Provo, UT—The BYU Cougars battled with St. Mary’s in the early going, but pulled away late in a non-league clash of #1 and #2 in the D1-A, ultimately beating the 2nd-ranked Gaels 53-17.
St. Mary’s kept the game tight for a good portion of the match, and the teams changed ends with the score 25-14. But the Cougars defense picked up in the second half and held St. Mary’s without a try.
BYU started the game by forcing a penalty in the 1st minute. The shot at goal was wide however, but BYU stayed on point and kept the pressure on, and that led to flanker Kumi Tua’one charging across the tryline for the opening score in the 6th minute.
For the next 15 minutes however BYU errors and St. Mary’s execution kept the Cougars inside their own 22 meter line. The Gaels would eventually find paydirt and garner a well-deserved try. The conversion was successful and St. Mary’s took an early lead 7-5 in the 19th minute.
The BYU Cougars answered quickly however and a wide pass after a St. Mary’s turn over would offer wing Will Taylor the first of his two tries in the 22nd minute.
Another quick score from BYU came in the 25th minute after an errant St. Mary’s kick offered Davies the counter attack opportunity. Scrumhalf Shaun Davies dummied a pair of Gael defenders and made a short pass to fullback Tua Leai who carried the remaining 40 meters for the score. That made it 17-7, and soon it was 22-7 as flyhalf Dylan Lubbe scored in the 28th minute.
St. Mary’s however used the wind well, kicking to the corner and pinning the Cougars back again inside their 22. They eventually scored in the 33rd minute.
At 22-14 BYU extended their lead with a Shaun Davies penalty and that was halftime.
“We wanted to start the game fast,” said BYU captain Ryan Roundy, “Which I think we did. We had some pressure which we weathered well, but all in all we had a good start and then we fixed a few things at half time and closed out the game well I thought.”
The Cougars closed the game with four more tries via Leai, Taylor, hooker Ishmael Tilialo and replacement prop Joey Mount. But more importantly the Cougars held the potent St. Mary’s attack in check and to only one penalty goal in the 52nd minute.
Two of those early tries really hurt the Gaels. Early in the second half St. Mary's was pressuring inside the BYU 22, knocked the ball on, and saw the Cougars gallop back 90 meters for a try. Moments later the Gaels were inside the BYU half and did it again, seeing seven points the other way as the result.
"A number of errors on our part led to some crucial scores," said St. Mary's Head Coach Tim O'Brien.
“We knew coming in that our defensive effort had to be good,” said prop Ray Forrester, “St. Mary’s really put us under pressure but we did a better job in the second half and that was good to see.”
“I was very pleased with the defense,” added BYU Head Coach David Smyth. “St. Mary’s are an excellent team and had us on the ropes for a time. But our defense held strong. I thought our set piece was very good today and while we had some good games from two or three players, I really feel like we had solid performances from one through 15.”
The Gaels provided a stern test for a BYU team that is constantly looking to be tested. Smyth said his players welcomed the challenged and met it.
“I am very, very impressed with St. Mary’s,” he said. “If we could play a team like that every week we’d love it. They can only make you better.”
St. Mary’s cannot come out of the game too discouraged. Despite being ranked #2 in the D1-A they are still a work in progress, and one that has to remake itself every week. The team that made the trip to Provo was without nine players, many of them previous starters.
Included in that absent list, Chad Clark, Jake Holguin, Max Heath, Joe Brophy, Bubba Jones, Garrett Brewer and Lloyd Evans, most of whom are injured.
"BYU's speed, width, depth and ferocity on attack was very hard to deal with," said O'Brien. "We were hard to deal with, too, at times. We really enjoyed playing this game. It was an amazing experience, and I hope we get to meet them again in the future."