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.”