Photo: Senior Captain Darren Chan leading Belmont Rugby off the field Monday.
The traits of a good captain lie in three “Cs”: they care about the success of the team through example and encouragement while being consistent in playing to the best of their ability at practice and in games.
Finally, they must be courageous when the game and season are on the line, to step up and lead their team.
With two-and-a-half-minutes remaining in the state semi-finals on Tuesday, May 19, and trailing 2014 State Champions Bishop Hendricken High School by two points, 21-19, Belmont High School Rugby’s senior captain Darren Chan demonstrated all the characteristics of leadership in one decision.
After a yellow-card penalty for an illegal and brutal tackle on senior center Campbell McCready (who had scored two of Belmont’s tries), Belmont had the opportunity to attempt a three-point penalty kick to take the lead.
But for Belmont High School Rugby Head Coach Greg Bruce, the decision was a tricky one: the ball was 30 meters out from the goal post, a distance made more difficult due to the acute angle coming from the right sideline. Go for the kick and the lead (a miss would seal the game for Hendricken) or take the ball and attempt to score a try in the waning moments.
Bruce brought over Chan and senior wing (and varsity soccer player) Luke Gallagher and asked if either one were comfortable making the attempt.
“[Bruce] asked me if I could make the kick. I put it on my shoulders and said ‘I could,'” said Chan.
“[Chan] just said, I got the kick. I got the kick,” said Bruce. “All that mattered is that he felt confident in himself, he stepped up and led from the front foot.”
After waiting for nearly 10 minutes as McCready was taken from the field and with the large, boisterous Belmont crowd suddenly hushed, Chan lined up the free kick and saw it sail just inside the left post.
Three points, and the win.
“It felts like last year’s state championship,” said Chan, referring to the 21-19 Hendricken victory over Belmont.
“That was one of the toughest games I’ve ever been a part of. It was a good battle. Every player played their heart out, and we did what we needed to go win this game,” said Chan, who was a member of the 2013 state championship squad.
“Don’t ever accuse Belmont of quitting. Ever,” said Bruce to the players in the after- game huddle
Chan’s clutch kick sealed an epic victory over Hendricken and sends Belmont Rugby to its third consecutive Massachusetts Youth Rugby Organization state championships where the boys will meet first-time finalists Boston College High School, which defeated Xaverian Brothers High School in the other semi-finals, 43-17, on Tuesday.
The championship will take place at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, May 23, at Foley Stadium in Worcester.
Belmont’s (5-1) only loss this season was to the undefeated Eagles (8-0), 20-7, in April.
“It was a nail-biter to the end,” said Bruce after the game. “I thought I was going to have a heart attack.”
“The game didn’t go the way we planned it,” the long-time head coach said. The team turned over the ball 20 times during the match” and usually you can’t win a game by doing that.”
“Our defense was phenomenal, but the problem is that we were playing defense way too much,” Bruce said.
The game begin with Belmont pushing forward for the first eight minutes of the 35 minute half as senior lock Nick Ryan and the red-head storm senior hooker Bryce Christian made a series of crushing tackles.
Yet this was not the same Hendricken team Belmont defeated April 1, 29-5 and using a turnover in Belmont’s zone, they punched in a quick try (worth 5 points) and the conversion kick (2 points) eight minutes into the match to lead 7-0.
“They have a strong core, and they like to ram it down your throat,” said Bruce.
But for the rest of the half, it was Belmont’s big men up front, seniors props Omar Escobar Jr. and Deshawn Frederick, who dictated play as they began wearing down Hendricken’s front line allowing Belmont to push the visitors backwards throughout the evening through the efforts of seniors Marco Perrone, Luke Perrotta and Peter Berens.
With Chan “quarterbacking” the team from the scrum half position, the team was rewarded when senior flyhalf Paul Campbell took the ball the final three meters to try at the 26-minute mark. Chan’s conversion tied the match. It appeared Belmont had a second try, but the ref determined that junior second row Lowell Haskett had dropped the ball crossing the goal line.
Hendricken appeared ready to break things open in the second half as they pulling off a pair of long runs. But during a rare attempt Hendricken made passing the ball to the wingers, McCready intercepted a back pass and scampered 50 meters by his lonesome for the try, to up Belmont’s lead to 14-7.
Then, in the fading evening light, the field’s lights went out as did the scoreboard. And so did Belmont’s energy as the visitors, with a pair of advantageous infringement calls against Belmont, allowed Hendricken to tie it up three minutes later.
McCready’s second try, helped by the wing play of senior Norman Kilavatitu, gave Belmont a 19-14 lead (the conversion, from an extreme angle, was missed). Yet, while both teams tired in the somewhat muggy conditions, Hendricken caught a break when Belmont turned over the ball for the final time and got a great side out deep in Belmont territory, scoring just after the lights came back on to go up 21-19 with just under four minutes to play.
Belmont was quickly able to retain the ball when McCready, being in a defenseless position after kicking the ball down the field, was flattened to the pitch by a Hendricken player. As medical attention was rendered, and he was taken off the field, Chan – who was the kicker for the football team – decided he would take the a shot at glory.
With players and coaches hugging each other after the final whistle, Bruce was asked about going back to the state championships for the third straight time.
“It feels pretty damn good,” he said.