WHEELING, WV - The Wheeling Jesuit rugby team earned its first ever varsity win on Saturday, beating the Mountaineers of West Virginia University in a thrilling 10-6 comeback victory on a soggy pitch at James Larosa Stadium.
Despite the rain, a large crowd was on hand to cheer on the Cardinals in their opening match, and the crowd support proved to be pivotal for WJU in the second half with the game on the line, and emotions running high.
The sloppy conditions favored the larger and more physically imposing Mountaineers in the first half as the Cardinals struggled to keep possession of the ball. WJU had plenty of opportunities on line breaks, but the wet ball proved to be too slippery for the Cardinals backs to handle.
“The wet conditions made it hard for us today,” said WJU Head Coach Eric Jerpe. “We prefer to play a much more wide open style of rugby, but our guys adjusted well, and showed a lot of heart.”
The WJU backs, led by freshman John Stapleton, were able to create space and run through gaps showing flash and pace. The West Virginia forwards, however, controlled the breakdowns and forced WJU to play with slow ball, limiting the opportunities for the Cardinals.
West Virginia was able to capitalize on two WJU penalties, taking a 6-0 lead into halftime. WVU’s Steve Ellis slotted both penalty kicks, the first three points in the 14th minute followed by the second penalty in the 40th minute.
After the break, Jesuit cut the Mountaineer lead in half when Stapleton booted the ball through the posts for the first three points of the varsity program’s history. West Virginia started to fatigue in the second half, and the Cardinals were able to use their fitness to create a more organized attack.
WJU enjoyed the lion’s share of the possession late in the game. More ball gave them more scoring opportunities. A penalty attempt that would have tied the game drifted wide with three minutes to go.
But then Dante Walters stormed through the WVU defense, fending off players left and right, to score the program’s first try. Stapleton followed with the conversion, giving the Cardinals the lead 10-6 with a minute to go. And that’s how it ended.
“We have that monkey off our back,” said Jerpe of the victory, “and [we] will go back and focus on getting better for Millersville.”
Wheeling Jesuit will travel to Millersville University next Saturday.