Then, as the fans held their breath, he cooly hit it through the uprights to break a stalemate and send the Newfoundland Rock to a 13-10 victory over the Vancouver Wave in the Canadian junior (under-20) final Saturday at Swilers Complex.
The 18-year-old fullback admitted “The nerves started to kick in,” just before his game-winning penalty kick.
“It was a good strike and it went over. It’s my first national final and I couldn’t be happier,” said McNicholas, who finished with eight points on two penalties and a conversion of Zac Coughlan’s first-half try.
The British Columbia representatives had one last chance to send the game into overtime.
Just before regulation time ended, Vancouver’s out-half, who had failed to convert Wave tries by Kevin Gurniak and Cody Thistle from difficult angles, found himself just outside the Newfoundland 22-metre line with the ball placed directly in front of the goalposts.
“I was getting ready for extra time,” admitted McNicholas after the game. However, the B.C. kicker shanked the ball wide. The Junior Rock players raised their hands in triumph and the crowd cheered wildly on the final whistle of the most dramatic, tension-filled game ever played in St. John’s.
“We weren’t looking to going into extra time,” said a relieved Junior Rock head coach Simon Blanks. “They (Vancouver) were a little fitter than we were towards the end of the game.”
Coughlan, who played brilliantly at No. 8, said watching the final kick of the game was excruciating.
“We worked so hard to get to this point, I was just praying he’d miss it. It was a really physical game and all of the guys were exhausted.”
Winning the title, he added, is “one of the happiest moments in my life.”
Blanks wasn’t surprised McNicholas made the kick “because he’s got ice for blood.”
He noted his team kept mostly to its game plan, which was to run the ball straight ahead and challenge the smaller, less physical Vancouver forwards. When they did that they made slow, but sure-handed progress, while keeping ball possession.
“We have some big forwards and they were tough to handle which negated their (Wave) outside backs. There were a few terrifying moments when they (Wave) got into freeflow, but we were able to make the crucial last-ditch tackles,” said Blanks.
Newfoundland, which led 7-5 at halftime, held a five-point lead with six minutes to play and had possession inside the Vancouver 22-metre line but spilled the ball and the Wave counter attacked with outside speed to put the ball down in the corner and tie the game at 10-10.
“It was a good strike and it went over. It’s my first national final and I couldn’t be happier,” - said Patrick McNicholas
The Junior Rock players were quick to applaud the spectators after the match.
“The crowd really turned it for us,” said associate coach Pat Parfrey. “It was a superb crowd.”
Vancouver coach Pat Fleck summed up the game as far as he was concerned, stating: “They probably made a few less errors than we did, and that’s the bottom line.”
Overall, he said it was a “learning lesson,” for his team.
As the Newfoundland players lined up to receive their gold medals, one of the players shouted, “We’ve made history, boys.”
He was referring to the fact that, prior to Saturday’s match, no Newfoundland rugby team — at any level — had managed to defeat a team from British Columbia.
Asked how he felt about making rugby history, Blanks replied: “It feels wonderful, absolutely wonderful, but I didn’t do anything.
“They,” he said, pointing to the players setting up under the goalposts for the post-game championship photos, “did it all.”