Fred Khasigian played football and rugby, when it was an intercollegiate sport at USC. An orthopedic surgeon, Khasigian still heads the nationally renowned Jesuit High School rugby program he helped start 18 years ago.
Alexander Evans is a youth football player who took up rugby two years ago and will be a freshman at Roseville High School in the fall.
Despite the generation gap, both were jazzed to see the USA Eagles men’s national rugby team play on Saturday afternoon at Bonney Field, the new Cal Expo stadium.
It was the Eagles’ first international appearance in Sacramento, and their brutal and beautiful play against rival Canada not only proved a hit with Khasigian and Evans but just about everyone in the raucous, announced sellout crowd of 8,000.
The Eagles, spurred on by the constant chants of “USA, USA, USA” from the sun-drenched fans, put on an inspiring show in rallying from a 17-point early second-half deficit and holding off Canada twice with dramatic try-line stands at the end to win 38-35.
The No. 18 Eagles ended their losing streak to No. 16 Canada at seven matches dating to the summer of 2009.
Khasigian brought a huge group of family members and friends to the match to watch his former players Eric Fry and Louis Stanfill as well as gifted Blaine Scully, a water polo player and swimmer at Jesuit who didn’t take up rugby until he was a freshman at UCLA.
Scully, a winger, scored two tries for 10 of the Eagles’ points, and Stanfill and Fry came off the bench in the second half to spark the comeback.
“Having this game is a gigantic boost to our locale,” Khasigian said. “It shows young kids the possibilities – that you can play on national TV, that you can play in front of a big crowd and on a professional field.”
Evans, 14, was clearly impressed as he watched from near the sideline with his father, Scott.
“This is great,” Evans said. “The play is amazing – the mauls, the way they pass, the way they move.”
Evans plays flanker for a south Sacramento youth rugby club, the Bowling Green Dragons, and said the sport has captured his fancy even more than football.
Scott Evans said rugby is good cross-training for football, especially for proper tackling technique. He also likes rugby’s emphasis on sportsmanship, that opposing teams come together after matches to share admiration and meals, regardless of who won.
“He loved rugby so much his first year that he got four of his football teammates to join him,” Scott Evans said. “And he’s getting some great coaching at Bowling Green. Their coach (Naki Hopoi) is very dedicated.”
Alexander Evans is one of more than 5,000 youths competing in rugby in Northern California, a huge increase from when Khasigian introduced rugby at Jesuit.
“Now we not only have more high schools playing, and many with multi-teams, we are seeing more and more youth clubs,” said Khasigian, whose sixth-grade nephew, David Hause, plays for a team in Carmichael.
Though Scully didn’t start playing rugby until he was 18, he likes seeing kids being introduced to the sport at earlier ages.
“If we ever want to be good in rugby in the U.S., we have to give good performances to inspire these young players,” said Scully, who plays in the top-level English Premiership. “They’re the future of the sport.”
Scully was impressed with the atmosphere at Bonney Field and the support not only for his World Cup-bound Eagles but for Republic FC, the soccer team that christened the field the night before with a 4-3 win over the Colorado Rapids Reserves.
“Two victories and two sellout crowds on back-to-back days is pretty positive as far as soccer and rugby goes,” Scully said. “It shows the type of fans Sacramento has, and how we love sports.”
Call The Bee’s Bill Paterson, (916) 326-5506.