On Oct. 31, McGill Redbirds rugby hosted Bishop’s Gaiters for the RSEQ semifinals, winning 30-27 in a brutally competitive double overtime contest that totalled over 110 minutes of play. Both teams braved the rainy weather and cold winds to vie for the coveted spot in the finals, but McGill brought it home with a penalty kick to break the 27-27 tie in sudden-death overtime.
Early in the first half, it became clear that the rain would not help with ball handling, as the Gaiters struggled to hold possession long enough to get deep into McGill territory. Despite this and McGill’s fast-paced attacking drives, the Gaiters were the first to open up the scoring on a penalty goal at 14:21 on the clock.
The Redbirds’ consistent offensive pressure did not culminate in a try until the 38th minute, when prop Jeremy OckoMichalak squeezed past Bishop’s defence to touch down. Not even two minutes later, second-year Brad Hunger scored another try. Scrum-half Owen Cumming successfully converted both despite the tricky angles, bringing the score to 14-3 for McGill at halftime.
“We defended well and maintained possession of the ball most of the half and didn’t give [Bishop’s] real opportunities to score,” head coach Ian Baillie said in an interview with The McGill Tribune.
The second half saw the Gaiters raring to redeem themselves, refining their attacks and scoring three penalty goals in 10 minutes. Despite the extra pressure, the Redbirds added another try, penalty goal, and conversion.
Things took a turn for the worse at the 64-minute mark when Bishop’s brought the score to 24-19. In the very last minute of extra time, McGill was unable to fend off the Gaiters’ onslaught, and they scored a try with no conversion, forcing the match to overtime.
“It was a tale of two different games,” Baillie said. “[Bishop’s] took control of the game [with] a couple of penalty goals and some good retention on the ball. They put us under heaps of pressure and levelled it up to send us into extra time.”
The drama did not stop there. The first two 10-minute periods of overtime brought physical play and one penalty goal apiece, extending the match past the 100-minute mark into sudden-death overtime. Finally, a steal by second-row Jacob Davidson led to a penalty opportunity directly in front of the goal posts. Cumming stepped up to the plate and the conversion was good—the rain-soaked crowd went mental.
In a post-game interview, Cumming credited his teammates for their hard work leading to the ultimate win.
“Rugby’s too much of a team sport to say that [I was the deciding factor], my job is to kick at the end of the day,” Cumming said. “I’m just very lucky to have teammates to get the job done so we can score like that.”
Fullback Benjamin Russell admitted that the Redbirds let their guard down in the second half, but was thrilled with the game’s turnout.
“We’ve worked so hard for it […] so we’re just so happy,” Russell said. “Obviously, it was a very, very tight game in the end, we kind of let them come back into it, but we closed it out and saw them off. They put up a great fight, so hats off to them.”
There is only one team standing between the Redbirds and the RSEQ championship: The Concordia Stingers, who shut them out at the semifinals in 2017.
“We’re looking forward to going up against Con U in the final. Everyone’s excited for it,” Russell said. “As long as we are sticking to our game plan and following it, then we have the personnel and the skills that we […] need to beat them.”
The Redbirds will host the Stingers on Nov. 6 at Molson Stadium in the RSEQ finals, where they hope to put on a show for McGill fans and to secure a championship title.
MOMENT OF THE GAME:
Fourth-year scrum-half Owen Cumming nailed the final penalty kick to clinch the win for the Redbirds, sending the crowd into a frenzy after nearly two hours of gruelling, rain-soaked play.
“I’ve been here four years, [and] we’ve always lost to [Concordia]. It’s a chip on our shoulder that we want to get off, but we just gotta play our game. Today […] we let Bishop’s play to their strengths, we dipped down a bit, [but] we just have to be calm, composed and play our rugby.” —Scrum-half Owen Cumming
McGill and Bishop’s fought dirty, with both sides racking up a total of 11 penalty kicks and three yellow cards.