Belmont Boys’ Rugby Takes State Title Over Arch-Rival BC High, 20-7; Fourth Title In Program History

Photo: The Belmont High School Boys’ Rugby squad celebrate its 2022 MIAA Division 1 State Championship with the tournament trophy.

Boston College High School rugby squad is known as the Eagles, but at MIAA Division 1 state title match, it was the Belmont High ruggers who flew to victory.

In a match where Belmont’s embrace of an all-encompassing kicking game proved decisive against the traditional muscle and brawn style employed by BC High, the Marauders dominated the Eagles, 20-7, on Saturday, June 17, capturing its second MIAA Division 1 state championship and the fourth title in the program’s 15-year history before a boisterous near capacity crowd at Curry College in Milton.

“We had a saying all year: ‘Don’t go through the wall, go over it.’” said senior fly-half and co-captain Erik Rosenmeier who scored twice from penalty kicks and on a pair of conversions resulting in half of Belmont’s points. “And that’s what we did today. Our kicking was amazing.”

Belmont’s kicking strategy which has become an important part of the program’s overall tactics mimics a trend in the professional game where world-class teams and national squads punt to challenge opponents, all a defense to reset and to “flip the field” with deep strikes placing the competitor on the back foot.

While kicking was an effective weapon against BC and St. John’s Prep in the semi-finals, Greg Bruce, Belmont’s head coach since he brought rugby to the school in 2007, pointed to the hard work the Marauders have placed in defense and tackling during the season.

For the past two weeks we coaches built our defensive structure and put it into practice in training,” said Bruce. “The forwards played great, the backs, the defense. It was a team performance to be honest.”

“BC is an amazing team but they rely on their athleticism more than they rely on their skill. They really just want to get the ball and run it hard up the gut and hope we can’t tackle them. And, you know, that’s what we did, stop them,” said Rosenmeier.

Belmont came out of the gate fast and used their inside running to great effect to set up Loose Head Prop Asa Rosenmeier – Erik’s younger brother – to barrel into try from six meters out just four minutes in the match to give Belmont the early 7-0 lead. But 10 minutes later, a series of quick hitting runs by BC allowed senior Jack McNicholl to slalom 30 meters to tie the game at 7-7.

Belmont spent the first half placing the Eagles under pressure with sustained tackling against the BC frontline and a number of clearing punts that kept putting the Eagles behind the midfield line. On the offensive side, the Marauders’ were able to string together drives that got them within kicking range when penalties were called against BC. Bruce didn’t hesitate to put the ball on Rosenmeier’s toe as the senior scored twice at the 23 minute and 32 minute marks as the lead climb to 13-7.

The ability to keep momentum on its side turned out to be critical in Belmont’s final score, a gutsy drive after time expired in the half in which the Marauders’ protected each ruck and finally opened a small gap in the BC line allowing Lock Viktor Insanic to run straight into try to give Belmont a two score lead, 20-7.

The final 35 minutes was a near masterclass by the Belmont XV in denying BC the momentum or big plays needed to get back into the match. When the Eagles threatened 10 minutes into the half, Belmont backs came up with a great stand inside its 22 meter preventing runners from turning the corner, stalling BC’s drive eventually resulting in a Rosenmeier kick that was “knocked on” by an Eagles back giving possession to the Marauders in the BC half.

While BC kept to its strategy of quick, hard hits into the body of Belmont’s line, the tactics proved exhausting to the Eagles which was only compounded by a series of deep kicks that allowed Belmont to reset its defense and force BC to travel ever further to attempt to cut the margin of Belmont’s lead.

“The second half was a little boring; a lot of whistles, we got a yellow card and then it got really, really choppy after that. But they did what mattered most when it mattered most and that’s why we’re here,” said Bruce.

In its final venture close to the try line, Marauders’ Number Eight Max Cornelius made a critical steal ending all of BC’s hopes. Soon after the starters started coming out and the reserves got a chance to be on the pitch for the final whistle.

The 2022 crown joins Belmont’s MIAA Div. 1 state championship won in 2019 and MYRO titles in Division 1 in 2013 and Division 2 in 2011.

“Coming into the season, there’s this kind of pressure. I really wanted to win a state championship to finish my high school career,” said Rosenmeier. “When we lost our very first game to Milton [17-12 on April 8],it was kind of like a wake up call for us that we needed to get our act together. And we just worked our [posterior] off for the rest of the season and now we’re here with this,” said Rosenmeier hold the state trophy.

“Amazing!” he said as the celebration continued on the pitch.

Belmont Falls to Boston College High in Rugby Championship Final

Photo: The boys up front, the core of the Belmont High School Rugby Club that held its own against undefeated Boston College High.

The 26 Belmont High School Rugby Club players gathered in a circle, after throwing in their soul and heart into every minute of the 70 played in the state championship game held Saturday, May 23, in Worcester.

In a classic battle that left bodies bruised and, in the case of senior back row/center Luke Perrotta, a jersey soaked in blood, Belmont were the equal of an undefeated and mostly untested Boston College High School club squad on the pitch on a breezy, warm afternoon.

Equal in all but one category, the score. In a game in which they honored the tradition built of past teams and a championship earned two years ago, the players walked off the ground beaten by the Eagles, 26-10.

But in the eyes of Belmont’s head coach Greg Bruce, there was no shame in the fight the team displayed on the biggest stage of the season.

“There’s nothing that takes away from the season that your had, the work that you put in, the bonds that you made out here this season. These bonds that you make in rugby can not be broken,” Bruce told his senior-laden team.

“Every day you had this jersey on, you did the club proud. You’re one hell of a team,” he said.

In a game that was close for three-quarters of the match, there was nothing fancy in how Belmont and BC High fought the game. Take the ball and ram it forward. For most of the first half, Belmont – who was playing with key offensive threat senior centre Campbell McCready who was injured in the semi-final victory against Bishop Hendricken on Tuesday – held the momentum edge as Belmont’s core – the seven men in the forward position – held their ground against the unbeaten Eagles.

“The defensive pressure was really, really good. We were coming off the line with a lot of power,” said Bruce, who brought his team to its third consecutive state championship finals on Saturday, winning it all in 2013. 

Leading the group were the three front row big men; senior props Omar Escobar and Deshawn Fredericks with senior Bryce Christian in the central hooker position. Backed by Nick Ryan, Perrotta (who played nearly the entire game with a badly-bloody nose), Peter Durkin and Jacob Hale, the group stood up to the Eagles, resulting in many BC High runs resulting in negative yards.

“Their [fly-half] (in rugby, the player who is the on-field tactician) was under pressure and dropped four or five balls,” said Bruce.

Administering the pressure, both defending and in the transition, were senior scrum half and captain Darren Chan (hero of the semi-final game against Bishop Hendricken on Tuesday), senior flyhalf Paul Campbell and junior “Number 8” Lowell Haska.

And that pressure allowed Belmont to move down the field where a BC High penalty allowed Chan to line up and convert an easy three-point penalty kick to give Belmont the early lead.

Yet BC High, with a collection of players from across the Boston area, was undefeated due to its ability to use its most effective player, their “number 8,” big, brawny senior Terry Cullen who would take the ball from the scrum – what most people associate with rugby: when restarting play, eight players from each team binding together in three rows and the ball is tossed into the maelstrom to be battled over – and passed off the ball or just lower his head and plow.

“BC High’s a great team, and they put us under pressure,” said Bruce. After grinding out 20 meters in the middle of a maul, Cullen scored a five-point try about 25 minutes into the 35 minute half. When the Eagles missed the conversion, they led by two, 5-3.

Belmont nearly took the lead late in the half when Campbell rumbled 20 meters against an exhausted BC High team, coming up just three meters short of the goal line.

Just a minute into the half, Belmont secured the ball deep in the Eagles end on a mistake. Seconds later, Campbell found wing Luke Gallagher with a pass that allowed the senior to cross the goal line. A Chan conversion gave Belmont a 10-5 lead, the first time this season BC High trailed in the second half.

While Belmont appeared to have momentum on its side, what it didn’t have was the steady wind at its back as in the first half.

“They played the territory game real well, playing the wind, pinning us back in our end. When we try to counter – which is our strategy – it was tough to do with a 20-mph wind in your face,” said Bruce.

BC High’s Billy Connos would send long kicks into Belmont’s end, and their wingers would stop Belmont’s backs without much gain. At the 15 minute mark, BC High was threatening inside five meters of the goal line. While Belmont put up two stellar defensive stances, the third time was the charm for Cullen who piled into try to give BC High a 12-10 lead after 18 minutes.

“He’s been a great player for the past three years. I’m glad he’s graduating,” Bruce said of Cullen.

And now it was Belmont’s time to make small errors that allowed BC High to take charge. No longer were Eagle wingers dropping the ball. Instead, they began running off passes to scamper downfield for long gains down their left side. Cullen’s third try of the game came soon after one-such venture to up the score to 19-10 with about 10 minutes left in the game. And a late try off a long run from wing Joe Souza provided the final score.

All that was left was for coaches and teammates to console those too tired, sore and spent to care about anything other then the defeat.

On that cloudless, warm late spring afternoon, it was too early for Bruce to ponder about the season. Rather, it was about the boys.

“For everyone in the league besides BC High. we were able to put it together and walk away on top,” said Bruce.

“They are such a coachable group they work so hard in training. Before the season started; 6 a.m. sessions in January, March in the snow, mud and the rain, classroom sessions. They put in so much time. This is such as a cerebral group,” he said.

Bruce said he would miss this large group of seniors – many who were on the team which won the state championship in 2013 – knowing several are going on to play college rugby “and we’re really proud that they are going to be doing that.”

“Our mantra is that you leave the jersey in a better place; through your effort, commitment, and dedication. Despite not winning, this team left the jersey in a better place.”

Belmont Rugby Knocked About by BC High for First Loss

Photo: Belmont Rugby.

Before the season began, Belmont High Rugby’s Head Coach Greg Bruce said he had heard rumblings that Boston College High School’s rugby club would be a challenger this year.

“BC High is coming into the season with high hopes,” said Bruce, noting that Belmont defeated BC High twice last season, including in last year’s playoff semifinals.

“But they’ve been really quiet about what they’re doing so that makes me wonder.” 

Bruce’s speculation of the Eagles’ aptitude was in evidence on a wind-swept field in Boston’s Columbia Point as Belmont came upon a highly physical BC High XV (for 15 players) that used its skill to win the ball after each tackle to take control of the match to defeat the visitors, 20-7, on Wednesday, April 15.

Belmont currently sports a 2-1 record against Division 1 teams, and 3-1 overall. 

After falling behind 5-0, Belmont’s senior captain Darren Chan faked out a defender and sped 25 meters for a five-point try (similar to scoring a touchdown) with Luke Gallagher kicking the two-point conversion to put Belmont out in front. 

But the host Eagles were able to take advantage of their superior skill at winning “breakouts” – the time after a tackle when players group over the ball to take possession of the ball – and not allowing Belmont to play its game of running its quick backs against its opponents.

While Belmont threatened BC through out the game, moving in close three times in the second half, BC High was able to make the stops they needed. A pair of late trys sealed the game in BC High’s advantage.

Belmont Rugby is currently on a week-long playing tour on the Algarve Coast of Portugal before meeting another historically-strong team, St. John’s Prep High School, on Wednesday, April 29, at 7 p.m. at Harris Field.