After making a run to the National Division-II semifinals last spring, the Georgetown University Rugby Football Club definitively raised the bar for the program’s future. If the 2009 fall season has been any indication, that standard could be on an upward trend again.
For the eighth straight year, the Hoyas advanced to the Potomac Rugby Union Final Four, and for the first time since 2005, they defeated Salisbury University, the league’s defending champion. Following a 12-3 triumph over UMBC in the semifinals, Georgetown used a lightning-quick second-half surge to secure a 21-10 win in the title game.
“It was pretty crazy,” senior flyhalf and team captain, Phil Cooney, said. “It was 3-0 Salisbury at halftime. . With about 30 minutes left, I went into the sin bin, which is like a yellow card, and you have to sit in the opponent’s end zone for 10 minutes and we had to play a man down.”
Salisbury extended its lead to 10-0 with Cooney still in the end zone, but with the Hoyas seemingly on the brink of losing control of the game, they found an extra gear.
“A big theme we were pushing was how we were going to deal with and overcome adversity,” Cooney said. “We wanted to make sure that when it happened we were ready and remained calm. Everyone realized this was the moment in the game where we had to dig deep. . We actually advanced the ball down the field. . We kept that momentum rolling – it was pretty spectacular. The other team was shocked and [was] at a loss. .We haven’t beaten these guys since 2005, so they expected us to roll over. But we counter-punched and put in three tries in 20 minutes to win the game.”
Cooney tallied three conversions, while senior eightman Ben Vinograd and junior wing Matteo Gomez each scored a try. With the PRC title, the Hoyas secured a No. 1 seed in the Mid-Atlantic regional in March, and according to rugbymag.com, they are currently the nation’s top-ranked Division-II men’s rugby squad.
“It really all started with [Head Coach JP Perez] – when he came,” Cooney said of the Hoyas’ rise to national prominence. “He sort of just established this culture that we are going to be a winning program.”
Before earning a berth in the championship game, Georgetown had to go through UMBC. Both teams had to deal with a muddy playing surface, which became a factor in the 12-3 final score. While the Hoyas controlled much of the action in the first half, they failed to convert on several scoring opportunities. A Vinograd try after halftime sealed a date with Salisbury and Georgetown’s seventh trip to the PRU finals in eight years.
If there were any concerns that the Hoyas might suffer a letdown this fall after traveling to California for the Final Four in May, a perfect 10-0 season put them to rest. Their largest margin of victory was 64, and they outscored their opponents 347-100.
While Cooney knew he and his teammates were intent on building on last spring’s success, he may not have seen this dominance coming.
“Wow, that’s tough to do,” he said when asked to compare this year’s squad to last year’s. “Last year had a great group of seniors and they sort of carried the team. We thought we’d be missing them and have a tougher road in the fall and in the spring, but the guys in my class have stepped up, filled their shoes. . We have continued the momentum from last year and even though we lost our seniors, we’ve been able to have success.”
After GURFC holds its annual Alumni Game on Saturday, the Hoyas will turn their focus to the spring season, when they will look to return to the Final Four. If the fall has been any indication, Perez will not have to worry about his team becoming complacent.
“It’s hard to put your finger on the one thing that pushes everybody,” Cooney said. “But it’s probably the guys who made the decision after our success last year that we were going to do everything we could to get back to where we were. . The culture is that we want to win and we are going to win.”