Dalhousie AC topples Mount Allison on home turf for women's title
TRURO - The old adage of ‘defence wins championships' certainly held true Sunday for the Dalhousie Rams.
The Rams managed to fend off a late-game surge on their own goal line to nip the Mount Allison Mounties 22-17 in the ACAA women's rugby final Sunday at the Farnham Mill Rugby Park. It's the first time in four seasons the Rams have been able to topple the Mounties in a playoff game.
"It feels so good," Rams captain Jessica Stickney, who scored a pair of tries on Sunday, said. "In my four years here we've played them in the semifinals twice and the finals the last two years and they've beat us every year. It just feels amazing to win finally...finally."
The victory avenges a 23-20 overtime loss to the Mounties in last year's final in Sackville, N.B., after the Rams had scored in the final minute of regulation but missed a conversion which would have given them the lead and, possibly, the win.
Sunday's match became equally as dramatic.
The Rams had built a 22-5 lead by the mid-point of the second half, thanks to Stickney's efforts, a pair of tries from rookie Stephanie Wilson and a conversion from Emma Burry. But the Mounties managed to stage a comeback, scoring twice to cut the lead to 22-17.
"We just got really excited and kind of let our guard down a little bit which led to them scoring two more tries and making it an extremely tight game," Stickney, a 21-year-old Halifax native, said.
Mount Allison continued to push, pinning the Rams on their own goal line for the final minutes of the game in an effort to knot the score. But the Rams managed to fend off the defending champions time and time again, tackling each Mountie that tried to breach the line before kicking the ball away.
"We just kept saying they were not going to score that try," Stickney, an animal science student, said, "We just said do everything you can, make your tackles, it doesn't matter this is the last game of the season and you have to leave everything on the field."
After the final whistle, the 150 Rams supporters on the sidelines erupted in cheers, coach Dave Cotterill punched the air several times in celebration and the exhausted Rams players spent the last of their energy embracing each other while the dejected Mounties walked away.
"I play in these big games but I get so much more nervous when I coach," Cotterill said of the suspenseful ending. "The culmination of all the work, every lap we did, every down-up at practice, to see it all pay off and see how excited they are, you feel like a proud papa bear."
Cotterill said he knew it would take a strong defensive effort to beat the Mounties and the team focused on that aspect of the game all season. Cotterill also brought in fitness coach Scott King in an effort to make sure his players still had plenty of kick at the end of their 80-minute matches.
The Rams also held practice four to five times per week.
"The girls have full course loads so for them to come out that much shows how dedicated they are," Cotterill said. "And maybe if we didn't have that fitness (Mount Allison) would have pushed that last one in."
Stickney said the title is made even sweeter by all the disappointments of seasons past.
"To seal the win in regulation is so much better," she said, before running off for more celebratory pictures. "To go one-on-one with them and beat them straight up in an 80 minute game is amazing...beautiful."
On Twitter: @tdnmatt