Belmont Shore won the second Southern California qualifier Saturday in Long Beach, Calif. beating the Old Aztecs 31-10 in the final.
Belmont got out to an impressive start, leading the Old Aztecs 31-0 before San Diego scored their first try. Shore actually lost Ed Pitts to a yellow card in the first half and managed to both keep the Old Aztecs off the board and score during the power play.
“It’s very simple -- defense wins championships, and we’re very, very proud of the guys,“ said Belmont coach James Walker. “We do nothing but defense at practice sometimes, and the drills we do really, really paid off.”
U20 hooker Mike Te’o stepped in at scrumhalf in the final for the injured Iopu Sanonu and scored twice.
Belmont’s other three tries were dotted down by Jack Tracy, Ollie Craig and Ed McKenna.
McKenna was pointed out by Old Aztecs coach Matt Hawkins as Belmont’s standout in the final, and Walker agreed, while adding Pitts into the man of the match race.
“Eddie McKenna was sensational. It’s more than just what he does himself on the pitch, it’s the level of energy he brings to the team. He’s just a dynamo. He was fantastic, absolutely,” said Walker.
“And Ed Pitts is our new captain, and he’s just such a calming and steadying influence. It’s a close call between those two.”
The Old Aztecs, which boast four former Belmont Shore National Champs on their roster, are still working on cohesion, especially on offense.
“We just took the ball into contact too much. We didn’t let the ball do the work, and in doing that we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to conserve the ball and they had some guys that were really good at getting over the ball nice and early and poaching it,” said Hawkins, who played a few minutes on the day but not in the final.
“They played a good game, and we just didn’t do what we needed to do. It was good that we made two finals, so we’re getting there. There’s just a couple of things we need to work on and we’ll be alright.”
For Belmont, the win was gratifying not only because it puts another trophy in the case, but does so with a largely new lineup after the team lost the bulk of its National Championship roster to defections for various reasons. Of the 12 who suited up for Belmont on Treasure Island for Nationals last August, at least eight CIPPed and played with another club this summer.
“We’re a very proud team. We know we’ve lost a lot of talented players, but we’ve also got a lot of young guys. We feel like we have to prove ourselves again. We feel like we’ve lost a bit of respect, and it’s great,” said Walker.
“The boys know that every year everything starts fresh and the National Championships are over. Today was all about earning that respect and becoming a team people don’t take lightly.”