Kutztown beat Penn State 33-18 Saturday in Greenville, SC to claim the inaugural American Collegiate Rugby Championship. The Golden Bears swapped scores with Penn State en route to a 17-13 halftime lead and went on a 16-point second-half run to put the game away.
The ACRC title was KU’s first major 15s championship in some time. The Golden Bears also won the Rugby East this fall, but a short three-game season took a little shine off that trophy. Kutztown finished second in the league in the spring, third in 2012 and fourth in 2011. The Golden Bears missed out on the playoffs in 2011 and 2012, and in 2013, they were ousted in the DI-A quarterfinals by Arkansas State.
So for a big crop of seniors, including Mike Lawrenson, Gareth Lourens, Bruce Dolan and Matt Frederick, the ACRC provided a final shot at a meaningful 15s title.
“It definitely felt good,” said Dolan. “We played some close games against Army and Penn State these last couple of years that I’ve been here, and it felt good definitely to end it with a win like we did.”
Scalping intrastate rival Penn State in the championship game was an added bonus.
“We’ve lost to the foot of Joe Baker before,” continued Dolan. “There have been some really crucial losses that I’ll never forget, so beating them three times in a row, and two times this season, and once for the championship game was definitely nice.”
Kutztown jumped out to a 12-3 lead before conceding 10-straight points and the advantage on the scoreboard. Penn State got back-to-back tries from lock Christian Backus and wing Dom DeFalco, but KU regained the lead with an unconverted try before halftime. Still, the Bears felt they’d let the lead slip.
“Going into halftime we let up a couple of tries and we really just wanted to get them out of the way. The momentum’s not going your way, we just talked about how we just were going to flip that momentum and control the game,” said Dolan.
“They were shooting in on me, and I just wanted to make sure I could get that ball out wide and we made some breaks out wide. The forwards gave us some clean ball and we got to dot down some tries in the back line.”
Kutztown strangled the Nittany Lions with three penalties and a try in the second half before conceding a penalty try at the death.
Midway through the season, Kutztown’s players had a decision to make. The Golden Bears were already committed to competing for the new ACRC title, but considered splitting the team’s focus to make a run at USA Rugby’s College 7s Championship, too. Ultimately, a team vote landed in favor of putting all the club’s effort toward winning the ACRC. Guys wanted to reward the 15s-only players with a shot at a title, knowing the Collegiate Rugby Championship would be on offer for the 7s team in the spring.
“This team put in so much work as a 15s unit, so we made the decision to go win a championship,” said Dolan. “I can’t say that I didn’t want to play 7s, because I am a 7s player, but it was just cool that we made the decision to go for 15s and we won it, so it made it worth it.”