It’s easy to see how the University of Central Florida rugby team feels a bit overlooked.
Situated down there in Florida, with no big funding behind them – no corporate sponsor to speak of, no varsity support, no huge alumni base – they came to Bowling Green and the DIAA semifinals on the backs of a GoFundMe fundraising campaign, and a lot of hard work.
They couldn’t afford to bring their equipment with them, so the Bowling Green University rugby club offered a loan.
They also played a simple game plan – use their many big guys to pummel the opposition, create space elsewhere, and exploit that space.
So far, it has worked just fine. Unfazed by more well-known teams and players, the Knights just kept playing their game. After giving up a try in the opening minute against Dartmouth in Saturday’s semifinal, they rebounded to score twice and take the lead.
After leading 26-12 in the first half, they saw Dartmouth finish on stronger legs and more pace to make it 26-24 at halftime. That was where UCF won the game. Their bigger, more powerful team, would, you think, lose energy as the game wore on. We’ve seen it a thousand times – faster, fitter teams absorb the punishment of a larger team and then run away with it late.
But UCF did not flag. They did not panic. And in fact, they finished just fine, thank you, leading 45-31 before giving up a late try to finish 45-38.
They were led by two players who put in clutch performances. Scrumhalf Max Roehm kicked a penalty kick and six conversions, not missing a single kick and ensuring every UCF try got the maximum. Then there was fullback James Boozer.
“We knew they would kick,” said Head Coach James Granich. “They were going to test our deep three so we needed to be ready. They kept kicking to James and he caught every single kick and returned it with vigor. He was amazing.”
Captain Gerhard Veit scored two tries and was an inspirational leader. Sean Nelson, Dan Irion, Andy Goins, and Enslin De Witt all scored tries to go with Roehm’s 15 points from the boot.
Granich was impressed with Veit.
“We have a captain who leads by example in everything he does,” said the coach. “On and off the field, he does exactly what we need, and every team needs that. But what we have along with that is passion. The guys played with so much heart and passion. They have worked so hard. We were the underdogs. We don’t have the resources other teams have, but we have the passion.”
The parents rallied behind the team, said Granich, sending money and bringing T-shirts for the players.
“We may be from the most remote area,” said Granich, conveniently forgetting where Bellingham, Wash. is, “but we have the best and most vocal support. We’ve got a squad that is 99.9 percent American, and the best parents in the game.”
Sunday, UCF faces an imposing Lindenwood side that, like Dartmouth, has a talented and highly-regarded fullback. Maybe the overlooked stepchildren of DI-AA have one more in them. They think so.