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Saturday, April 30, 2022

Kansas men’s rugby team loses to Fresno State in D1AA title game

Kansas men's rugby players pose for a team photo at the Westwick Rugby Complex in Lawrence. (Photo courtesy of Griff Hastings)

Kansas men's rugby players pose for a team photo at the Westwick Rugby Complex in Lawrence. (Photo courtesy of Griff Hastings)

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A late surge by the Kansas men's rugby team wasn't enough to overcome an early deficit as it lost 22-17 to Fresno State in the Division 1AA championship game in Arlington, Texas, on Saturday afternoon.

The Jayhawks, making their first appearance in the title game, fell behind 14-0 shortly before halftime, cut their deficit to five points with roughly 12 minutes remaining and had a quality scoring chance late but were unable to cross the goal line.

"We kept the hammer down right until the 80th minute," said coach Andy Stewart. "It was one of those games where it could have gone either way at the end there, and Fresno was just good enough to keep us out, so full credit to them."

Kansas controlled possession for much of the game, especially in the first half. It spent nearly all of the first 15 minutes on the attack but conceded the first points when Fresno State fly-half Isaia Kruse scored on a linebreak about 20 minutes in and converted for the 7-0 lead.

The Bulldogs scored again after 32 minutes when left wing Josh Jacobsen sprinted nearly 40 meters down the left side for a try following a restart kick.

But the Jayhawks, who missed two penalty goal attempts, finally broke through just before halftime when prop Spencer Glaeser got the ball over the goal line when it appeared the Bulldogs had them stopped. Fly-half Chandler Owens converted from just inside the 22-meter line, pulling Kansas within 14-7 after 40 minutes.

Kruse made a penalty goal a minute into the second half for the 17-7 lead, and no more than five minutes later, Owens' clearing kick deep in his own half was blocked by Fresno State flanker Joe Kryger. No. 8 Justyn Mata recovered the ball in the in-goal area for the Bulldogs, who remained up 22-7 when Kruse's conversion failed.

Fresno State was within 5 meters of the goal line nearly 60 minutes in but committed a turnover that Kansas used to regroup.

At around the 68th minute, following a scrum near Fresno State's goal line, Kansas gained possession and No. 8 Trevor Lister scored a try untouched. Owens made the conversion to trim the lead to 22-17.

Three yellow cards on the Bulldogs in the closing minutes further opened the door for the Jayhawks, who maintained possession for the final five minutes plus nearly eight minutes of injury time but couldn't break through.

Flanker Dylan Hoye and then Lister each got within 5 meters of the goal line but were stopped, and Fresno State gained possession after a scrum and never again allowed Kansas within the 22-meter line.

"I said to the guys at the end of the game that just to get to this position, to be able to compete for it, is just a special moment and they earned it," Stewart said. "They were out there and they competed really hard. Sometimes, the results just don't go your way, and that's hard for them to process right now, but I know that they've all learned a lot from the experience."

Men's rugby team is a club sport at Kansas, which means it is not formally supported by the athletic department. In addition, the sport is sponsored by USA Rugby, not the NCAA or the NAIA, which has broken its top-level competitions into Division 1A and Division 1AA.

To make it to the game, coaches and players endured an eight-hour bus ride to Arlington's Choctaw Stadium. They were planning to depart the area late Sunday morning for the return trip to Lawrence.

Stewart acknowledged the team's disappointment but said the experience was still rewarding.

"I could see their hunger already to go again," he said. "That's kind of a life lesson here, right? You get these really tough moments and you do your best and you don't quite get the result, but off the back of that, you learn a lot. That's kind of where they are at the moment. They're super upset. There's no doubt about it. But you know what? We played our hearts out and we defended really well."

Comments

David Kelley-Wood 5 months ago

Number two in the nation is not exactly shabby. Congrats, Jayhawks, for a fine effort and excellent season. Rock Chalk.

Dirk Medema 5 months ago

When I heard they were hearing from basketball coaches, I was afraid they were going to try the 15 point comeback route 😉

Seriously though, Fresno has been blowing teams out, so the greater competitiveness is commendable.

Congratulations on a great season. Is there an NIL for the team?

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