In 2012, the men’s rugby team hit at an all-time low. They hadn’t won a game in five years and were suspended after a rookie party violated the school’s athletic code of conduct.
But on Friday, the team walked away with a 20-7 upset win over Mount Allison, a three-game winning streak and a final season record of 4-2. Although another upset win by UPEI over UNB on Saturday eliminated St. Thomas from the playoffs, team members feel they walked off the pitch with pride in the program restored.
“I love being part of this team, it’s definitely the thing I’m going to miss most about STU,” said Sam Wakefield, a fourth-year prop who was a rookie on that 2012 team. “I’m going to miss stepping on the pitch before kickoff, but more than anything I’m going to miss my teammates.”
Friday’s game was a must-win game for the Tommies who came off a huge upset over UNB two weeks ago. For the time being the dream was still alive.
STU had their work cut out for them Friday under the lights. It looked like an uphill battle when they went down 7-0 close to halftime. Though the backfield had some brilliant runs by Jordan Allen, Mike Irving, and Johnny Cullen, they left the red zone without points.
“When the half was over that we could win because we came back against UNB, and if we can do that, we can beat anyone,” said Wakefield.
And come back they did. After punching in a try and failing to convert. Cullen was good with the boot to give the Tommies an 8-7 lead for much of the second half.
As the game entered the final 15 minutes, Christian Lakes, Austin Comeau, and Hayden Butler each executed lengthy runs that tore open the Mounties defence. STU got over the line twice more with Cullen converting once to give STU their final win of the season and third in succession. Try scorers for STU were Linden Pugh, Hayden Butler, and Mike Irving; Cullen added five points through the boot.
“We care for one another. We achieved what we did not by being individuals, but putting ourselves on the line for one another,” said backfield coach Matt Coffey. “We believed in the process and did our jobs. Regardless of what happens, we played like champions and leave it on the field.”
After the winless 2012 season, there was major turnover of players and a major change of attitude on a team that many now acknowledge was undisciplined. The turnaround started last year with new head coach, Jon Wilson, and a new captain, Johnny Cullen. The Tommies won their first game in six years and battled hard in every game.
Another UNB upset by UPEI means that the Tommies season is over. They will not play UNB for an all-Fredericton final. However this is a team that turned around after off-field incidents two years ago. With the last-gasp victory over UNB this year –the first victory over their archrivals in a decade – and being ever so close to a birth in the finals, the rugby team feels the future is bright for rugby at STU.
“The passion we feel for our team is unspeakable,” said Wakefield. “We play as one for each other and for every student and professor at St. Thomas University.”
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