In a thrilling match that saw them trail for over 60 minutes, the Navy men’s rugby team secured the program’s first Division I-A National Championship with a 28-22 victory over No. 5 California. The win marks the end of the team’s first varsity season, during which they maintained an undefeated 18-0 record.
Despite facing their largest deficit of the season, a 15-point gap, the Mids managed to come from behind and claim their second victory of the season over the Golden Bears. Flanker Tanner Russell was named the College Rugby Association of America (CRAA) DI-A National Championship Player of the Match for his contributions to the victory.
Speaking after the game, Director of Rugby Gavin Hickie praised the team’s performance, saying, “To go down, 15-0, to Cal and claw back to win this game is remarkable and this team earned the right to call themselves national champions.” He added, “Before this season we had never beaten Cal and to do it twice with all the pressure shows you what kind of team this is.”
Cal took an early lead in the match, scoring a try in the ninth minute and converting it to go ahead 7-0. They extended their lead with another try in the 13th minute, before adding a penalty kick in the 23rd minute to put Navy in their largest deficit of the season at 15-0.
However, Navy fought back and managed to score their first try of the game in the 29th minute through William Webb. Roanin Krieger added a conversion kick to make the score 15-7. Krieger had an opportunity to add three points on a penalty kick in the 35th minute, but was unsuccessful in his attempt.
Navy continued their comeback in the second half, with Sean MacLaney and Ryan Bullock both scoring tries to bring the score to 22-21 in favor of California. Landon Opp then scored the game-winning try for Navy in the 68th minute, with Krieger adding a conversion kick to give the Mids a 28-22 lead.
The Golden Bears had several opportunities to score in the final minutes of the game, but Navy’s defense held strong and prevented them from adding to their score. The Mids managed to run down the clock and secure their first-ever national championship title.
Krieger led the Mids in scoring with eight points, finishing the game 4/4 on conversion kick attempts. Opp’s game-winning try was his fourth of the season, while Bullock scored his sixth try of the campaign and Webb his seventh.
The win marks a historic moment for the Navy men’s rugby team, who have proven themselves to be a force to be reckoned with in their first varsity season. As Hickie noted, “These men deserve medals and now they have them around their necks that say national champions.”