Though they’ve been among B.C.’s top high-school rugby programs for more than a decade, the Earl Marriott Mariners senior boys had never been able to get over the hump at provincials, always upended in semifinals, or sometimes earlier if they had the misfortune of matching up against a perennial powerhouse like Shawnigan Lake.
That all changed on Saturday at Abbotsford’s Rotary Stadium, however, as the South Surrey side claimed its first-ever B.C. banner, defeating the Robert Bateman Timberwolves 46-19 in the final.
“It just shows you how difficult a provincial title is to win,” longtime Mariners coach Adam Roberts said the team’s long-awaited championship.
“The program has had a lot of success and we’ve enjoyed some victories, but we’ve never culminated a season like this. It was just so fantastic for the boys and for the program.”
The season was one of ups and downs for the Mariners, who spent the regular season playing in the provincial’s quad-A premier division, where they took their lumps against teams like Shawnigan, St. George’s and Oak Bay. Marriott moved to the triple-A league for playoffs, where they won a Fraser Valley championship with a win over Yale in late March.
They began provincials last week with a win over the No. 8 seed Handsworth Royals, before defeating South Delta – last year’s triple-A champs – 17-5 in semifinals on Thursday, which set up Saturday’s matchup with the T-Wolves.
“We don’t have a ton of depth, so to run the table, it takes a bit of luck for your guys to stay healthy and motivated,” explained Roberts.
“There’s a lot of factors that play into a successful provincial tournament because three games in five days is super tough on the body.”
As the eight-team tournament’s sixth seed, Bateman was something of a surprise finalist, but made their way into the title game after a 16-15 upset over No. 2-ranked Yale in semifinals.
With their opponents coming off such an emotional, dramatic victory, Roberts said his team’s game plan was to try to start strong, and nullify any momentum the Bateman crew might have.
“Bateman played their hearts out against Yale, and we knew that if we came out on fire, and took that front foot, we’d have a good first half and that’s exactly what happened,” he said.
The Mariners scored in bunches in the first half – led in large part by twins Talon and Takoda McMullin, who combined to score half of the team’s 46 points by game’s end – and led 34-5 at halftime. Robert Bateman managed to tack on a few points in the second half, but the result was never really in doubt as EMS cruised to the win.
Keegan Aves, Matteo Ferreira, Daniel Shay and Sam LaRoue – who had two – also scored tries for the Mariners.
“The guys kept a really calm demeanour, they kept their heads up,” Roberts said of how his team responded when the Timberwolves started to put a few more points on the board.
Without the aforementioned depth, Roberts said his group – which includes only one Grade 12 starter, captain Eric Niehbur – was exhausted by the final whistle on Saturday, “but I think the win (fixed) that pretty quickly.”
With only Niehbur moving on from the team’s group of starters, the Mariners are likely be once again be among the province’s top senior boys teams – led by the McMullins, whom Roberts called “just two really special athletes.”