The Earl Marriott Mariners’ junior boys rugby team has ended its season in the best way possible – with a win.
A win in the Fraser Valley championship game, against a previously undefeated team, no less.
On Wednesday at Abbotsford’s Yale Secondary, the Mariners came from behind to edge the host school – which had been steamrolling opposing teams all season long – 14-12, thanks to a late try and the accurate kicking of Tyson Smith.
“It’s just a great way to end the year,” said coach Scott Martens. “It’s been fairly common for us to be in the Fraser Valley final over the years, but Yale was unbeatable this season, so it was a big win.”
Playing on the Yale Lions’ home turf – hosting duties for Fraser Valleys were decided long before the Abby school made the title game – the Mariners jumped out to an early first-half lead, abeit a slim 7-5 one.
John Smith – no relation to Tyson – scored the Peninsula side’s try, and then Tyson Smith booted a conversion through the uprights from a near-impossible angle.
“The kick was from about two metres from the sideline,” Martens said.
“It was an incredibly tough angle. Even in international rugby, that’s only about a 60 percenter. Tyson’s always had the ability to make that kick but it’s a tough one, and it’s about consistency.”
The low-percentage conversion provided the team with a huge morale boost early in the game, Martens added.
In the second half, the game became much more physical as Yale imposed its playing style on the visitors, Martens said.
The home side got a try – and a conversion – to take a 12-7 lead, which held until the final two minutes of the game.
With the clock ticking down, Mariners’ Wylie Gilliette scored – and Tyson Smith converted – to give the team a 14-12 lead. Yale pressed for the go-ahead score in the waning seconds, but never got closer than about 30 yards from the Mariner end zone.
“Yale plays a very tough, straight-ahead style, and we’re more of a finesse team that spins the ball out wide,” Martens said.
“It was a scrappy last few minutes, but the guys held on… by the end, they just had nothing left in the tank. I was just really proud of the heart and toughness they all showed.”
That heart was no more apparent than in the play of Jackson Sylvester-Lee, Martens said.
During the game, Sylvester-Lee injured his leg – it later turned out to be a partially torn calf muscle – but continued to play.
“He’d be limping between plays, but then he’d get the ball and he’d be going as hard as ever,” Martens explained. “But he must’ve been in some pain – the next day at school he was on crutches.”
Martens was especially pleased with the way his squad played defensively, holding the high-powered Lions to just 12 points.
“I don’t think anyone’s held them to under 30 points all year, and they routinely put up 50-plus on teams,” he said. “Our guys just played a great game at the right time.”