The Cal Poly Humboldt men’s rugby team brought home the Small College National Championship for the first time in their history at AVEVA Stadium in Houston, Texas on Sunday, Dec. 11, 2022.
The Lumberjacks defeated the Wayne State College Wildcats, from Wayne, Nebraska, with a 20-15 final score.
Humboldt was considered the underdog team going into the final, but their relentless pressure led them to a 15-0 halftime lead. The lead would eventually become 20-3, and despite an attempted Wildcat comeback, the Lumberjacks would experience victory at the sound of the final whistle.
“We had a good group of guys and we had the talent that we needed to win the championship, but when I kicked the ball out to end the game, it was just such a crazy feeling,” said fly-half Dante Cappellano. “I just ran around, basically hugging everybody.”
Cappellano had a huge role in the team’s success this season, calling the plays and kicking the ball to teammates or out of bounds.
The ability to kick the ball out as far down the field as possible is a very useful tactic in rugby, one that Humboldt used to their advantage this season.
“That’s how we defeated teams, especially in the postseason,” said Cappellano. “We definitely used that a lot.”
The Lumberjacks finished the season undefeated, and only got scored on by one team during the regular season, in a game where they defeated Oregon State 24-9. Humboldt’s best margin of victory was their 102-0 win over Cal State Monterey Bay to close out the regular season. This gave them a lot of momentum going into the playoffs.
“We were trying not to score towards the end of the game and it still just happened,” said Cappellano.
Their playoff run would end with what they envisioned as a dream at the beginning of the season: a national championship.
“It is definitely fulfilling for myself and the coaching staff, but more importantly, for these athletes to see how their commitment and hard work has paid off,” said head coach Greg Pargee.
According to many involved, this team was more than just some guys playing rugby. It was a brotherhood.
“All the guys get on so well with each other,” said flanker Cooper Alan. “You’d go down to breakfast and it didn’t matter who it was, you were sitting with your brothers on the rugby team, everyone was welcome and no one was ever alone.”
Alan grew up playing rugby in Australia and joined the team late into the season, but was still welcomed with open arms.
“I came out to watch their night game in the redwood bowl and there was just a feeling in the air,” said Alan.
The positive energy on the team was another huge factor in their successful season. Everyone getting along off the field led to on-the-field chemistry. All season, the team break before heading onto the field was ‘family.’
“That helped us just solidify that family aspect,” said Cappellano. “I loved every single one of those guys out there.”
This is a young team that is going to have a lot of returners next year, which gives them hopes and potential for a repeat. For now though, they get to enjoy the pride that their hard work earned them.
“I just want to thank the coaches and everybody else who helped us out there,” said Cappellano.