Photo: Belmont High’s Number Eight Max Cornelius scoring his second try of the game as Belmont defeated St. John’s Prep, 29-7, in the MIAA Division 1 Boys’ Rugby semifinals
The combination of a rock solid defense along with an offensive minded kicking attack resulted in three tries in the first 20 minutes as Belmont High Boys’ Rugby rolled to a 29-7 victory over the St. John’s Prep Eagles in the Division 1 state semifinals in front of a packed Harris Field on Friday afternoon, June 10.
Belmont Boys’ will face long-time rivals Boston College High in the Division 1 state championship match at 4 p.m., June 18, at Curry College in Milton. The Boys’ join the Belmont High Girls’ Rugby squad at the finals as the girls seek their fourth consecutive state championship vs Lincoln-Sudbury Regional at 2 p.m.
Belmont High’s long-time Head Coach Greg Bruce anticipated a defensive struggle with the Eagles after meeting them two week before in Danvers, a match where a late try saw Belmont come through with the victory, 15-12.
“They were really physical side and well coached and we knew that they’d have threats all over the field and we just had to play a very tight defensive game,” said Bruce after the match. “We said to the guys what’s going to determine the game is how you’re able to make your tackles … and they did it.”
Belmont clicked on its first venture into St. John’s end as the Marauders’ Number Eight Max Cornelius scooped up the ball from a ruck five meters from the try line and muscled it in at the five minute mark for a 5-0 lead.
The Eagles pressed their advantage after a kick clearance and a Belmont penalty saw them inside of 10 meters to the try only for Belmont’s defensive scheme stop five attempts by the Eagles to score and subsequently successfully holding up an Eagle player on the try line to win the ball.
Belmont showed great finesse with its kicking game which has become an increasingly important part of its game plan allowing the Marauders to relieve defensive pressure. On several occasions, Belmont “flipped the field” by kicking the ball from deep in its defensive end with the ball ending up in St. John’s end of the pitch.
As St. John’s continued to press, the Marauders’ defense stepped up once again as outside center James Barsam intercepted a flat pass and and sprinted 50 meters in the clear for the Marauders’ second try and a 12-0 lead after 15 minutes.
“James has gone for a few of those this year and it hasn’t really worked out. When he did it tonight, one of my coaches leaned over and goes ‘he finally got one’,” said Bruce, praising Barsam by noting that “while there’s other guys that get more credit, James is one of our most solid defenders outside and one of the most hardest positions and channels to defend on the field, which is the outside center.”
Four minutes later, after a costly Prep miscue, Belmont big man, tight head prop Asa Rosenmeier, rumbled in for the try – Belmont’s third – and a commanding 19-0 lead before 20 minutes had passed.
“I was out when we play them three weeks ago and I needed to prove myself,” said Rosenmeier who played the entire 70 minutes.
Bruce noted after the third score, St. John’s Prep changed its defensive set up which disrupted Belmont’s attack. “They put us under pressure. We lost all momentum and fluidity to our game at that point. And it stayed that way for a period of quite a long period of time,” said Bruce
St. John’s would use its passing quickness to set them up after a penalty inside the 10 meters for a successful try to cut the lead to 19-7 at the 26 minute mark. But that was all the Eagles could muster for the rest of the half as the Marauders’ group tackling was outstanding, limiting their opponent to only a handful of runs beyond 10 meters and forcing mistakes in the Eagles’ back.
“For as long as I can remember, our number one priority is defense. We spend more time on our defense this year than any year in the past,” said Bruce. “I said to the boys in the locker room, this is one of the best defensive teams we’ve ever had. And you’re gonna have to play the best game you’ve ever had to earn a spot next weekend. And they did it,”
Through out the remainder of the game, Belmont’s team defense would be challenged only a handful of times with hook Raffi Belorian and left wing Stephen Hong knocking a Prep runner into touch a meter from the try line to end St. John’s best and only threat of the half.
A second try from Cornelius 11 minutes into the second half and a three-point penalty kick from fly-half Erik Rosenmeier at the 60 minute mark punched the Marauders’ ticket to next week’s state finals.
For Bruce and the team, the victory celebration will be short lived.
“We’re gonna enjoy tonight and get back to work tomorrow. BC High is an amazing team,” said Bruce.
“I wouldn’t say we’re favorite just because we beat them in the last game (a 28-21 away victory on May 19),” he said. “BC has a way of putting together a game plan that works when it matters the most. And so, we’ll keep that in mind and try and counter it as best we can.”
For Rosenmeier, the finals will be one more game he gets to play with his brother, senior Erik.
“The emotions, wow. I know I will be nervous but also super excited,” he said. “First time ever playing in a state finals, It’s going to be a great place to be in whether we win or loss. Just playing at Curry is going to be fun.”