Earl Marriott's Thomas Choi takes on a trio of Robert Bateman defenders during Wednesday's quarter-final game at Abbotsford's Rotary Stadium.

Drop-goal gives Mariners last-second victory

Perfectly executed kick from Mariners' Tomasi Vataki sends EMS into provincial rugby semifinals today against Shawnigan Lake

Hand it to the Earl Marriott Mariners – when it comes to rugby, they have a certain flair for the dramatic

And Wednesday at Abbotsford’s Rotary Stadium, Marriott’s senior boys side were at their hold-your-breath-and-close-your-eyes best in the game’s waning moments, perfecting a rare drop-goal with one second left to beat Abbotsford’s Robert Batemen Timberwolves 13-12 in quarter-finals of B.C. AAA High School Rugby Championships.

With EMS buzzing near the T-Wolves’ goal-line late in the game, fullback Tomasi Vataki – a Canadian U17 player – booted a perfect drop-goal through the uprights from about 15 yards out to give his team the improbable win as time expired.

“It was pure pandemonium. It was nuts – just nuts,” said EMS coach Adam Roberts.

Adding to the feat was that Vataki wasn’t even Marriott’s top choice to make such a difficult kick, but regular kicker Colin Stonier was injured in the final minute, leaving Vataki to play the hero’s role.

It was a gut-wrenching result for Bateman, who also lost the 2012 Fraser Valley championship to EMS. Earlier this season, they had defeated Marriott 32-31 in a game that, ironically, was also won on the last play of the game.

“We’d asked the boys to put everything out there, and when they left the game not to have any excuses,” said Bateman coach Dave Chambers said. “The guys did that.

“I told them I didn’t see boys rugby today – I saw men’s rugby. It was outstanding, both sides. I’m very proud of our guys.

“Earl Marriott won with probably the hardest play to execute in rugby. That play has won World Cups, and it’s also lost championships because people have made mistakes. It’s not a lucky play – it’s a play where everything has to go right.”

The victory sends the No,. 3-ranked Mariners into semifinals today, where they’ll face a formidable foe – the four-time defending champion Shawnigan Lake Stags.

And though the Vancouver Island private school – which has long been among the best rugby programs in the entire country – faces a tough challenge for the Mariners, Roberts said earlier this month his team would not be intimidated by such an opponent.

“Bring on Shawnigan, bring on Carson Graham, bring on St. George’s – we can stack up to anyone, and our defence is as good as anyone’s in the province. We can give anyone a go,” he said, in the moments after his team defeated Yale for the Fraser Valley banner two weeks ago.

The Mariners weren’t the only Peninsula team this week to pull off a dramatic – perhaps unexpected  – victory.

On Day 2 of provincials Tuesday, the Semiahmoo Totems, ranked 16th in the 16-team tournament, beat No. 9-ranked Carson Graham, 22-20.

Both teams had already been knocked into the consolation bracket after first-day losses.

The Elgin Park Orcas – playing at provincials for the first time since 2008 – lost their first two opening games, to Shawnigan Lake Saturday, and Wednesday to G.P. Vanier, 36-7.

Today (Thursday) in the consolation round, Semiahmoo plays Lord Byng, while Elgin will face off against Cowichan.

In addition to Shawnigan Lake and Earl Marriott, St. George’s and Yale will face off in the other semifinal.

The championship game hits the pitch Saturday at Rotary Stadium.

– with files from Dan Kinvig

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