Michigan downed visiting Wheeling Jesuit 30-28 in Ann Arbor, Mich. Saturday, overcoming a 13-point halftime lead to edge the Cardinals late in the friendly.
It was clearly the opening game of the season for both teams as handling errors and penalties plagued the first 20 minutes. Michigan kicked a penalty goal early to go up 3-0, and the Cardinals answered right back though by marching down the field and scoring a try when John Stapleton stepped inside a defender and dove over for the first of his 11 points on the day. Stapleton converted his own try, and the Cards took a 7-3 lead after 10 minutes of play.
Penalties again put WJU under pressure, and the Wolverines capitalized when Brennen Arnett took a stolen ball in for their first try of the game to take an 8-7 lead.
Wheeling used a kicking game to keep Michigan pinned deep in its own end. After stealing a lineout, the Cards put together a rolling maul and Alan Hanson snuck around the blind side and scored for the Cardinals in the corner. Stapleton again converted the try, and WJU reclaimed the lead, 14-8.
The Cardinals extended their lead just before half when Jamie Barlow intercepted an errant UM pass and went the distance for another WJU try. The score put the Cards up 21-8, giving them confidence heading into the break. Two Michigan yellow cards, versus one for Wheeling, also helped the Cardinals build their lead.
That confidence may have been the Cardinals undoing however, as Michigan would score two early tries in the second half, both off missed tackles, to bring the score to 21-18. The first was raced in by freshman Matt Kasten, and the second was carried over by sophomore Sequoyah Burke-Combs.
Wheeling freshman flyhalf Joji Vakasisikakala showed why he will be an offensive threat for years to come for WJU when he put a chip kick behind the Michigan defense, collected it off the bounce and raced in 40 meters untouched for the try. With the conversion, Wheeling led 28-18 with 20 minutes to play.
Michigan then mounted an attack to crawl back in the game, with Burke-Combs leading the way. He ran in his second try, converted, to pull the Wolverines back within three, and he set up the go-ahead score with another impressive run before dishing to Chirstian Mentzer. The senior center’s try made it 30-28.
“He is a very good athlete. He played wing for us last year, and we moved him to flanker,” said Michigan coach Matt Trenary of Burke-Combs. “I think he will do quite well at that position and did today – played the full 80, was not worn down at the end and made a good break and was aware enough to execute a nice little two-on-one against the fullback.”
“It was clear that our execution wasn’t what we needed it to be today,” said WJU Head Coach Eric Jerpe. “Fair play to Michigan, they dug deep in that last 20 minutes, but we need to get our guys accountable for their tackles. There are definitely some positives to take away though, so we’ll look at the film and come out firing next week.”
WJU takes to the road again next Saturday in an important rubber match against St Bonaventure, who beat the Cards in a squeaker last season. Michigan is home again next week as they welcome Notre Dame.
Tries: Burke-Combs (2), Mentzer, Arnett, Kasten
Tries: Stapleton, Hanson, Barlow, Vakasisikakala
Cons: Stapleton (4)