Lopes double down on defense in thrilling season-opening victory
By: Mack Drake/GCU Staff
Photo Courtesy: Gillian Rea
A win that literally came by the skin of their teeth.
The Grand Canyon University Men’s Rugby team dug deep to deliver a defensive stand for the ages in a thrilling 13-10 victory over California Polytechnic University, San Luis Obispo Sunday night at GCU Stadium in the season and California Conference opener for both teams.
Down by three points in extra time, the Mustangs slowly and methodically moved the ball up the field in their final possession of the game, inching closer and closer to the try zone. Cal Poly eventually advanced the ball to within a foot of the game-winning try before GCU pushed back and ended the game with a critical stop.
“My heart rate was about 158,” joked Lopes Head Coach Sean O’Leary, who could only watch helplessly from the sideline. “I trusted the guys. We kept our discipline and made our tackles, and it allowed us to close out the game there at the end.”
The game-sealing stop was one of several key defensive stands made late in the second half. The Lopes (1-0) made critical tackles and stops deep in their own territory to preserve a slim three-point advantage late in the game.
Even more impressive? GCU played one man down for the majority of the game after one of its forwards was sent off with a red card in the first half.
“I think it says a lot about our heart,” said GCU forward Roddy Hamilton. “It’s a huge accomplishment to hold a team like (Cal Poly) down with one less guy. I was really proud of everyone, and it feels good to come out with the win.”
Fisher played a big role on both sides of the ball, scoring eight points on two penalty kicks and a conversion. His two penalty kicks in the first half gave GCU a 6-3 lead at the half.
Both teams labored up and down the field after intermission before Rayden Tuaua gave the Lopes some breathing room with a try five minutes into the second half. Fisher’s two-point conversion attempt was successful, giving GCU an 13-3 advantage.
Jasper Stone brought the Mustangs closer with a try in the 52nd minute. Patrick Madden’s ensuing two-point conversion cut the Lopes lead to 13-10.
Multiple strips by Jake Burns helped the Lopes’ defense preserve the victory with key stops in the final minutes, including the final stop in extra time.
Although GCU picked up the victory, O’Leary knows his team can improve going forward.
“It was a typical first day out of the blocks,” O’Leary said. “Having only been back in school for two weeks after the break, I expected our guys to be a little rusty. We were very undisciplined in the first half and got frustrated. We didn’t make any adjustments going into the second half. We just focused on cleaning up our mistakes.”
After a week off, GCU will be back in action against University of California, Santa Barbara on Feb. 1 at the GCU Practice Soccer Field.
“When you get wins like this, you can be happy about the things you did, but you have to move on as well,” Hamilton said. “You have to pick out what you did well and what you didn’t do well, correct the mistakes and move on to the next game.”
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