point that it was better just to man up make the tackle and get back up on our feet rather than trying to poach,” Morris Added. The Gamecocks stopped contesting the rucks as fiercely, waiting for the Crimson Tide to make a mistake or an isolated player to attack.
In the second half, South Carolina scored the first three tries in a row to open up a 43-15 lead. “We continued to move the ball down wide and kick for space and finally got a bunch of breaks that worked out well,” Morris said. Alabama got on the board again with a try, but Michael Rudzinsky sealed the victory with a late try to give South Carolina the win.
Brian Keown continued to pace the Gamecocks at scrumhalf, providing clean and quick ball afternoon. Morris praised the work of his scrumhalf but had a tough time singling out anybody on the afternoon. “It is hard to pick out any particular one, everybody played so well today.”
South Carolina went in with a game plan of focused on establishing territory in the first half, hoping to wear down the Crimson Tide. In the second half, the Gamecocks upped the tempo and began spreading the ball wide. With 20 minutes of overtime rugby in Saturday's semifinal win over Tennessee and a limited bench, Alabama struggled to keep up with a high-paced South Carolina squad. “We played a real fast tempo, we knew they would be tired and sore from the heck of a game they had yesterday with Tennessee,” Morris said.
South Carolina will take on Clemson in the ACRC Bowl Series next weekend. The last time the two sides met was in 2012 when Clemson knocked South Carolina out of the USA Rugby National playoffs. “The boys are excited about playing their in-state rivals Clemson,” added Morris “They are a very worthy opponent and have done a lot of great things.”
Alabama will take on Western Michigan in the ACRC Bowl Series.