Wildcats Top Eagles in State Championship Rematch
St. Ignatius rugby hosted St. Edward Saturday afternoon in a highly anticipated matchup of top 5 teams. The Wildcats entered the game ranked #1 in the country. St. Edward, which beat Ignatius last year in the state title game, entered as the #5 team in the US. The game was played under cool, damp conditions at Wasmer Field in Ohio City. Intermittant rain fell throughout the match, but that didn't dampen the enthusiasm of the large crowd in attendance. St. Ignatius won the game 26-17, completing a "Holy War Sweep" of the weekend (The Wildcats defeated the Eagles in baseball on Friday).
St. Ignatius took an early lead, as Juan Pen scored a try in the sixth minute of the game. Wildcat teammate Chris Fedor completed the conversion, putting St. Edward in a 7-0 hole. Both teams settled in defensively for the next twenty minutes. Each was able to move the ball, but neither could score. The Eagles finally broke the drought with just over seven minutes left in the first half. Connor Forrestall made a penalty kick, slicing the Wildcat lead to 7-3. The Eagles had momentum, but St. Ignatius was able to respond immediately before halftime. The Wildcats drove the ball within five yards of the goal line in the final minute, as the Eagles scrapped furiously to hold the score at 7-3. However, Sean Soeder made the biggest play of the half, scoring a try with no time left on the clock. The conversion kick failed, but St. Ignatius had a 12-3 lead and got a huge emotional lift going into the break.
The St. Ignatius momentum carried over to the start of the second half. Joe Johnson scored a try in the second minute of the second half, putting the Wildcats up 17-3. Fedor made the conversion, making it 19-3 and deflating the Eagle fans in the crowd. St. Edward refused to quit, still playing hard and believing that they would make the comeback. Grant Gutchall fueled Eagle hopes by scoring a try only two minutes later. Forrestall made a successful conversion kick, and the Widcat lead was 19-10 with 30 minutes left in the game. Eagle fans rejoiced at Gutchall's score, which put St. Edward right back in the game.
Both teams battled over the next ten minutes, but neither scored. The Eagles were looking for another score to turn up the heat on the Wildcats. St. Ignatius, however, wouldn't buckle. Josef O'Brien made a crucial play with 19 minutes remaining...he grabbed a kick in Eagle territory, and ran it in for a try. Fedor followed with another conversion kick, and St. Ignatius led 26-10 with just over 17 minutes remaining.
The Eagles did not give up hope, and continued to put pressure the Wildcats. Their persistance paid off with seven minutes remaining. Gutchall scored another try, this one from close to the goal. Forrestall followed with another conversion, making the score 26-17. The Wildcats defense held the rest of the way, closing out a key nine-point win over their rivals.
This was the only scheduled regular season game between the two rugby powers this year. However, both sides expect to see each other again this spring. Both teams will participate in regional, state, and national championship tournaments over the next few weeks. Each team will have championship opportunties, as well as other motivation: for the Eagles, revenge for this loss and chance to defend their state title; for the Wildcats, the chance to strengthen their #1 national ranking.
Mike Deneen has extensive experience covering sports and community stories for the Lakewood Observer. Mike has been a Senior Industry Analyst for the Freedonia Group in Cleveland, Ohio, since 1998. He has appeared on CNBC’s Closing Bell, NPR’s MarketPlace and has been quoted multiple times in The Wall Street Journal. He has made multiple guest appearances on ESPN Cleveland radio. Mike also writes for Inside Northwestern, a website that covers Northwestern Wildcat Athletics. You can reach him on Twitter at @MikeDeneen1