With the hopes of an entire season riding on this possession, the UCSB men’s rugby team began its final drive toward the UCLA goal line. A Bruin try, coming off a Gaucho fumble, gave the Bruins a 15-11 lead with two minutes to play. Needing to get down the field quickly, the Gauchos drop-kicked the ball into Bruin territory, and, in what turned out to be the turning point of the game, a UCLA player let the ball bounce off his chest.
The Gauchos dove on the ball, getting possession within 20 yards of the UCLA goal line. With every player on the sidelines and every fan in the stands cheering the team on, the Gauchos pounded the ball toward the end zone. Twice they appeared to cross it, only to have the play called back. Finally, after an injury timeout and some of the most physical scrums seen all season, senior scrumhalf Adam Christy carried the ball over the goal line for a try. The two-point kick was good, and UCSB held on for an 18-15 victory over rival UCLA, in front of an exhilarated Harder Stadium crowd Saturday to all but guarantee a spot in the Sweet 16.
“It’s incredible, unbelievable, what they were able to pull off,” UCSB Head Coach Kevin Battle said. “I told the guys it’s the heart of a champion.”
Though UCLA struck first on a penalty kick, the Gauchos quickly answered with two penalty kicks of their own for a 6-3 lead. Both teams traded defensive stands until just before halftime, when the Gauchos finally cracked the Bruin defense for a try and an 11-3 halftime lead.
The second half started out with more of the same, with both teams trading possessions, before a dropped pass on the Gaucho end led to a turnover 10 yards from the Santa Barbara goal line. UCLA took advantage of the gift and carried the ball in for a momentum-changing try. On their next possession, the Bruins ran the ball down the left sideline, dodging at least four UCSB tacklers for another try, which would have sealed the game if not for the Gauchos’ last-minute try.
“We didn’t play to our strengths in this game, but fortunately the guys were able to dig down,” Battle said. “I think if we can pull it together, play our game and minimize our mistakes, the only team that can beat us is us.”
Senior fullback Ryan Brown echoed the sentiment.
“We haven’t reached our peak yet,” Brown said. “It’s going to be scary when we do.”