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STATE CHAMPS: All Blacks win state rugby championship HHS Senior Zane Swinger named match MVP

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Joy, elation, big smiles, hugs, cheers, and relief - these are some of the emotions and actions that swept through the members of the Sumner Rugby Football Club team when the referee signaled that the state championship match was over. The All Blacks defeated the Oakland High School Patriots, 37-19, to win the Bowl Championship of the Tennessee Rugby Association State Championship on Saturday at MTSU.

Zane Swinger, a four-year rugby player for Sumner RFC, will continue his career at MTSU. He scored a try, a penalty kick and a conversion in the match but mostly importantly, led his team along with co-captain Jacob Kinman, another four-year player, to victory.

In the first half, the All Blacks Coach Brian Silkwood's game plan of ball possession, tough defense and tempo was working well as the All Blacks controlled the match. Despite some missed opportunities, they opened the scoring when senior scrumhalf Sam Flatt beat the Oakland defense to the corner and put down a try in the 10th minute.

Senior fullback AJ Hart followed soon after (14th minute) as some solid, quick passing produced an overload on the Patriots' back line.

Senior winger Sean O'Brien scored his second try in as many games in the 20th minute. And the All Black defense allowed very little Oakland ball movement or flow. Senior flanker Luke Carver and number eight Colby Pearl were solid with tackles and at the breakdown and lock Cameron Tompkins had several long runs after pouching some Oakland balls. A nice evasive run by senior inside center Christian Bozeman through the Patriot line resulted in a try between the posts at the end of the half. Swinger slotted the conversion and the All Blacks led 22-0 at the break - seemingly on cruise control.

The second half opened with Swinger receiving the kickoff and weaving his way downfield toward a score. However, Oakland would get a say in this match, refusing to be just a dance partner. Swinger was tackled inside their 22 - the Oakland defense and intensity stiffened, resulting in the All Blacks losing possession. The Patriots now methodically worked the ball downfield and scored their first try of the match (35th minute) but missed the conversion kick - and the 2nd half turned into battle.

Outside center Swinger scored (39th minute) to stall the Oakland momentum but an old enemy raised its head as Oakland gained possession and scored again. An All Black player was sent to the "sin bin" (like the hockey penalty box but for seven minutes) for a serious infraction and suddenly they were playing a man down. Just like last year in the Plate division title match when their opponent took advantage and scored to win after the All Blacks led the entire match, Oakland used the advantage to score again and the match momentum clearly shifted to their favor, closing the score to 29-19 with plenty of time left.

But this year's results would be different as the All Blacks senior heavy squad stiffened their defensive effort, re-gained ball possession and methodically rucked and moved the ball downfield. Reserve winger Preston Stinson was the recipient of a nice pass from fullback AJ Hart and found himself near the corner of goal line with an Oakland defender to beat - which he did to make the score 34-19 at the 50th minute.

As the clock continued to count down, the All Blacks settled into a ball control phase. Swinger converted a penalty kick after an Oakland infraction to add to the scoring total as the All Blacks held on to take the Bowl division championship, 37-19.

"The entire coaching staff and I are extremely proud of this group of guys," said Silkwood. "They started the season with one goal and they met that goal today, here in Murfreesboro. It was our team's tempo, teamwork and relentless defense that lead us to victory today."

The win ends the sixth season of play for Sumner RFC. They have qualified for the state rugby tournament five of those six seasons, advancing to the state finals in different classifications four times. They last won a state championship in the lower Plate Division in 2012.

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