Cougars Forever Strong

The dynasty of Highland Rugby, coached by Larry Gelwix, boast 19 national champions in 25 years and was the featured subject of director Ryan Little's movie ‘Forever Strong.' The movie shot Highland Rugby into the national spotlight. Last weekend, two future BYU teammates faced of one against each other as Highland played United for the right to be called a national champion.

Last weekend Highland Rugby was again on the big stage, but it was United Rugby, an Alpine-based club, that won the hard-fought game and the right to be called rugby's national championship.

"We lost this past Saturday and took second in nationals," said Highland Rugby's Kesni Tausinga, a Cougar football commit who also plays on the offensive and defensive lines for Bingham High School. "We lost to United Rugby and it was up here at Rio Tinto Stadium. We beat them earlier for the state championship but they beat us for the national championship."

Facing Highland Rugby was BYU linebacker commit Sae Tautu of Lone Peak High School. Tautu plays the number-eight man, which has the responsibility of being a combination of linebacker and running back found in the sport of football. He was excited about his victory over rival powerhouse Highland.

"On man, that was the funnest game I've ever played in," said an excited Tautu. "As you know, we lost to them in the state championship 17-18 in like the last five seconds of the game. That left a bitter taste in our mouths, so when we went out there this past Saturday we just played our guts out and came away with the win."

After a big comeback by Highland in the championship game, United scored a try (an equivalent to a touchdown in football with the point value differing depending on the league) to seal the victory in the end.

"This game [United] came out hard and got up on us with 17 points early," Tausinga said. "They got on the board really quick the first half, and we were playing catch-up throughout the game but were able to tie it up 17 to 17. After that they scored again and were up 23 to 17 and we just couldn't score after that. It kind of sucks and we thought we had it. We came in pretty confident going into the game but just lost it in the end."

"Oh, it feels so good," Tautu said with excitement. "Since playing in the ninth grade this has been my whole goal. It's just now starting to hit me how big this is. I just sit there for hours looking at my gold medal and think, 'Dang, we did it. Finally, all that running, sweat and blood finally paid off.'"

When facing a storied powerhouse program like Highland Rugby, nerves and intimidation often comes into play, but the seniors of United set aside all that in their last chance to beat Highland.

"I think we were a little intimated before when we played them in the state championship," said Tautu. "For the national championship, we were already mad because of that game, and so most of us seniors will be too old to play next year. We just felt like this was our last game so we went out there and played with everything we had for the national championship game. In the state game we had a lot of penalties, but in the championship game we played clean."

During the rugby match, 6-foot-1-inch, 285-pound Kesni Tausinga often met up with 6-foot-4-inch, 225-pound Sae Tautu. It was a battle of rivals, but also soon-to-be fellow Cougars.

"Man, Kesni is a dang good baller," said Tautu. "He is the hardest person to tackle when he has the ball. That's one reason why I like football, because linemen can't carry the ball. When you get players like him with the ball, somebody's going to get hurt. He's just a big, power-runner type kid. In the ruck, he just walks in and dominates.

"He's mean. I look at the ruck as a situation where you're just fighting over the ball, and whoever wins the ruck gets possession of the ball and a chance to score. So when I get into the ruck I fight as nasty and mean as I can, and Kesni is one of the first players that I've met that can beat me in the ruck. I was like, 'Dang!' He just goes crazy. He throws people around and we scouted him out in games before that, and we've seen how players will go for the ball and then here comes Kesni. When they look up they just drop the ball back down. Yeah, he definitely makes a name for himself in every game he's played in. I would say he is one of the more important players on Highland's team. He does all the dirty work that doesn't get recognized. I would definitely say he is one of the best players, if not the best, in the country at his position."

Meanwhile, Tausinga said he knows Tautu very well and showed similar respect for his future teammate.

"He's a stud and had some really good plays in that game too," Tausinga said about Tautu. "He plays the eight-man and he's a tough kid. He's a playmaker and they try to get him the ball and [he] is one of their faster forwards. They try to get him the ball a lot and when the do he finds space and lays a hit on someone. He's a good kid, I like him a lot."

Despite the fact that they know each other will be teammates at BYU, the two had some intense competitions against each other in the state and national championship games.

"Yeah totally, we had some good battles in there," Tausinga said. "It's such a big rivalry between our team Highland and their team, so it's kind of weird because I'm good friends with him. Seeing him on a team that is such a big rivalry with us is pretty weird."

"After playing against Kesni in this national championship game, it's good to know that he's going to be fighting for me like that at BYU," said Tautu. "He is one tough kid and I'm excited to know that I'll be playing behind him as a Cougar."

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