The Wheeling Jesuit rugby team earned their first-ever varsity win on Saturday, beating the Mountaineers of West Virginia University in a thrilling 10-6 come-from-behind 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 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 back line, 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 recorded 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 a lion’s share of the possession as time began to expire with excellent ball retention in the tackles. With the extra opportunities, and some big hits the momentum started to shift to the Cardinals as time ticked away. In the 77th minute, Jesuit’s attempt to equalize the match with another penalty was wide right.
The Cardinals captured the lead when Dante Walters stormed through the WVU defense, fending off players left and right to record the program’s first try. Stapleton followed with the two-point conversion, giving the Cardinals a 10-6 advantage in the 79th minute.
Overall the Cardinals dominated the second half, and it seemed only a matter of time before they took control of the match to earn the first victory in program history.
With the win, Coach Jerpe is now excited fore the remainder of the season. “We have that monkey off our back, and will go back and focus on getting better for Millersville.”
Wheeling Jesuit will travel to Millersville University on Saturday, September 15th. Kickoff is scheduled for 1pm.
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