The University of Montana Jesters rugby team hoisted the Montana Rugby Union Title trophy for the first time since 1983 after a 27-14 victory over Bozeman last weekend. This is the third time since 1976 that the Jesters won the championship.
Anthony Trujillo, vice president of the team, said the championship game against Bozeman was “really a lackluster game” and that the real matchup was the semifinal game against the Missoula Maggots.
“There was a founding member of the team on the sideline and he said it was the best game he had ever seen,” Trujillo said. “He wrote a check on the sidelines (to fund the team) for 100 dollars because it was the best competition he had ever seen.”
The Jesters breezed past Spokane with a 49-10 victory and then readied themselves for their game against the Missoula Maggots. Trujillo said his team played awfully, but came together and led the final four minutes on route to a 27-21 win. Trujillo said the championship game against Bozeman was more of a formality because it lacked the intensity of Saturday’s match.
Even though the Jesters were the first rugby team in Missoula, they have always had a rivalry with the Maggots. The Jesters were founded in 1968 at the University, and after players graduated, some stuck around Missoula. They decided to form another men’s rugby team — the Maggots — and a big brother vs. little brother rivalry was born.
When the two teams faced each other on the field, the Maggots always crushed the Jesters. Owen Scully, who joined the team five years ago, was part of many tough losses for the Jesters.
“When I started playing it was not even something we thought we could do,” Scully said. “The first time I played the Maggots we lost like 75 to nothing.”
A real turnaround for the team came about a year ago. The Jesters were always looked at as a social team, a team that would not be competitive on the field. Last year, the team’s president pushed them to compete more and they lost 21-20 in the final minute of the championship tournament to the Maggots. Trujillo said some players cried afterward because they were so upset. This year the motivation was there and the team became more focused,” he said.
Another factor that helped the team succeed was the experience of incoming players. Scully said an influx of players with rugby experience from high school has cut back on players starting from scratch.
Kalispell native, Shane St. Onge, joined the team after his uncle and high school coach talked about the Jesters, piquing St. Onge’s interest.
During Saturday’s games, St. Onge said he knew something special was happening.
“I wasn’t a part of the team in years past, but all the older veterans had so much emotion going into the games,” St. Onge said. “I didn’t really know the Maggots rivalry and I didn’t play with the teams that had lost, but going in undefeated I had a lot of confidence in the team and all the work that we did put in came through.”
St. Onge is one of the rookies that brought experience to a team that is losing many key players, like Trujillo, to graduation.
For Trujillo, a four-year veteran, the win was a perfect way to leave his mark in Jesters’ history.
“It does a lot for the team,” Trujillo said. “It validates a lot of guys on the team that were thinking, ‘Maybe rugby’s not for me.’ Now they say, ‘Holy crap, we can win.’ It makes everybody feel like we can achieve this.”