More than a decade of tortured history for the Notre Dame Cougars boys rugby program was undone Wednesday at Titans Park.
For the first time in 15 years, the Cougars are off to 4A provincials after outlasting bitter rival Lindsay Thurber Raiders 25-12 in a heated back-and-forth tier 1 title contest.
“It’s cry worthy,” said Cougars veteran Will Lopez with a big smile. “You work so hard and it finally pays off. We finally came together as a team. It feels good to finally get that win, we deserved it after so long.”
Coach Jon Mauro and his Cougars’ teams have victories in the past over the Raiders in the regular season, but were never able to clinch their spot in the big dance. Mauro paused, looking for the right words to describe finally getting over the hump.
“It’s been a long haul. It feels good,” he said.
The Cougars led 13-12 early in the second half and used their endurance and experience down the stretch to top the Raiders.
“It was a hard fought game. Through and through, back and forth,” Mauro said.
“Against (Lindsay Thurber) it has been all season and we just had a couple more horses that we were able to let go and caught a couple more breaks near the end of the game.”
Raiders head coach Dean Plant was happy with how his team battled throughout the game and considering their youth, there’s a lot to look forward to.
“I thought we played hard but we’re just so young,” he said. “The guys don’t understand the game. Once they understand the game it will come. This is our rebuilding year, we’ve got more than half the kids who are in grade 10. I thought we stuck in there hard.”
Jostin Fedon, Tyson Thornton and Jared Wells had trys for Notre Dame in the victory.
Lopez added that he witnessed the dogged determination of his team heading into the game and was confident they’d be able be to get the job done.
“(Lindsay Thurber) thought they could run us over again and we just wanted to win,” he said.
“We wanted this. We’ve been on each other for so long, we needed this win. We came together and we finally got it.”
The Cougars will now travel to Edmonton for 4A Alberta Schools’ Athletic Association Provincials from June 9-11.
“I’m happy for all the grade 12s, especially the ones that played for three years, now they get to experience what provincials is all about,” Mauro added.
Mauro was also quick to praised the work of trainer Ali Skoblenick, who was instrumental nursing the Cougars through some critical injuries during crucial moments this season and in the final.