PROVO, Utah – The Air Force Academy sent a minor shockwave through the college rugby landscape when it defeated BYU in Provo, Utah, in the finals of the Cougar 7s Invitational.
BYU, by many, was considered the favorite to win its host event. The Zoomies had plans of their own. After defeating BYU Bs, Utah Valley State and Montana State to reach the finals, Air Force faced off against the Cougars with a berth to the 2013 USA Rugby College 7s National Championship on the line.
BYU raced out to a 22-0 halftime advantage. However, the Cadets from Colorado Springs, known for the relentless effort and fitness, began a tremendous comeback. Stout defense got them back into the match, and eventually Calvin ‘CJ’ Johnson punched in a try with roughly three minutes remaining that brought them within five points after Sean Collins converted the conversion.
After stopping the BYU attack multiple times within the Air Force 10-meter line, Zach White broke the Cougar’s line of defense and tied the game with only 35 seconds left. Collins again split the uprights with his conversion attempt, giving Air Force a 24-22 lead and sealing the tournament championship.
The incredible final featured two of the country’s fittest teams, though Air Force head coach Joe Muehlbauer believes it was his team’s ability to match BYU’s physicality that enabled the miraculous comeback.
“BYU is really fast but they’re also very physical, they’re very big,” Muehlbauer said. “We knew we had to finish our tackles and be physical with them. If you let yourself be run over by the big guys you’re going to be nothing more than a doormat, and we took it upon ourselves not to be that way.”
In his 10th season with the Academy and hisseventh as head coach, Muehlbauer recognizes this victory as one of the most memorable in his tenure.
“This was the biggest comeback and the biggest 7s win since I’ve been here,” he said. “I was so proud of the guys… the way they responded, it had very little to do with me. It was their gut-check time and they decided not to be a doormat and fight back.”
Both BYU and Air Force are expected to compete at the Rocky Mountain 7s tournament in Fort Collins, Colo., Oct. 26, where an automatic selection to the College 7s National Championship in Greensboro, N.C. will be up for grabs.