OSHAWA, Ont. - The Durham College men's rugby team captured the OCAA championship banner on Saturday afternoon in Oshawa, defeating the Georgian Grizzlies 21-15.
The provincial banner marks the first in program history as the Lords returned to conference play this season, having last played in the OCAA in 1996.
"At the beginning of the season we didn't know what to expect but we had a good group of guys and we just worked really hard all season," said Lords head coach John Watkins. "It's only year one but this really bodes well for rugby at Durham College."
For the Grizzlies, this marks the seventh podium result dating back to the introduction of the men's rugby league into the OCAA in 1996, most recently claiming bronze a season ago.
"I was happy with how the guys came back today," said Georgian head coach John Daggett. "Early on Durham played really well, but I thought we showed some great resiliency coming back to take the lead, but full credit to Durham, they deserved the win today."
Breaking away for several strong runs and scoring the Lords second try of the match, No. 8 John Stewart (Whitby, Ont.) was named Durham player of the game, while Nathaniel Brown received the honour for Georgian.
"Today was unreal," spoke Stewart about winning the gold medal. "I was saying to some of the other guys after the game that I've never actually won anything in rugby before so this is really special, it's a huge moment."
"When things started to go a little off script for us, John was the one who slowed the game down for us," commented Watkins. "When we needed him he took on that leadership role, sorted things out and relieved a lot of pressure for us especially in the second half."
The championship contest between the East Division champion Durham Lords and West Division winning Georgian Grizzlies began in favour of the hosts, as a strong first 10 minutes resulted in a James Stockwood (Bowmanville, Ont.) try, putting the Lords ahead 7-0 in the early going.
Midway through the first half the strong play from Durham continued as Stewart plunged in from in tight to put the Lords ahead 14-0.
Closing in on the half, Georgian began to feed the ball to their speed on the outside, which allowed them to gain large chunks of ground in the race to break the shutout. With five minutes remaining in the opening frame, Donovan Jacko finished off the offensive push for the Grizzlies to make it a 14-5 score line heading into the break.
Following halftime, Durham found themselves on the back foot as the opening ten minutes was played within 20 yards of the Lords try line. Dominating possession, Jayden Wheeler and Brown both dived in for Georgian tries, putting the Grizzlies ahead by one point, 15-14, with just over 10 minutes remaining.
"The first 10 minutes of the game today we really stuck to our game plan," stated Watkins. "We came out firing on defence and really put pressure on Georgian, but in the second half with the wind at their backs, Georgian was a really strong team and they were able to put their phases together, putting us under pressure and forcing us to regroup."
Facing adversity, the Lords battled for possession in the closing minutes. Winning the ball back, Durham turned to their strong interior passing which opened up a lane for Daniel Cooper (Uxbridge, Ont.). The provinces leading try scorer from the regular season weaved his way through the middle of the Grizzlies defence before diving in for the game-winning try in the 76th minute. Jordan McGranachan (Ajax, Ont.) kicked his third convert of the game to round out the Lords scoring.
"We definitely exceeded expectations, but it came with hard work," said Watkins. "Moving forward, hopefully after today, rugby players in the Durham region will think about coming to Durham College because we do have an established rugby program now."
Source: Durham Lords
Photo Credit: Allan Fournier
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