By Sheila Mikailli
For the first time in Gaucho history, the UCSB men’s club rugby team (10-0) will progress to the Final Four, coming back from a halftime 17-0 deficit Sunday against Stanford (7-4) in the Round of 8 to win 33-17 at Harder Stadium.
“We were getting smashed,” senior captain Mitchell Raisch said. “We were on defense the whole time and that just made it even harder to stay alive.”
The Gauchos were down 17-0 for the majority of the 80-minute match. Stanford scored on its first try five minutes into the game, turning up the pressure to cause careless mistakes and several UCSB penalties.
“The game plan wasn’t being followed like we wanted to,” assistant coach Marquise Goodwin said. “We ran the ball when we should have kicked, and when we did kick, we didn’t find space on our kicks. We didn’t look to the corners and ended up kicking straight to their fullback, who was very good and shifty.”
Freshman wing Jonathan Prickett scored the team’s first try about 60 minutes into the match, which was followed by a second try from sophomore flanker Hunter Sapp. Junior wing John Gallo’s try and conversion put UCSB ahead 21-17.
“Once we got a break in the locker room, [we] addressed what we needed to take care of — then we really pulled it out from within and got the momentum and went with that the rest of the way,” Raisch said.
Gallo leads the team in scoring this season with 111 points (two penalty kicks, seven tries, 35 conversions). UCSB scored 399 points during the regular season, giving up only 65 — a stark improvement from last season, when they gave up 296 points and scored 83 on their way to a 2-6 record.
“This year we decided that we were going to set our own standards, and if people didn’t live up to them we were going to ask them to leave,” team president Ryan O’Leary said. “We wanted to create a tradition of winning.”
Seeded No. 1 in the Sweet 16, the Gauchos ousted No. 16 Oregon State on Saturday to make its first appearance in the Elite 8 Round since 2006.
Now ranked No. 3 in the nation, the Gauchos face No. 1 Bowling Green in the semifinals at Stanford University on May 13. Davenport and Harvard will join them in the D-I semis.