Tennessee beat South Carolina 46-34 Sunday in the Southeastern Collegiate Rugby Conference Championship at Silverback Stadium in Atlanta. The Vols advanced to the SCRC final after beating Ole Miss 36-32 Saturday, and the Gamecocks did so by downing LSU 36-28 Saturday.
South Carolina led most of Sunday’s contest and even boasted a two-score lead well into the second half, but Tennessee never relented.
“South Carolina, they’re darn good. We just took advantage of some of our strengths in the second half and were able to kind of keep their attack under control,” said Tennessee coach Marty Bradley.
“South Carolina’s one of those teams where if you make a mistake, they make you pay. They scored most of those points off transition ball. So we made a point to just keep possession, and in the second half we got possession and field position, so we were able to kind of slowly and get back into it, and then we built up a little bit of a lead and held on there at the end.”
Tennessee gained its first lead at 29-27 before eventually stretching it to 46-27 to seal the win.
The Vols beat the Gamecocks just a week ago in the final game of the regular season. They purposely attacked the wide channels in that game and decided to mix up the game plan this time around.
“Our game plan a week ago was to take it wide against them and it worked for us, so we kind of figured they’re going to be ready for that this time, so this time let’s go a little bigger and keep it a little closer,” said Bradley.
“We made some mistakes early and they were able to capitalize on them, and they jumped on us a little bit and we just kept body punching and it slowly turned in our favor.”
Tennessee’s Joe Carpenter was named the game’s MVP by the SCRC. As part of the game plan, he lined up at flanker instead of at lock, where he normally plays.
“Joe got yellow carded and came right back on the field and set up a try that really kind of put us in position,” said Bradley. “He was a difference maker for us in a lot of ways.”
Tennessee had to come back on Saturday, too. The Rebels led in the game’s final minutes, and the Vols scored the go-ahead with just three to play. Tennessee kicked the restart deep, and Ole Miss made a clean line break well into Tennessee territory. Clutch Volunteer defense recovered and forced a knock on to end the game.
“They’re big boys, and they played some really, really hard rugby. They took it to us. We were very fortunate to get out of that game,” said Bradley.
“I’m not sure what the age of those kids are, but if that’s the core of the kids that are coming back next year, they’re going to do well. They just run straight ahead and make you stop them and it’s hard to do, because they’re all falling forward.”
With the win, Tennessee advances to the Sweet 16. The Volunteers will play in Knoxville, Tenn. in the region they’re hosting. South Carolina is holding out hope for an at-large bid.