The U14, U16, and U18 Boys teams from the Santa Monica Rugby Club won their semi-final matches on Saturday and will advance to the Southern California Youth Rugby Championship to be held this Saturday, May 11th, at Cal State University Fullerton.
The Dolphin U18 Boys were up first at Webster Middle School, hosting conference rival Hawaiian Gardens. The visitors scored in the first two minutes after a Dolphin turnover and some weak defense. SMRC counter-attacked from the kick off and went deep into the HG twenty-two. From a lineout and phases of play, SMRC passed the ball across the backline for Ole Woods to score a great team try in the left corner. Great Eagle defense and some basic errors from SMRC left the visitors ahead at half time, 14-12.
In the second half, the Dolphins settled down and played much better rugby with an excellent try by center Garrett Manoukian to put them ahead for the first time, 19-14. Hawaiian Gardens did not give up and responded with a try after SMRC failed to clear out a loose ball in the try zone. The Eagles missed the conversion so the score was tied at 19-19.
SMRC quickly counter-attacked and were given a penalty, which Alex Walsh calmly kicked to put the Dolphins 22-19 ahead. Not to be outdone, the Eagles made their own long-range penalty kick, tying the score 22-22 with ten minutes to go.
SMRC finally pulled away and scored two unanswered tries from James Cherrington and Adan Hernandez to finish 36-22. U18 Coach Charlie Lydon remarked, "I'm very proud of the way the team kept there composure. Hawaiian Gardens is a very good side and we know they'll always give us a tough match. Our Santa Monica boys came from behind and that says a lot about their character."
The U14 Boys were up next against the San Clemente Gators. Both teams came into the clash with a string of convincing wins, but it was the home team that struck first, with a series of fast attacking moves that gave winger Damiko Banks the space to race into the open and score the first try.
San Clemente quickly responded with a well-worked lineout and drive that leveled the score. Thereafter Santa Monica pinned the Gators on their own goal line for a long period, with the visitors repelling the attack with some ferocious tackling, until Sol Brody broke the deadlock with a determined solo run to score under the posts.
In the second half the visitors had the Dolphins on the back foot early on, scoring twice the close the gap 19-18. The home team responded and showed why they have remained unbeaten all season, with their big forwards dominating the scrums followed by some spectacular slick open field passing from Quinn Perry and Dylan James that released Santa Monica’s speedy wingers who swept through to score three tries in quick succession.
With two minutes to go, Andreas Gonzales scored a sensational one-handed catch while running at full speed to score under the posts to give the Dolphins a convincing 41-25 win.
Meanwhile, at Hawaiian Gardens, the Dolphin U16 Boys had their hands full with a skilled and determined home team. Seeking to avenge their only regular season loss, SMRC conceded two quick scores to the Eagles and had to play catch-up. Undeterred, the Dolphins got on the board with a penalty kick from Cormac Heaney which made the score 10-3 at the half.
The score continued to see-saw throughout the second half. Kieran Kerwin made a penalty kick then Alec Kohn scored a try (converted by Kerwin) to put the Dolphins ahead 13-10. Hawaiian Gardens countered with another try to make it 15-13 but then a nifty try from Noah Anderson off a tap penalty saw the Dolphins again pull in front, 20-15, with four minutes to go.
Santa Monica tried to control the match and bring home the win, but a couple of unwise decisions led to a Hawaiian Gardens try under the posts with an easy conversion. Down 22-20, the Dolphins had less than two minutes to create some magic. Hawaiian Gardens took the kickoff and kept the ball secure until the Dolphins forced a turnover but seconds later the Eagles forced a turnover of their own, all but guaranteeing the victory.
With time running out, SMRC center Carter McNeill somehow managed to strip the ball out of a Hawaiian Gardens maul and, as he was being tackled, off-loaded to fullback Olan Moon White who sprinted across the try line and touched it down, just at full time. Kerwin converted the kick and the Dolphins finished with a 27-22 victory.
"It was a great day for our club," commented Kilian Kerwin, SMRC Director of Youth Rugby. "Three exciting victories for our youth teams and then a big win by our men's team in the first round of the National Championships. It was especially meaningful to see how many of our youth players stayed to tunnel out the men's team and then watch their match."
The SCYR Championships timetable for this Saturday at CSUF is as follows: 9:00am - U14 Girls South Bay v Fallbrook; 10:00am - U16 Girls South Bay v Fallbrook; 11:00am - U14 Boys Santa Clarita v Santa Monica; 12:30pm - U18 Girls Fullerton v Fallbrook; 2:00pm - U16 Boys Santa Monica v Young Aztecs; 3:30pm - U18 Boys Mustangs v Santa Monica. For more info go to www.santamonicarugby.com or www.socalyouthyrugby.org.