LAFAYETTE, Colo. – In 2015 UC Davis won its first of two USA Rugby D1AA National Championships. The Aggies found a way to prevent Central Florida, a seemingly unstoppable force in D1AA at the time, from winning its third consecutive National Championship. Now UC Davis will attempt to achieve what it prevented Central Florida from accomplishing – win a third straight D1AA National Championship Saturday, May 6, against Notre Dame College as part of the 2017 USA Rugby College 15s National Championships live on The Rugby Channel.
It did not appear that UC Davis was going to reach a second championship-winning season. Last May, the Aggies fought off deficits in both the first and second halves of the National Championship game to beat the Falcons, 17-13, thanks to a late try.
As good as both teams were during the 2015-16 season, Notre Dame College and UC Davis have returned even stronger this year.
Being independent from a conference competition, the Falcons used the freedom to build a diverse and difficult fall schedule. Over a two-month period, Notre Dame College beat D1A Rugby teams Wheeling Jesuit, St. Bonaventure, Davenport, Indiana, and West Virginia – two of those clubs being ranked in Canterbury’s Top 20 and qualified for the 2017 D1A Rugby playoffs.
The challenging slate of matches had the Falcons plenty ready for the Fall D1AA Playoffs where they beat Syracuse and Cincinnati while relinquishing just five total points. In the Fall D1AA Championship game against an in-form Bowling Green State University side, Notre Dame College proved too athletic for the other Falcons from Ohio, and claimed its place in the College 15s National Championships with a 39-17 win back in December.
“We had a great fall season going 12-0 playing mainly D1A teams,” said Notre Dame College Head Coach Jason Fox. “We returned most of our players and have added a lot of depth with our incoming freshmen. Having another year to improve really helps.”
The Falcons retain 10 starters from last year’s championship finalist team. There is plenty of talented experience in the forward pack, but Notre Dame College typically creates its mismatches in the backs. Zach Forro, Cory Graham, and Roniel Reynolds lead a talented group in the back line. Forro can beat defenders using a combination of strength and speed, Graham is a slippery magician in the No. 10 jumper that only needs the smallest of a gap to exploit a defense, and Reynolds is the power finisher on the wing.
Not only are the Falcons gifted athletically, but they also have a little additional motivation behind them after letting a National Championship slip through their grasp 12 months ago and they have had five months to chew on the thought of potentially getting another crack at the Aggies.
“We know UC Davis is a very good program with a great team, however, our players have been looking forward to a possible rematch since December,” said Fox.
The Aggies do not have the number of returning players from last year’s D1AA National Championship team that the Falcons return, but they have had a number of players step up and fill the boots of graduated seniors very well. One key figure from last year’s squad was now-graduated fly half Ryan Morgan. The loss of his leadership and distribution has been replenished by Joshua Farnsworth’s move from center to No. 10. Farnsworth has been good all season, and even more special during UC Davis’ recent playoff run when he scored a combined 22 points in postseason victories over Grand Canyon University and Florida State.
Being the Spring Champions, the Aggies roll into Life University in Marietta, Ga., with recent must-win victories under their belt, including their dominant, 60-5, handling of Florida State in the Spring Championship game. Regardless of the 55-point win over the Seminoles to punch its ticket to a third consecutive D1AA National Championship fixture, UC Davis has been hard at work preparing for what it expects to be an immense challenge of defeating Notre Dame College again.
“The win over Florida State University is over and we are looking forward,” said UC Davis Head Coach Kal Incendy.
“What we have seen on film and what we remember is their athleticism. Although we won last year, Notre Dame College will be a difficult opponent.”
The match between Notre Dame College and UC Davis to decide the 2017 D1AA National Championship will kick off Saturday, April 6, at 11 a.m. ET and air live on The Rugby Channel.