Gryphons break men’s rugby title drought with win in a classic

Rob Massey, Guelph Sports Journal

GUELPH — They should be talking about this one for years.

The night the Guelph Gryphons broke an 18-year OUA men’s rugby title drought in drop kicks should go down in local rugby lore.

“I would’ve liked it to be a little easier,” Gryphon coach Cory Hector said after his team slipped by the Queen’s Gaels in drop kicks to claim the championship Sunday night at Varsity Field. “I’m just so happy for that group of guys.”

“The boys behind me put that kick through,” Mark Perrin said after his successful kick in the second round of drop kicks secured the title for the Gryphs. “The guys just told me to stay calm. It’s a mental game and you’ve got to stay mentally tough.

“That was hands-down the craziest rugby game, sports game, that I’ve ever been a part of. It’s just a very sweet way to end my varsity career here with my best friends.”

Drop kicks are so rarely used to decide a winner that the championship-game participants weren’t sure how they were going to break a 24-24 stalemate that existed after 100 minutes of play.

“I didn’t even know the rules,” Hector said. “It’s in part of the bylaws that you never scroll down far enough to read. I remember glancing over it a few times, but I was just as surprised as I think everybody here.”

“We went into overtime in the playoffs a few years ago, but the kicking thing — I had no clue what was happening,” Gryphon wing Maahs, who wrapped up a decade with the team in the championship game, said. “I didn’t know what the rules were. I didn’t know they had to do drop goals, I thought they were going to use a tee. I don’t think anybody knew what the rules were, except maybe one person. That was a really weird way to end it.”

As it turned out, a bit of horseplay at practice paid off for the Gryphs.

“The guys always mess around in practice and they try to see who can kick from the furthest, but certainly not when there’s any pressure on,” Hector said. “I feel that it was fairly evident that, yeah, we don’t practise.”

“The boys screwing around after practice and at the beginning of practice, I guess all that screwing around paid off for us,” Perrin said.

However, picking the five to participate in the drop kicks wasn’t a tough decision for the coach. He went with Perrin, Mario Van Der Westhuizen, Jordan Hofstra, Mike Little and Nate Stein.

“There’s a few guys (Perrin, Van Der Westhuisen and Stein) that I know could do it. They were automatic,” Hector said. “There were a few guys who just sort of put their hands up and said ‘Yeah, I’ll go for it.’ I think in those situations, you might as well just have a few guys who can go out there and give it a whack.”

Maahs didn’t volunteer, but might have had he known the rules.

“I thought it was off a tee which I’ve literally never done in my life before,” he said. “If it was drop goals, I would have, although the guys did a really good job because we won so I guess it wasn’t needed.”

The Gryphs and four-time defending champion Queen’s Gaels had been tied 17-17 at the end of regulation time. The teams each scored a converted try in an extra 20 minutes of play, the hosts scoring in the first 10-minute extra half and Queen’s replying in the second extra half. A single sudden-death period was tacked on, but still no winner.

Then drop kicks, rugby’s version of the penalty-kicks shootout in soccer. Each team selected five players for the first round with kicks taken from 25 yards out. Still no winner as the teams each managed one kick through the uprights. Move them another 10 yards further out and try again. This time the Gryphs prevailed after Van Der Westhuizen and Perrin put their kicks through, Perrin’s clinching the win. Guelph’s fifth kicker, Perrin had been the lone Gryph to be successful in the first round to force the second round.

The Gryphs had managed to keep the score deadlocked despite playing a man down following a red card issued for a big hit on a vulnerable Queen’s player midway through the second half of regulation time.

“That just shows the character of our team,” Hector said.

“A lot of the credit for us playing so well with a man down goes to Corey because he made the appropriate adjustments to keep maintaining the ball,” Maahs said. “Our forwards did so awesome to keep winning rucks with fewer people on the field because that’s the real danger, that you get spread too thin. We made tackles when we had to. Everyone did great to make up for the lack of the extra person on the field.”

“Everybody just laid it out on the field and we came out on top,” Perrin said.

Maahs scored a pair of tries in his final game as a Gryphon, including one in extra time.

“For us to win (the OUA championship) when I started was pretty much unthinkable when I started so it’s been a really long time to get to this point,” Maahs said. “So many awesome players have come through and not had this opportunity and we finally did it.”

Jack Caylor and Maclain Wakefield each ad a try for the hosts while Cody Burton and Van Der Westhuizen added one convert apiece.

Kai Lloyd, Michael Douros and Nicholas De Lallo in extra time each scored a try for Queen’s. Alex Colborne scored the other points on a penalty kick and three converts.

Colborne nearly gave Queen’s the win in the final couple of minutes of regulation time when he attempted a penalty kick from about 53 yards out. It easily had the distance, but struck the left upright and dropped harmlessly to the field.

Guelph’s third OUA title — they also won in 1974 and 1998 — completed an unbeaten season for the Gryphs as they won all eight of their regular-season games and all three of their playoff games.

“We’re losing, out of the guys who dressed today, probably eight or nine so it’ll be a different team next year, but we’ve got a lot of depth,” Hector said. “We used our full bench today so I have a lot of confidence in these guys moving forward.”