Wheeling, WV — On Saturday night, the first Big Rivers Rugby Conference (BRRC) Wild Card playoffs took place at Bishop Schmitt Field. It took a while for the attack to get going, but Wheeling took a 33-21 win over Adrian College. The victory puts Wheeling back on the national stage as they earn a place in the National Collegiate Rugby (NCR) D1 15 playoffs.
Both defenses were solid for the first 40 minutes of the game, with the first try of the night only coming in the dying minutes of the first half. The Cardinals got the first scoring chance barely a minute into the game as Ayoub Jalli attempted a three-point kick. Unfortunately, the kick did not go through. The amounts and the score remained tied at 0-0. Penalties would be a theme throughout the first half as the teams combined for five three-point kicks in the first 40 minutes. Adrian College got the first through the uprights in the 12th minute of the game, the Bulldogs took a 3-0 lead. The attack struggled to get off the ground but they would take advantage of a few errors from Adrian.
The Cardinal’s first score came five minutes later as Jalli attempted his second conversion shot of the day. This time he got the shot from 16 yards and tied the game at 3-3. Jalli will attempt two more conversion kicks in the half, one in the 29th minute and another in the 34th. He then kicked from 13 and 20 yards and helped extend his side’s lead to 9-3 with six minutes remaining. Adrian College collected the ball with two minutes left and pushed it through the try line to give the Bulldogs a 10-9 lead. This would be the score when the teams broke for the locker room.
Adrian College kept the momentum going late in the half by scoring the game’s second try in the 46th minute. Jalli headed for the tee again in the 51st minute and kicked his fourth three-point kick of the day to make it a 15-12 affair. After being held off the try line in the first half, the Cardinals finally broke through in the 51st minute. Joe Iye connected with Aaron Juma, who went the rest of the way to restore Wheeling to the lead at 19-15. The Cardinals are expected to fight their way through the try line for their next score as Jose Oltra hit one in front of a yard to make it a 26-15 Cardinal lead.
However, Adrian would not go down without a fight as they pushed for another try in the 72nd minute. The conversion kick that followed was good, reducing the Cardinal’s lead to just four with just under 8 minutes to play. The Cardinals were looking for some reassurance as they attempted to return to the national stage for the second straight year. They would get just that two minutes later when Rua Karimazondo scored his first try since September, flicking the ball over the near stack to make it a 31-22 Wheeling advantage. The Cardinals held on for the final six minutes and won the game by the same scoreline as they qualified for the RNC 15 playoffs.
It was a big day for the rugby kicker Ayoub Jalli, who scored 18 of his team’s 33 points on the night. He landed four three-point kicks and added three conversion kicks to end a big night. The three tries were scored by Aaron Juma, Rua Karimazondo and Jose Oltra. While the Cardinals made the national scene a year ago in the NCR Rhino Rugby Bowl, this will be the team’s first-ever trip to the NCR 15 National Playoffs as a D1 program. Wheeling is looking to take a few steps forward as they chase a national championship.
The Wheeling University Rugby team will now wait to see who their opponents will be in the first round of the NCR 15 playoffs next Saturday, November 12.