Air Force’s stranglehold on the Armed Forces Rugby Championship continued Saturday.
The Airmen routed Coast Guard 56-8 in the finals at Stewart-Watson Field to capture their seventh straight tournament title. The club lost nearly half of its roster from a year ago, but that had little impact on the pitch — where Air Force averaged almost 40 points a match while holding the opposition to just 31 total in five games.
“I’m very pleased with the way our boys played after the turnover we had,” head coach Dan Lockert said. “The key to our success this year was versatility. A lot of guys could play multiple positions, so we didn’t lose any rhythm or continuity when we made substitutions.”
Against the Coast Guard, the Airmen dominated field position, controlled the ball and played physical defense throughout. They led 38-0 at intermission.
Coast Guard finally got on the scoreboard with about 30 minutes remaining when Sean Lindersmith earned a try to cut the margin to 43-5. But the Coasties couldn’t get any closer.
“Air Force is very structured in their game,” said Coast Guard player-coach Rick Horner. “If one player doesn’t do his job, it can cause gaps or overloads on the outside, and they burn you. Air Force has got really good players.”
The Coast Guard, which finished last among five teams at last year’s Armed Forces Rugby Championship, was in the title match for the first time since 1991. The tournament began in 1985.
“It’s huge for us,” said Horner, whose rookie season with the squad came 15 years ago. “We’re starting to get more guys who played in high school, college or the academy. That makes a big difference. A strong core of guys have been playing together for the last five to 10 years.”
In Saturday’s consolation match, Army beat Navy 36-8 to claim third place. The Soldiers wound up 3-1-1 in the tournament but a 15-15 tie against the Coast Guard on the opening day of round-robin play Nov. 3 ultimately kept them out of the title hunt.
“Total points scored was the second tiebreaker and we came up five behind, so the Coast Guard got in,” said first-year Army coach Clint Olearnick of Fort Benning. “But our team came together at the last minute. We proved today we should’ve been playing for the championship.”
Olearnick said he hopes to return to the sideline next fall and get back on the pitch as well. He played 13 seasons with the All-Army squad as a flanker and 8-man, but suffered an elbow injury before training camp this year.
Beating Air Force has always been his goal and he has a long-term plan, he said. Instead of getting a first peek at the Army’s top players when practice begins, he’d like to conduct a few scouting trips throughout the year at installations around the country.
“I think that’s where we’ll go to get a look at some players,” Olearnick said. “Air Force has a bull’s-eye on their backs — they know we’re gunning for ’em.”
Four Soldiers landed on the All-Tournament Team: Noa Tupea of Fort Sill, Okla.; Andy Locke of Fort Lewis, Wash.; Augie Dominguez, a fly half and center from Fort Bragg, N.C.; and inside center Gerald Saafi of the 75th Ranger Regiment at Fort Benning. Assistant coach Nate Conkey of West Point, N.Y., who plays center, and flanker Steven Moya of the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team were named to the honorable mention list. Even though Air Force put together another dominant run, Lockert said the field is getting tougher.
“The competition was much harder than last year. All the services came to play,” he said. “There was no easy match. We had to fight till the closing whistle.”
Road to the title Nov. 3 Air Force 22, Army 0 Coast Guard 29, Marine Corps 8 Air Force 40, Navy 10 Army 15, Coast Guard 15 Navy 19, Marine Corps 17
Friday Air Force 30, Marine Corps 10 Army 39, Navy 0 Air Force 50, Coast Guard 3 Army 36, Marine Corps 17 Coast Guard 48, Navy 3
Saturday Consolation game Army 36, Navy 8
Championship Air Force 56, Coast Guard 8