For the fourth time in just five years under Head Coach Richard Alleger, the Deadbirds have managed to crush their conference opponents and once again attain the status of conference champions.
The 50-12 routing of the University of Miami on Saturday, March 7 improved the Deadbirds’ record to 4-0 for the regular season.
Alleger was pleased to see his team bounce back after losing to Ave Maria, 29-26, in the conference championship last season.
“This was big. This is like a whole new team [compared] to the last one that won the conference,” Alleger said, regarding the relatively young team last season that was comprised of mostly sophomores and a few veteran seniors.
After just finishing up the regular season undefeated it is obvious that a lot of the players on the Deadbirds team have stepped up and filled in.
The spring season started out with a definitive 31-7 victory over Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) on Feb. 7 at the UNF Rugby grounds. The Deadbirds would continue their conference schedule on Feb. 14 when the squad visited St. Petersburg, Fla. to play Eckerd College.
North Florida showed up in St. Petersburg with the same tenacity, overtaking Eckerd 40-5 in a similar showing of their hammer-jack offense, which pummeled FGCU.
The reigning conference champs, Ave Maria, forfeited their scheduled match against North Florida on Feb. 28, granting the Deadbirds an automatic win in the stats column, and a 3-0 record going into the final game of the regular season.
It had been three anxious weeks since the Deadbirds had faced an opponent when the squad took the field on Saturday to host Miami at 1:30 p.m. The weather was the nicest it had been in several days.
North Florida came out a little slower than usual in the first half, not jumping on their opponents right away. A couple of perfectly-timed passes and a few missed tackles allowed Miami the first points of the game. Alleger was expressing unmistakable signs of frustration as the last few minutes ticked off.
“It took them a little while to wake up but once they did they really started playing some good rugby,” Alleger said.
The Deadbirds started the second half with a shotgun blast, scoring within the first few minutes of play. North Florida would continue to pour it on for the remainder of the game. Despite being close to pay dirt several times, Miami’s advances were stopped short by a rough Deadbird line of defense. According to Deadbird Back Captain William “Rat” Muellar, the forwards – the biggest guys on the team – really stepped up and handled Miami in the scrums.
“When they get rolling, the rucks are clean, the ball is out and then everyone is just moving,” Muellar said. “The [Miami] defense was on its heals.”
UNF would finish out the game with a commanding lead after unleashing a flurry of bone-jarring hits in the open field and several untouched sprints up the sideline.
“It’s really good to get around these guys and be the underdogs every game – the smallest guys on the field every time – and always come out on top,” Muellar said, speaking on his feelings about going undefeated. “It’s nice to see these guys [Deadbirds] who are 150 pounds going up against 220 pound centers, that are just smashing them. I love it, because size doesn’t matter in this sport.”
There are currently 64 teams, including UNF, that are in contention for the National Championship. Each team must first win a qualifying tournament and then a regional championship to earn the trip out to Glendale, Colo. for all the glory.
The Deadbirds will be headed to Ocala, Fla. on March 14 to compete in the South Cup Qualifying Tournament. Their opponent in the opening round is yet to be determined.
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