Men’s rugby suffers tough conference loss

By Carley Kulenkamp

Tweet: .@UofIRugby looks past loss to Purdue to prepare for its final game of the fall season

By Carley Kulenkamp

Contributing writer

The Illinois men’s rugby team let Purdue surge back late to snatch a win in its game Saturday, and the Illini slipped back below .500 for the second time this season.

The Boilermakers went into the game against the Illini looking to get their first win of the season. They had previously lost blowout games to Indiana, Ohio State and Wisconsin. Illinois had also suffered losses to both Indiana and Ohio State, but beat Minnesota and Iowa.

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The Illini jumped ahead at the beginning of the game, scoring on a penalty kick by senior Mario Lozano at the nine-minute mark. Illinois then suffered a blow as inside center Danny Lyons got hurt and sat out for the rest of the game.

“Danny was a crucial, experienced player,” club president Rich Daniels said.

The Illini were missing a total of three regular starters in this conference matchup, including former captain Matt Ramsey. Due to the shortage of starters, many younger, inexperienced players played for Illinois.

Purdue put itself on the board next with a penalty kick, but followed by picking up a pair of yellow cards, one for Mark O’Brien and another for Connor Jacobs. But Illinois didn’t score following the penalties.

Daniels said he thought the Illini should have capitalized on Purdue’s predicament.

Illinois’ Matthew Kopala started the Illini scoring drive again with 10 minutes left of the first half by landing a try, which was then followed by a conversion kick by Lozano. Purdue, though, got the last say of the half successfully booting the ball to land yet another penalty kick to make the score 10-6 Illinois.

Illinois’ Sean Murray started off the scoring game of the second half with a try six minutes into the half. Lozano successfully completed the conversion kick after the score to put the Illini ahead 17-6. 

Purdue wasn’t going to surrender and suffer yet another loss on the season easily, and 10 minutes later, the Boilermakers’ Daronn Maul charged in to score another try. O’Brien converted after the score to shorten Illinois’ lead to 17-13.

O’Brien continued to be a driving force for Purdue, scoring a try and converting it late in the second half to put the Boilermakers ahead 20-17 with just 16 minutes of play left. Then, with just six minutes left of play, Illinois’ Angle Agrawal landed another try to put the Illini in the lead 22-20.

With just two minutes left, O’Brien struck yet again against the Illini, scoring another try and converting the score to win the game 27-22 for Purdue.

For Daniels, the biggest issue was that his team had not come into the game with the right mindset.

“We just weren’t focused,” Daniels said. “We didn’t capitalize on their mistakes like we should have.”

For players like Lozano, one of the hardest parts of losing the game was that the Illini were up with just five minutes of play left.

“It definitely left a bitter taste in our mouth,” Lozano said.

This game was the first time Lozano served as acting captain for the team. Lozano had always been a leader on the team, but this was the first time that he was put in the on-the-field role.

Lozano admitted that he made mistakes regarding play calling as captain, but he’s learning and adjusting with the help of Ramsey. Ramsey was the captain at the beginning of the season until he sustained an ACL injury against Ohio State.

“Being actual captain was different because I had to make game time choices,” Lozano said.

Going into the last weekend of play for the fall season, the Illini are buckling down. Illinois will be facing Michigan at home for its last fall season game. If the Illini win this game, they will play for third place come championship play in the spring. But if they lose, they will be competing for fifth place.

“This next game will make or break our season,” Daniels said. “Every one knows how crucial this game is for us.”

Daniels and Lozano said this week will be full of tough, focused practices for the Illini, but they are ready to battle and prove who they are.

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