“Welcome home, baby!”
Such were the first words – screamed at full volume – out of the mouth of Semiahmoo Totems’ co-captain Liam Wilson Thursday evening, as he grabbed the Sandcastle Cup trophy and raised it into the sky.
Wilson and his teammates had good reason to celebrate, having just moments earlier edged the heavily favoured Earl Marriott Mariners 20-17 in overtime to claim the school’s first Sandcastle title since 2008.
Prior to the Mariners’ run of four consecutive victories in the annual senior boys rugby grudge match – excluding last season when no game was held – the Sandcastle Cup had been in the Totems’ possession almost exclusively, winning 19 of 20 games, with 1994 the noted exception.
And now, the trophy is back in Semiahmoo’s halls after one of the more thrilling Sandcastle Cup contests in recent memory.
“It’s the best feeling in the world,” Wilson said. “To win this, in overtime, it’s like a fairy tale. It’s amazing.”
As amazing as it was for the Totems – and as heart-wrenching as it was for the Mariners, one of the province’s top sides – the game seemed, for a minute, set to end in a draw, which would have left the cup unclaimed for a second straight year.
Regulation time ended with the two rivals knotted in a 17-17 tie – the Mariners having staged a furious late-game comeback capped when Cali Martinez punched the ball across the line in the waning seconds.
Players from both sides shook hands, and coaches and bystanders stood idly by at midfield, wondering who exactly was supposed to take home the heralded trophy.
Eventually, after a brief discussion, the players split up and two five-minute overtime halves were played.
“Having a tie is worse than losing, so we talked to the ref – the captains from both teams – and we decided to play overtime,” said Wilson.
“We needed a winner.”
The only points of extra time came in the first five minutes when, after a penalty to EMS, Semi chose to attempt a penalty kick rather than continue to play for the try. The kick went through the uprights, giving the Totems a three-point lead.
Playing from behind as they did for much of the game, Marriott – who play in the senior boys elite division, while Semi is in tier one – pressed for the go-ahead try late in overtime, and came awfully close on multiple occasions, but couldn’t break across the Totems’ goal line.
“There were a lot of penalties right on our five-yard line at the end,” Wilson said. “I’m not sure what we did, but all I know is that we all got nice and low, and held them out.
“We played our hearts out out there, and that’s all that matters. That’s what I told the guys before the game – to play with heart.”
The last time the Sandcastle Cup was played, in 2012, the Mariners won by a 60-point margin, and both Wilson and Gallagher insisted they were not going to let the game get out of hand early.
Semi scored the game’s first two tries, and led by that amount at halftime. Early in the second half, the Mariners cut into the lead with a major score of their own, but Semi answered right back to restore the lead, which lasted until Martinez’s last-minute try.
The game was not without emotion, either. Several huge hits were delivered by both sides – much to the delight of the few hundred fans in attendance – and at least twice in the first half tension boiled over into physical confrontations and opposing players had to be pulled off one another by teammates.
“That’s just the rivalry,” said Semiahmoo scrum half and co-captain Matt Gallagher. “Before the game, we’re best buds with those guys, and after the game, we’re buds with them, too.
“But during the game, they’re our enemy. That’s just how it is.”
Earl Marriott coach Adam Roberts chalked up the loss to a lack of discipline from his group.
“It was our own mistakes, this was our own fault,” he said after the game. “It was our penalties, our lack of discipline… I don’t know, we just didn’t have it today.”
He was also quick to credit the Totems for a gutsy performance.
“You have to hand it to them – Semi played awesome. They played with a lot of heart, and that’s how you win. Full credit to them – they played hard.”
Gallagher, meanwhile, said the team fully embraced its underdog role, and summed up the game rather succinctly before going off to celebrate with teammates
“We wanted it back, and we got it done.”