SANDY — BYU has played in seven consecutive national championship rugby matches, but nothing has ever come easy for the Cougars.
That trend continued Saturday night at Rio Tinto Stadium, where BYU earned a hard-fought 49-42 victory over Arkansas State to capture its second-ever national championship.
BYU led 46-23 with 20 minutes remaining before the Red Wolves stormed back to slash the deficit to seven in stoppage time.
But time ran out for Arkansas State, and the Cougars celebrated the win in front of a blue-clad crowd of 8,733.
BYU also capped a perfect season with a 17-0 record. Its most recent loss came in last year's national championship match against Cal, 21-14.
"It was a great experience. It was a great night," said coach David Smyth. "To accomplish what we have this season is nothing short of fantastic. I'm really proud of the boys."
BYU's physical style was on full display against Arkansas State. Afterwards, Red Wolves players said facing the Cougars is "like chasing a stampede."
At the heart of that stampede was bruising senior All-America prop Mikey Su'a, who barreled in for a try in the 61st minute, and earned Most Valuable Player honors.
Su'a made big plays throughout the night.
"Mikey had a huge game," Smyth said. "I figured that was going to happen with him being a senior and this being his last game."
"There's no better way to go out than to win the national championship, in front of our fans," Su'a said.
The seniors, like Su'a, led the way.
Cougar senior Ryan Roundy was serving an LDS mission when BYU won its first national championship in 2009. Then, the past two seasons, the Cougars came up short against Cal in the championship match, leaving Roundy filled with disappointment.
But that disappointment washed away Saturday night.
"It's an amazing feeling, especially with these senior players that I've played with the past three years," Roundy said. "It feels amazing after all of the hard work we've put in this year."
Following the match, BYU players participated in the Haka with Arkansas State players and coaches looking on.
"That was us showing respect for Arkansas State for a good game, and for our fans," Su'a said.
The Red Wolves appreciated the gesture.
"Afterwards, doing the Haka for us was incredibly gracious," said Arkansas State coach Matt Huckaby. "They're the type of team you want to play in the national championship."
ASU jumped out to a quick 8-0 lead on the Cougars before BYU scored 15 unanswered points. Shaun Davis and Will Taylor then scored back-to-back tries in a two-minute span to propel the Cougars to a 29-15 advantage at halftime.
Paul Lasike, who has a scholarship offer at running back from the football team, scored a try with just under 48 minutes remaining in the match to give the Cougars a 36-18 lead.
BYU went up 46-23 on Su'a's try and it appeared that the Cougars had sewn up the championship.
But Arkansas State kept battling, scoring three tries in the final 15 minutes. In the end, though, the night belonged to BYU.
"It was definitely an emotional week, knowing it was our last game for BYU," said Davies, a senior. "We just wanted to play our all. We did play our hardest. A win's a win and we won a national championship. I'm ecstatic and happy as I can be."21 comments on this story
It marked the Cougars' seventh consecutive national championship appearance and it was first time they didn't play Cal in the title tilt. Arkansas State, meanwhile, was playing in the championship for the first time.
NOTES: There was a prolonged delay in the 58th minute as BYU's Seki Kofe suffered an injury and remained on the ground for several minutes. Doctors attended to Kofe, and he was fitted for a neck brace before being carted off the pitch on a stretcher. As he left, he signaled to the crowd and he received a rousing cheer from Cougar fans.
Kofe sustained a sore neck and possible concussion. The brace and stretcher were used as precautionary measures. Smyth said later that Kofe should be fine.