Sunny skies, temperature in the high 60’s and an old rivalry. Washington State Cougars and the University of Washington Huskies were matching up on special day for the last game of the season. Washington State would end their season on the better note with a 48-19 win on their home pitch.
At minimum, pride and bragging rights are always on the line when these two schools get together. The respectful hatred runs deep in the veins of everyone associated with the schools. “GO COUGS” could be heard from the houses surrounding the pitch.
The Cougars had no problem getting the scoring started when winger Aron Smethurst got a great pass in stride from No. 8 Alex Kaser out wide and touched down for 5-0 lead. The next score would be almost identical when outside center Matt Huylar got the ball out wide off a set play from a ruck and scored with two Husky defenders draped all over him for a 12-0 lead with a Jesse Evans kick.
The Huskies stopped the bleeding with a score of their own from prop Dan Kanczugowski plunged over the line off a ruck deep in Cougar territory to cut the lead to 12-7 with a Kiel Rasp kick. After that, the Cougars wouldn’t let the Huskies back onto the scoreboard and score three more times, twice from prop Robert Marquez, playing his last game, and inside center Jordan Rehwaldt for a 29-7 lead at the half.
“We had faith in each other to keep the foot on the accelerator and never let up,” captain and senior Bryce Howald said. “We knew what we had to do because it was UW and it was a game we wanted really badly.”
The Cougars played at pace with great communication and physicality for the rest of the match. The scoring got started with flanker Rowan Ringer getting the ball from scrumhalf Calvin Elam off a ruck and pacing a good 40 meters up the sideline for a 36-7.
However, UW would get some momentum to swing back in their favor with some well-timed scoring of their own. From a set play off the lineout, Husky winger Chris Burgess got the ball at full pace, eluded the Cougar defense and touched down with a Rasp kick for a 36-12 score.
After that, Rasp booted a well-placed ball into Cougar territory and chased after it. For his effort, Rasp was rewarded with a score after the hard clearance kick bounced off his chest and then into his hands. 36-19.
However, it was too little, too late for the Huskies as the Cougars played one of their best games of the year according to WSU coach Matt Hudson. Huylar scored his second through the hands of the backline off the scrum to put the game out of the reach 41-19.
Soon after, Rehwaldt broke through the Husky defense and get the ball to Huylar at pace. But with speedy Husky winger Chris Dingle in pursuit, Huylar passed up a chance for a hat trick with one more pass to sub winger Matt Sutherland for the final score. Matias Narvaja’s conversion finished the scoring at 48-19.
Game, set and match to the Cougars to put all the seniors on the squad on a high note and a year’s worth of bragging rights. Although a defeat is never fun, UW still has a lot in the future with such a young squad (Rasp is the only senior).
“They (WSU) played a great game of rugby on their home pitch, hats off,” UW coach Brian Schoener said. “With the combination of the schedule and the youth on the roster, it was a tough year, but we have nothing to be ashamed off, we will be back.”
For the Cougars, this was definitely a way to make something out of nothing - beating their arch-rivals in front of a vocal crowd.
“Really wanted this and it was a great way to end my career here,” senior Rowan Ringer said. “This game has transformed my life in so many great ways and I will forever be thankful to this program and the memories I have with it.”
“Great way to end the season, couldn’t have asked for anything better considering the circumstances,” Hudson said. “We did a lot of great things today and I am just really proud of the boys and the seniors for their commitment to this program. Great work.”