CHAMPS! Tritons win rugby national title

CHAMPS! Tritons win rugby national title

CHARLOTTE - Brent Nelson has built a program that can handle any kind of adversity thrown its way.

That was the case on Sunday facing Western Michigan for the D1AA national title. 

After building a quick lead, the Tritons were pushed by the Broncos before coming up with a 34-21 victory. 

"It went from 23-0 to 23-14 very quickly, but the boys held firm and played hard," Nelson said. "Rugby only allows to have eight subs for a match and some very good players were left on the bench. But rather than sulk about not being able to play, they were loud and a huge difference-maker.

"When momentum started to shift, it was the bench who lifted their brothers up. They were just as much a part of the win as anybody."

Iowa Central started the rugby program in 2015 under Nelson, winning the small school national championship in 2017. They reached the national semifinals last year before completing their journey this season.

Elijah Hayes, Gregor Gourlay, Rhys Smith and Alec Johnson all scored tries for Iowa Central. Smith was 4-for-6 on penalty kicks.

"What can I say about Rhys," Nelson said. "He is a strong leader and a massive boot. Gareth Sanders-Crook was our team man of the match. The player opposite him was their team captain and arguably one of the best players in the country. 'Gaz,' as we call him, neutralized him and played a phenomenal game.

"Viance Vano had a very nice game at fullback. He came up huge on defense and made some very nice long runs to put pressure on them. Dakota Southworth had some very strong runs and was just a beast on defense.

"I'm so proud of the efforts of all the guys on this team who have toughed it out and made the sacrifices to become national champions."