Furman defeats UNC-Wilmington to capture Southern Rugby Conference title
Furman ended UNC-Wilmington’s three-year reign over the Southern Rugby Conference Sunday by defeating the Seahawks 23-17 to win the SRC championship.
Hosted by the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, the Paladins coasted to the Sunday final after racing by East Carolina University 63-3. UNC-W had to work overtime to beat Appalachian State 22-17.
Furman’s victory brought to an end UNC-W’s 24-game SRC win streak and handed the Seahawks their first ever conference 15s loss.
The Paladins, playing with a stiff wind to their backs, used tactical kick for much of the first half to keep the Seahawks pinned on their end. Leading 6-3, Furman prop Jeff Tonge bullied into the corner of the try zone near the 25-minute mark to give the Paladins a 11-3 lead that would hold up until half time.
Midway through the second half, Furman sophomore flyhalf Jacob Milchuck extended Furman’s lead 18-3 on a try and successful conversion. The momentum shifted five minutes later when UNC-W scored a try and conversion of their own to cut Furman’s lead to 18-10.
Freshman flanker RJ Bradley muscled in a try with 10 minutes to go to help Furman to a commanding 23-10 lead. But the Seahawks, a physical team that is used to winning close games, scored with five minutes remaining to bring the score to 23-17.
With the win, Furman avenged a 38-48 loss to the Seahawks Oct.18 at John Roberts Field on the Furman campus, a contest in which UNC-W dominated the scrums.
“In our first game, UNC-Wilmington exposed some weaknesses and we worked two weeks to fix those,” said Furman Coach John Roberts. “Our scrum held their own today. We played tactically, intelligent rugby today and that is sometimes hard to do in an emotional game.”
During Saturday’s contest against ECU, junior winger Gibson Klaptor, a recently converted football player, score four trys against the outmatched Pirates. Freshmen Matti Newman, a fullback, and Bradley scored two trys. Trent Pannell, a senior lock and co-captain, also scored a try.
With the wins, Furman (8-1) advances the Division II regional play Nov. 22-23 to be held at James Madison University.
The Paladins won three Division III national championships 2003-05 and finished runner up in 2007 and 2008 before moving up to Division II in 2010, the same year the SRC was founded.
The Furman program finished with losing DII record that first year but steadily improved. In 2012, the squad finished 4th in the 12-team SRC. Last year, the Paladins placed third.
“I am particularly happy for our four seniors on the team,” says Roberts, who has compiled a 164-59-1 career record in 16 years. “This has been a building process. They really stuck it out through some challenging times. So this championship is particularly gratifying to them.”