Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass club rugby falls short in upset bid over No. 2 AIC

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Shannon Broderick/Daily Collegian

(Shannon Broderick/Daily Collegian)

Sometimes in the sports world, simply being good is not always good enough.

The members of the Massachusetts club rugby team are no strangers to this notion as, despite another strong effort, it was downed by a higher-seeded conference foe American International College Friday in Springfield, 41-11.

It was the third loss in four games for the Minutemen who, after an electric start to their season, have had trouble standing up to the higher-ranked and more competitive second half of their schedule.

The win for No. 2 AIC improved its record to 7-0, as the Yellow Jackets sit atop the East Coast Rugby Conference, anticipating a conference championship standoff with fellow undefeated Boston College.

After a defensive battle throughout the first half, the Yellow Jackets finally cracked through against the UMass defense for good in the second half, executing a huge play in the first minute of action. AIC’s Jihad Khabir scored a long try after dodging the entire Minutemen defense in his own half and broke away down the sideline.

A try by UMass captain Thomas Thekaekara 15 minutes later cut the deficit to 27-11, but after the Minutemen regained possession and subsequently fumbled into their own goal, AIC extended their lead once again.

Another long-distance run by Khabir three minutes later capped off the scoring for the day and the Yellow Jackets triumphed in what may have been a closer game than they had anticipated.

“It’s obviously always tough to lose, but I think we came out playing pretty well,” said Thekaekara after the game, whose try on Friday night improved his total to a team-high 12 tries.

Friday’s game started off slow, as each side traded penalty scores in the early goings to make it 3-3 after 15 minutes of play. AIC then scored a try in the 17th minute, which was quickly answered by UMass through another penalty conversion off the foot of freshman Joe Jenkins to make it 8-6 in favor of the Yellow Jackets.

AIC then scored back-to-back tries in the final 10 minutes of the half but only connected on one of the two conversion kicks, which set the score at 20-6 going into halftime. At that point, the Minutemen’s defense had stood strong against one of the most potent offensive attacks in the nation.

A very physical match on both sides, the game saw defense dictate the pace and momentum for the team on top, which was usually AIC. An impenetrable defensive front for the Yellow Jackets forced many Minutemen turnovers and prevented much offensive advancement of any sort. UMass looked stout early on but tired in the second half, giving up long gains and failing to break the line of AIC as the Yellow Jackets moved the ball.

“Our defense did very well coming up to the line and holding position,” senior Joe Gifford said. “But they had very quick backs on offense and their defense was solid in stopping us out wide and making good hits.”

The effort was present for UMass but the execution was not always there. The speedy Jihad Khabir scored three tries on the day, two of which were scored after lackadaisical exertions on the part of the Minutemen’s defense.

“They are much more competitive than most of the teams we play in-conference,” Gifford said. “They’re the best team in the country and (they) play a very physical game.”

The Minutemen cap off their regular season on Saturday, Nov. 7 at home against Middlebury College. UMass will then head to its second annual American Collegiate Rugby Championship bowl game in North Carolina on Nov. 22.

Henry Brechter can be reached at [email protected]

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