Chan Kicks Belmont Rugby into Third Consecutive State Finals in Epic Win

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.


Belmont Rugby Welcomes Back Rivals Bishop Hendricken in State Semifinals

Photo: The earlier match with Bishop Hendricken.

Belmont High School Rugby Club will be seeking its third consecutive trip to the state championships as the squad hosts tonight, Tuesday, May 19, the team it battled in the past two finals and defeated earlier this year in a historic victory.

Bishop Hendricken High School‘s rugby club will take on Belmont in a rematch of an earlier scrum which Belmont dominated, 25-5, back on April 1. The earlier victory was the first regular season win over the school from Warwick, RI. which holds a 5-2 edge over Belmont. The other win was in the 2013 Massachusetts Youth Rugby Organzation State Championship in Devens.

The match, on the Harris Field pitch, will start at 7 p.m. 

If victorious, Belmont will meet the winner of the Boston College High School/St. John’s Prep match in Worcester on Saturday, May 23. 

Belmont Rugby Dominates State Champs Hendricken in Historic Home Win

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.


In Classic Match, Belmont High Rugby Falls Short in State Championship

The Belmont Way.

It’s playing the game of rugby in which players are “willing to make that ultimate effort, to play for your teammates,” said Greg Bruce, the head coach of the Belmont High School Rugby Club on a humid and warm Saturday, May 24 at Fort Deven minutes before the start of the Div. 1 state championship finals.

“There’s nothing left to say, boys. Total commitment, no excuses. Give everything you’ve got for something greater than you,” Bruce told his starting 15 in the pre-game huddle before another titanic clash with their familiar rival from Bishop Hendricken High School of Warwick, RI in a rematch of last year’s final in which Belmont defeated the Hawks, 17-5.

“Ready to do it?” he asked in his usual measured, almost serene manner.

“Yes, sir,” was the response.

And they were ready.

For more than 90 minutes, the two evenly-matched sides battled to utter exhaustion in a battle of wills and strength that bordered on an ancient epic struggle where the brute determination within the scrum was matched by wild, poetic downfield runs.

With the repeated challenge, “Come on, boys!” echoing from the sidelines, Belmont would overcame a two-try deficit and scored three times in the beginning of the final half.

Yet a pair of Belmont forays deep into Hendricken’s end in the final five minutes could not break the try (goal) line resulting in a 21-19 defeat which was praised by observers and fans of both teams as one of the great contests played by teams from New England in recent history.

“You gave it your all. We were down, we had (penalties), the odds against us, goal-line stances and you fought all the way back. Someone had to win. There was no shame in your effort,” said Bruce after the game to the team.

“Boys, you don’t get any better by playing the weak teams. That was a tough side and your all much better players for playing that game,” said assistant coach Derek Tommy.

“To see the level of play since we started the program eight years ago is impressive, not just with us but throughout the region,” Bruce told the Belmontonian after the game.

Belmont faced an uphill battle for nearly the entire match as only 90 seconds into the game, Hendricken revealed a mismatch down the left wing as a Hawk player reached the corner and sprinted more than 50 meters on a solo run for the first try of the day.

“That’s not exactly how we hoped to come out of the gates,” said Bruce.

It soon became apparent that Hendrickson would use their considerable bulk and strength advantages to punish the inside of Belmont’s forwards. Time and again, Hendricken players would drive into the heart of Belmont’s front line rather than push to the outside wings where Belmont had the edge with speed. Belmont was hurting its own cause with dropped passes and penalties allowing Hendricken to dictate how the game was played.

Just short in the second half 

On three separate occasions in the half, a Hendricken player broke through the Belmont defense to sprint towards goal only to be met by junior wing Luke Perrotta who made a trio of sensational solo tackles.

“He saved us in the first half,” said Bruce, noting the day before, Perrotta had asked him to stay behind after practice to work on open-field tackling.

“And to see him transfer the skill [during the game] that right now the hairs on my neck are standing up because I am so proud of him,” said Bruce.

Hendrickson’s second try came after a dubious play as a Hawk hit a prone senior open side flanker Dom Owens-Moore with a forearm that caused the ball to be taken deep in Belmont’s end that was pushed beyond the goal line.

Belmont began pushing forward into the Hawks end with senior Barrett Lyons carrying several Hendricken backs for nearly 30 meters on a memorable run down the opponent’s gut and captain Nick Pearson driving down the exposed wing.

Down 14 -0 at the half, Bruce quietly urged his team to ignore the score and take control of the game.

“It came down to the team’s mental focus, their ability to adjust and rally around one another,” said Bruce.

“They had a look across the 15 of them that they would not let this game be over.”

Bruce praised two long-time players, Darren Chan and Paul Campbell who, as halfbacks, are like the “quarterbacks” of the team, as they withstood the constant Hawk pressure in moving the balls around the pitch.

Winning the possession game from a tiring Hendricken squad allowed Belmont to push into the Hawks territory. Eleven minutes into the half, Belmont drove the ball over the try line for the first points with Campbell securing the conversion to make the score 14-7. A yellow card penalty to a strong Hendricken player allowed Belmont to secure the momentum which allowed Campbell to sneak across for a second trying in seven minutes to reduce the lead to 14-12.

But due to the try being made near the sideline, the conversion kick was at a very acute angle which Campbell barely missed.

Garnering a second wind, Hendricken quickly drove down the field for their only try of the second half to up their lead to 21-12.

With Belmont’s third try coming within the final 10 minutes to once again reduce the advantage to two, 21-19, it appeared that team would not have a chance to get close to scoring as they were left to defend their try line after another Hendricken drive. But stellar defense forced a turnover and Belmont drove down the pitch highlighted by a 40 meter dash from Pearson.

Yet that final try never came as Belmont was pushed out-of-bounds in the “red” zone and Owens-Moore was held up inside five meters of the try-line in the final five minutes. As the final whistle sounded, the two teams had little energy to celebrate or suffer defeat, leaving everything on the pitch.

“We were there. We had the chances but unfortunately we just couldn’t get over the try line. You really have to credit Bishop Hendricken, they are a hell of a team. We have lost three times in two years, each time to them,” Bruce said.

When asked who stood out in the game, Bruce said, “who didn’t?”

“These kids gave everything they had. The big thing we talked about to them as coaches (himself, Tommy, Jesse Borle and Adam Zilcoski) of coming to this game was a total commitment with no regrets. And I know right now they have no regrets. These kids committed themselves completely, to give very thing they had.”

“You saw them coming off the field, completely gutted, tanks empty. What else can you ask for from a bunch of 16, 17, 18 year olds? I’m really proud of them.”