Earl Marriott Mariners head coach Adam Roberts called it a program-changer.
And in light of his team’s 15-14 quarter-final victory over the higher-seeded St. George’s Saints at B.C. High School AAA Rugby Championships – a win which guarantees EMS a top-four finish in the province – it’s hard to argue with the coach’s assessment.
“We pulled it off, it was huge,” Roberts said Thursday morning, a day after his team’s one-point win over the No. 4-ranked Saints at Abbotsford’s Rotary Stadium.
“It was so close, so intense. Sometimes you’re on the losing end of these types of game, but this time, it’s just really nice to be on the right side of it.”
Against the Saints, the Mariners fell behind 7-0 early in the first half, but tied the game on an Ian McMaster try, which was converted by Quinton Wilms.
In the second half, St. George’s made it a 14-7 game when they scored a try on what Roberts deemed a “real lucky bounce.”
On the play, the Saints sailed a kick toward Marriott’s fullback, but the ball bounced high into the air and directly into the waiting arms of an oncoming Saints’ players, who bolted into the end zone for the go-ahead try.
Later in the half, Marriott’s Liam Bealieu scored a try, which went unconverted to leave the Peninsula side trailing 14-12.
With three minutes remaining in the game, Marriott was awarded a penalty kick, which Wilms slotted through for the lead.
“And then for the next three minutes we just held the fort,” Roberts said, adding that Bobby Devaney was instrumental in helping the Mariners run out the clock.
After Wilms’ penalty kick, the Mariners kicked the ball back to the Saints, but Devaney was able to charge downfield, leap up and secure the ball for the Mariners, as the clock continued to tick down.
“Bobby’s a receiver on the football team and he’s got just sick hands,” Roberts explained. “He just leapt up there higher than everybody and pulled it down. It was huge for us, just huge.”
The fifth-seeded Mariners last advanced to semifinals in 2009, when they upended another much higher seed, the Carson Graham Eagles – who, like St. George’s, are perennial contenders on the high school rugby scene.
Earl Marriott played No. 1-ranked Shawnigan Lake in semifinal action Thursday night after Peace Arch News deadline – a game Roberts described as “another David versus Goliath matchup.”
Shawnigan Lake, a private boarding school on Vancouver Island, has been one of the top rugby programs in the country for much of the last decade. They’ve won the last two provincial titles, and have been in the championship game six times in the last seven years.
“It’s going to be tough, for sure. Those guys are like men out here,” Roberts said. “But our guys have a real hate-on for some of these private schools, so they’re ready. They’re pumped up – this is what we’ve played for.
“We’re just going to have to eliminate our mistakes, because good teams will capitalize on them quickly.”
The winner of Thursday night’s game advanced to the title game Saturday, against either Carson Graham or Oak Bay.