Fourth-ranked Utah pushed the ball over the Santa Barbara goal-line to take a lead for good, and the #9 UCSB men’s rugby team lost 10-8 Saturday night to the team that eliminated them in last year’s playoffs. In a tough, physical game with plenty of big hits on both sides of the ball, the Gauchos simply ran out of time after their offense got going.
“It’s two great teams going at it, and we came up on the short side this time,” Head Coach Kevin Battle said. “Our guys played great and I’m really proud of them.”
It was a defensive struggle throughout the first half, with both teams failing to capitalize on their opportunities to score. Both teams were able to drive the ball close into opposing team’s red-zone, but neither could push the ball over the goal-line, and the first half ended with the score tied at zero. UCSB had several opportunities to take the lead on penalty kicks, but awkward angles caused the Gauchos to miss all four attempts.
“It seemed teams were able to get the ball moving and open the game up, but once you got deep into the other team’s territory, the defense just shut them down,” Battle said.
The second half opened at a noticeable faster pace, with both teams trading possessions before Utah recovered the ball about ten yards from the Santa Barbara goal-line. They inched steadily closer, being driven back several times by the Gaucho defense before finally crashing past the goal-line for a 5-0 lead.
Utah missed their extra point attempt, and the game remained a defensive struggle for much of the second half. With about fifteen minutes left, Utah’s All-American Blake Burdette rushed into the end zone to extend the Utes’ lead to 10-0.
The Gauchos offense finally came alive after the Utah score, driving into the end zone for a quick try, and converting a penalty kick to close the deficit to 10-8. After recovering the ball with about five minutes left, the Gauchos seemed to have momentum on their side, driving several times to within a few yards of the Utes’ goal line. But time ran out for the Gauchos, who were denied revenge for last year’s playoff loss in the Elite Eight.
“It was pure grit and tenacity, with both sides refusing to give up,” senior fullback Adam Mitchell said. “It was a dog fight, and they just came up on the winning side, it could have gone either way.”
Battle was gracious in the loss, praising the talent on Utah’s side of the ball while stating that the Gauchos will be ready should they meet Utah in the playoffs again this year.
“They’re a fantastic team. They’re ranked fourth in the nation right now, and they proved why,” Battle said. “It’s a very strong possibility we’ll see them again in the playoffs. If we finish on top of our league, which we hope to do, we’ll probably see them again.”
With their preseason schedule concluded, the Gauchos will open their league schedule against UC San Diego at home on Saturday. After a difficult preseason that saw UCSB face two teams ranked in the nations top 10, the Gauchos are ready for league games.
“We’re going to get back at it this week, and we’ll be ready for San Diego this weekend,” Battle said. “This was our last preseason game – the real season starts now.”