Photo: Senior Wing/Center Norman Kilavatitu heading downfield with everyone in tow.
Belmont High School Club Rugby’s midweek match with visiting arch-rival Bishop Hendricken High School was expected to be a titanic battle between the finalists of the past two Massachusetts Youth Rugby Organization state championships.
But the match did not follow the anticipated script. Instead, on Wednesday night, April 1, the hosts placed a historic marker on the 2015 season by dominating the Hawks, 29-5, before the biggest crowd in recent memory for a rugby contest at Harris Field.
“A great night. I couldn’t be happier for the kids, they played fantastic,” said Belmont Head Coach Greg Bruce as he grabbed jubilant players to give each words of praise and encouragement.
The win marked Belmont’s first regular season victory over Hendricken in five attempts and only the second time it came off the field on top (the other time was Belmont’s 2013 state championship win).
On the pitch, the man of the match was senior flyhalf Paul Campbell to scored three five-point trys (the equivalent of a football touchdown) and kicked a two-point conversion as he demonstrated the prowess and talent which made him a three-year starter.
Campbell’s opening try was a thing of beauty and smarts. Receiving the ball from captain and senior scrum half Darren Chan, Campbell kicked the ball over the heads of the defenders, charged through them, catching the ball between a host of Hendricken backs and carried Hawks over the touchline.
The first half – a game has 35-minute halfs – saw Belmont knocked back against its touch line twice but was able to withstand the initial push with overpowering scrums and rock solid defense as Chan repeatedly tackled his scrum half counterpart before he even could pick up the ball to start the offense and Campbell and Campbell McCready each made solid open field tackles that sent the Belmont sideline yelling its approval.
After Belmont’s first try, the Belmont steadily built momentum – as a number of key players arrived from performing in the High School’s Spring Concert – which allowed Campbell to handoff to Marco Perrone playing blind side flanker for the first time. With help from senior lock Nick Ryan, Perrone – hardly the biggest player on the grounds – rammed his way into touch.
Hendricken would not go quietly, producing a wonderful try with a 35 meter open field run and was gaining momentum as Belmont was down a man due to a 10-minute penalty when the half was called.
But the Hawks was feeling the effects of Belmont’s physical forwards and chasing the host’s speedy ends. Soon, it was Belmont going on wild runs down the sidelines, placing them in position to see Campbell collect a hat-trick and Perrone his second. With five minutes left, both teams began substituting senior players with youngsters as the victory was already sealed.
The keys to the victory were learned on the practice field, said Bruce.
“Hard work, lots of it, total commitment and no regrets every single day. That’s one of our mantras and they did it tonight,” said Bruce, pointing out Ryan “played out of his skin tonight” along with Bryce Christian, Peter Durkin, sophomore Eli Gullage and the big men up front, Deshawn Frederick, Jacob Hale and Omar Escobar.
“It was incredible. We asked the kids just react a little bit faster to everything, just a second faster. We knew if they did that, we’d win the game,” said Bruce, who has been the team’s head coach since the club’s inception.
The game will because a touchstone for the remainder of the season, said Bruce.
“We know BC High is coming into the season with high hopes so they are definitely someone to look out for, and St. John’s Prep, always dangerous. These are schools with a thousand-plus boys (Belmont High School has just a hair more than 550 young men). For some of those teams, it’s not a matter of rebuilding but reloading,” he said.