Throughout much of Friday, St. Mary’s looked like maybe the best team at Nationals. Several coaches or onlookers remarked at the Gaels’ speed and sharpness, and rightly so, as they opened the tournament with a 53-0 drubbing of UW-Milwaukee.
The second game, however, was probably closer than one might have expected, as a pesky Western Washington team led St. Mary’s 7-0 early and outscored the Gaels in the second half. But SMCC strung together 26-straight points between WWU scoring stretches in the 31-19 win.
Also in Pool C, NC State had a starkly different day. The Wolfpack were caught napping in their opening game, and Western Washington shelled them 24-5. The back-to-back Atlantic Coast 7s champs responded by punishing UW-Milwaukee 35-5 in round two.
Entering its third game against heavily favored St. Mary’s, ascending NC State would need to knock off the Gaels and hope for UW-Milwaukee, which had 90 points scored on it in its first two games, to beat Western Washington. The latter happened, and surprisingly, the former nearly did, too.
NC State caught St. Mary’s by surprise, especially in the breakdown, and matched the Gaels two tries midway through the second half. Brandon Alvey hit both conversions for NC State, while St. Mary’s’ attempts missed, giving the Wolfpack a 14-10 advantage.
“NC State is a really physical team, and we were trying to kind of keep the ball out of contact, but when we went into contact they caught us off guard a couple times in tight stuff,” said Andrew Cook of St. Mary’s. “We weren’t really ready for that. They’re an awesome team, got a lot of pace, strength on that team.”
Cook dotted down St. Mary’s third score in the 11th minute, which converted put them up 17-14. Michael Haley extended the Gael lead a minute later to ice the victory, despite a late score from Alvey.
St. Mary’s tinkered with its lineup throughout the day, proving its depth, which will help immensely on day two.
“We like to put out different looks here and there, make sure we get all our guys a bunch of minutes, try to save everyone’s legs on the first day,” said Cook.
“And we trust every single guy out here. It’s not like there’s a drop off when any subs come on or off. It’s great to be a part of this team, and it’s fun to be in this first tournament.”