How did the upset happen; how did Bowling Green unseat a seemingly unbeatable Mary Washington?
A few factors. First of all, Mary Washington isn't infallible. The Mothers did indeed win the Chesapeake Conference with an average score of 56-10, going 7-0. And, true, they almost beat a really good Navy team, losing 15-14.
Not Used To Trouble
But conventional wisdom says that if you don't run into many difficulties, it's more challenging when the games get tougher.
Rugby is full of teams that won championships after a few nailbiters, beating teams that won in a series of blowouts along the way.
That's not to say UMW was complacent - more that sometimes teams, especially young teams, can take some time to react when an opponent fights back. Sometimes that time can be precious.
Album of photos from the D1AA semifinals. St. Joseph's vs Western Michigan in the mud (David Hughes photos). Bowling Green in orange vs Mary Washington on green grass (Roger Mazzarella photos).
Injuries were also a factor. Several players - Michael Sacks, Jordan Sacks, Joseph Callery, Matthew Gordon, and Bradlee Nicholls - all key starters in last year's playoffs we out injured or left the game early due to injury. That's the issue in two-game weekends; no matter how good a team is 1 through 15, you need depth.
UMW's bench performed admirably, but Bowling Green's squad was a little more savvy, a little more experienced.
Bowling Green lost a conference game to Western Michigan, and that result, as much as anything, had kept the Falcons out of FloRugby's D1AA Top 10. But the Bowling Green players knew they were better than that, and just wanted an opportunity to prove it. They beat Kentucky, and had no qualms about proving it again against Mary Washington.
And It Almost Went The Other Way
Mary Washington opened up a 14-0 lead before Bowling Green got going. Peter Weis scored on an interception, and then hooker Phil Bryant, a stalwart for the program, scored a try. UMW had added a penalty so, with Chris Labadie's conversion, it was 17-12 UMW. But then Falcon fullback Tim May scored (Labadie converted) and it was 19-17 Bowling Green.
Mary Washington replied, and took a 22-19 lead into the break.
Right off the second-half kickoff Bryant and flanker Ryan Steinmetz combined to get Bowling Green near paydirt, and flanker Dan Waltrmeyer finished it off. Mary Washington responded to retake the lead at 27-26. But once again Bowling Green scored off the restart.
This time, flyhalf Adam Kubicki went in under the posts. Labadie's conversion was good. Mary Washington replied, and here came a key moment. The Mothers conversion attempt by fullback Aidan Gallagher struck the crossbar, bounced upward, and then fell on the near side - a miss. Bowling Green now led 33-32.
Mary Washington went back on the attack, but this time Bowling Green center Zach Miller intercepted a pass and was in untouched. Labadie converted for a 40-32 lead. So that conversion hitting the crossbar was a key moment. Mary Washington knew they had to score twice to win. They scored once, but that was all - 40-39.
All of that sets up a fall final between Bowling Green and St. Joseph's, the teams that lost the last two fall D1AA finals, respectively. Expect something special.