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Azusa Pacific University Takes 2019 NSCRO Challenge Cup Title

By NSCRO, 05/03/19, 7:00AM EDT

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The 2019 NSCRO Men’s Challenge Cup National Championship was held this past weekend on the campus of Siena College in Loudonville, NY. This was the fifth year for this competition that was created by NSCRO to give deserving teams a chance at a National Playoff pathway that has eluded them for most if not all their teams’ existence.

The Cougars of Azusa Pacific University took home the National Championship trophy with a 30-21 win over the Screaming Minks of Washington and Lee University.

Both teams made their way to the final with emphatic semifinal wins on Saturday. W&L beat Minnesota State University Moorhead 55-5 and Azusa Pacific defeated the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point 57-7 to set up a strong final.

On Sunday the third-place game saw a hard-fought back and forth affair between two teams who happened to have met before in the Central Region final in November with UWSP defeating Moorhead 39-24. NSCRO gave a second chance to MSUM to reach Nationals when Texas A&M Corpus Christi (Lonestar RC) was unable to play in the West Region final against Wayne State College. As a result, Wayne State travelled to Moorhead in late March with the Weinercats prevailing 32-22 to earn a trip to Nationals. Months later they met again, and Stevens Point got out to an early lead. Moorhead fought back nearly erasing a 20-point lead but ultimately fell 30-22.

In the final, Washington and Lee opened the scoring, but Azusa Pacific dotted down twice in a span of 10 minutes to take a 12-7 lead. The teams remained in a stalemate until a well-worked try in the corner 25 minutes into the game. With the conversion the Screaming Minks led 14-12.

Azusa Pacific responded with an equally extravagant score. After pounding the W&L line for several phases, the Cougars managed to send the ball wide. The overlap allowed Alex Mkrtchyan to dive over in the corner right at the halftime whistle to retake the lead 17-14 at the break.

Ma’ake Muti opened the scoring for Azusa Pacific in the second half and doubled up in the 55th minute to extend the lead to 27-14. Five minutes later the Cougars made it a three-score game with a penalty goal.

Simi Moala scored his second try of the game to cut the lead to 30-21 but the Cougars kept the Screaming Minks at bay to claim their first-ever national title.

Just two years ago the Azusa Pacific team was winless. After bringing in Coach Rex Pitts the team has found a structure and has put together the building blocks for a strong program.

“It was really a commitment of the kids. You build a culture. Fortunately, for me, I had six returning guys from my first year here and they bought into our system,” said Pitts. “They will never forget this day. They earned it.”

Even more remarkable than being winless two years ago, the team showed up with just 18 players. The Cougars showed tremendous heart and that any team, regardless of size can win with heart, soul and a good system.

“You can only play 15 guys at a time. They are young. They are tough and we played in a system that fits our style. That’s how you have to do it,” Pitts added.

Parker Vincent of Azusa Pacific was awarded the Next Level Rugby Man of the Match and for his efforts all weekend. While NSCRO selected APU captain Ben Seest as the MVP.

Matches and the awards ceremony for the Challenge Cup were live-streamed by Next Level Rugby on NSCRO’s YouTube Channel. Replays of all the matches can be found on this channel at https://www.youtube.com/NSCRORugby/.

An All-Championship team was selected and each player was awarded a custom NSCRO t-shirts:

1.   Nate Hlavka, MSU Moorhead (not pictured)

9.   Matt Uyeno, University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point

2.   Anthony Martinez, Azusa Pacific University

10.  Elliott Van Oss, University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point

3.   Chase Wolfhope, Azusa Pacific University

11.  Jerry Williams, Univ. of Wisconsin-Stevens Pt.

4.   Ben Seest, Azusa Pacific University

12.  Kyle Schoen, Washington & Lee University

5.   Aiden Burch, Azusa Pacific University

13.  Parker Vincent, Azusa Pacific University

6.   Tanner Molitor, MSU Moorhead (not pictured)

14.  Josh Williams, Azusa Pacific University

7.   Bo Perez, Azusa Pacific University

15.  Leka Apodaca, Washington & Lee University

8.   Simi Moala, Washington & Lee University

 

Next Level Rugby 'Man of the Match' Parker Vincent Azusa Pacific University (right) with Brett Anker (left)

Next Level Rugby 'Man of the Match' Parker Vincent (pictured right) being interviewed by Brett Anker.

2019 NSCRO Challenge Cup All-Championship XV team. Not pictured, Tanner Molitor of Minnesota State University Moorhead.

The Heart and Soul Award winners were awarded a custom NSCRO match ball:

Spencer Alascio – Washington & Lee University
Elliot Van Oss – University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point
Matt Uyeno – Azusa Pacific University
Abdu Frederickson – Minnesota State University Moorhead (not pictured)

The Impact Players were awarded a free custom mouthguard, courtesy of Impact Mouthguards:

Leka Apodaca – Washington & Lee University
Elliot Van Oss – University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point
Ma’ake Muti – Azusa Pacific University
Tanner Molitor – Minnesota State University Moorhead (not pictured)