The contest, featuring the upstart Gamecocks and the defending national champions, included four lead changes and determined play from both squads.
After Tennessee opened the game with a penalty conversion, freshman outside center Grant Ruhlen put the Gamecocks on the scoreboard with an unconverted try to give USC a 5-3 lead early in the first half. UT rebounded with two converted trys to expand their lead to 17-5. Gamecock freshman flyhalf Matt Morrow broke free late in the first half to score an unconverted try to cut UT’s lead to 10-17 at halftime.
Junior 8-man Grant Howard got the Gamecocks on the board again early in the first half with an unconverted try to narrow the deficit to two points. Freshman winger Nick DuBois added a converted try at the 60-minute mark to wrestle the lead from the Volunteers, 22-17.
After that, UT found some offense and used their strong forwards to bully over two unconverted trys in the corner of the try zone. The Gamecocks fought back in the closing minutes and advanced the ball inside the Tennessee 22-meter line before time expired.
The contest was a rematch of an Oct. 29 game which saw the Gamecocks drop a 27-12 decision to UT.
“Our play was improved this time around, but our usually reliable kicking game was lacking today, and that proved the difference,” said Coach John Roberts. ‘I’m really proud of the team, though. We put up a spirited fight.”
Last fall, the Gamecocks finished fifth in the SCRC. So, this year’s second-place finish represents a remarkable turnaround. The Gamecocks won the SCRC 7s championship in April.
“The program has made remarkable strides across the board over the past year. And we are just getting going,” said Roberts. “This was a hard loss, but our team is enthusiastic, and we’ll continue the charge.”
The Gamecocks are not done.
With a strong fall season under their belt, USC advances to the National Collegiate Rugby National Championship quarterfinals Saturday where they will face Mid-American Conference Champion Louisville.
Kick-off is set for 2 p.m. at the Tennessee Rugby Park in Knoxville. The game will be live-streamed on the USC rugby YouTube channel.