Thanks to the Syracuse Chargers Men's Rugby Club, a national championship nearly came home to the Salt City.
Culminating a year full of hard work and sweat, the Chargers advanced all the way to the Division III national championship game Sunday in Glendale, Colo., near Denver, before falling to Metropolis (Minn.) by a score of 46-25.
Earlier in the millennium, Syracuse won five consecutive New York State titles and the 2003 Northeast regional crown, but never reached the heights that it did this spring.
Under the tutelage of third-year coach Stephen Heywood, the Chargers made the 2011 season a special one as, first, it won the Northeast tournament championship in order to advance to the 'Sweet 16' round, played in Manassas, Va., just south of Washington, D.C.
In the round of 16 on May 21, Syracuse met the Cincinnati Kelts. A tight first half saw the Chargers inch out in front 15-9. But with superior conditioning, Syracuse wore down the Kelts in the second half and kept the ball most of the time, eventually winning by a comfortable 37-16 margin.
This set up the quarterfinal on May 22 against Virginia. In what amounted to a road game, both sides scraped for points in the first half as Virginia moved to an 11-5 lead.
Yet as rain fell in the second half, Virginia slowed down and Syracuse pulled within one, 11-10. As time wound down, the Chargers kept cool and watched flyhalf Jeff Devennie converted a three-point penalty shot. It proved the game-winner as, by a 13-11 margin, Syracuse made the final four.
Two more intense weeks of practice followed, through weather hot and cold, and on Friday the Chargers flew out to Denver, in pursuit of a national championship.
Meeting Dallas (Texas) Athletic Rugby Club in Saturday's semifinals, Syracuse put up another superb defensive effort, nearly getting a shutout as, by a 25-5 margin, it advanced to the final against Metropolis, a club based in the Twin Cities that beat the South Bay Rhinos (Calif.) in the other semifinal.
Unlike many of the playoff games leading to this point, the first half proved high-scoring. Syracuse fell behind, 19-7, but charged late in the half as Devennie and Johnny Morse earned crucial points, cutting the margin to 19-17 at the break.
Here, though, the magic ran out. Metropolis played a near-perfect second half, outscoring the Chargers 27-3. Still, the rough ending could not take away from the history Syracuse made during its deep post-season run.