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Arizona overpowers GCU Men’s Rugby in season finale

GCU Men's Rugby vs. Arizona 4-2-21
April 6, 2021

Wildcats build 31-0 lead en route to 55-17 win at GCU Practice Soccer Field

By: Jim Howell/GCU Club Sports Information Director

Photo Courtesy: Jeff Dalton

At the end of the night, the numbers on the scoreboard were one-sided for the visitors.

What did the guys in purple care about when they looked at the electronic monster in the south end of the GCU Practice Soccer Field?

That the home side of the board said ‘Lopes’ on it all night long.

“During the pandemic, it was just a blessing to play,” said Lopes’ senior forward Damon McCaskill. “A lot of schools – especially in California – didn’t get the opportunity. We were just happy to get the opportunity to play here, and we showed it tonight.”

In front of a large and energetic crowd Friday night, the Grand Canyon University Men’s Rugby team dug themselves a first-half hole they couldn’t escape from, dropping a 55-17 decision to the University of Arizona on the GCU campus. The Wildcats maintained their perfect record in the six-match rivalry with the Lopes, and the Lopes finished the abbreviated season (due to the pandemic) with an 0-2 record – both losses at the hands of U of A.

What was essential to the Lopes, though?

“We simply had to get back on the field – first and foremost,” said Lopes’ Head Coach Sean O’Leary. “We got the chance to play an opponent at home, and what an opponent. We played a top-5 team, and we saw exactly what we need to do to get where we need to be.”

With 12 newcomers in the Lopes’ starting lineup, the Wildcats’ advantage in experience was apparent from the outset. GCU’s inability to successfully complete a lineout throughout the first half led to numerous turnovers, a couple of UA breakaways for tries and a 31-0 Wildcats’ lead 28 minutes into the match.

“It was just miscommunication on our part,” said McCaskill. “It’s all good, though. We’ll go back to the drawing board and work on it. We played a good game tonight, and that’s all I can ask from the boys.”

“There were a few things in that first half that were a bit disturbing – simply because of what we had worked on since the (first matchup between the two teams) two weeks prior,” said O’Leary. “Therefore, we had a rap session in the changing room at halftime, although it was mostly me talking, to change the mindset. Not my mindset, but theirs, and it made a difference in that second half.”

The Lopes played mostly even with Arizona in the final 40 minutes. GCU’s defense stopped two Arizona drives late in the first half and carried that momentum into the second stanza. Offensively for GCU, it was the ‘Tucker Trickey Show’, since the junior back from Carlsbad, California, scooped up a loose ball that had been pried away from McCaskill at the try line to get the Lopes on the board in the 35th minute, then completed a ‘hat trick’ by scoring the other two Lopes’ tries in breakaway fashion – including one at the final horn.

“Tucker is just special,” said O’Leary. “He uses his talents so well and has responded to learning why he does things on the field the way he does them.”

While UA still has a pair of regular season games left on their schedule, the Lopes have reached the end of a 2020-21 road shortened by COVID restrictions and cancelled games by opponents whose schedules weren’t shortened but eliminated entirely.

That leaves everything EXCEPT negative thoughts in the players’ minds gazing forward.

“One word to wrap this season up? Perseverance,” said McCaskill, who – like every other senior on the current roster – plans to use the extra eligibility granted for those involved in the pandemic year and will return for next season. “We’ve been battle-tested. We’ve gone through the pandemic, so we can go through anything, and that’s our mindset.”

Interested in playing GCU Men’s Rugby? Join the team today!

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