Wheeling Rugby Wins 2021 NCR Rhino Rugby Bowl
Houston, TX. – The Wheeling University Rugby team (7-2-1) headed down to Houston, Texas for the NCR Rhino Rugby Bowl on Saturday. After falling behind early, the Cardinals battled back to win the game 29-24 and hold off a late push from Iowa Central Community College to win the inaugural event.
On the opening possession of the game, it was Iowa Central who got on the board 5-0 when they broke through the Wheeling defense. The Cardinals would do just that, with freshman Chief Chipfumbu starting the first scoring drive of the day for Wheeling. Chipfumbu lateraled the ball to freshman Colton Boyle, who was able to take it to the goalie for the Cardinal's first try of the game. SophomoreAyoub Jallicompleted the conversion kick, and Wheeling was back out in front 7-5. It was a big answer for the Cardinals and showed that they weren't affected by the national stage they were playing on. This young and tenacious group was ready to go toe-to-toe with the defending Division I AA Champions from 2019.
Chipfumbu was the catalyst once again on Wheeling's second offensive touch of the game, taking the Titron high kick on the fly. He used his speed to move past the Titron defense and almost got to the goal line before being brought down. Instead, he had to flip the ball to sophomoreBailey Brunner, who took it across for the try. Another Jalli conversion kick made it 14-5 and the Cardinals were out in front. As the half went on, Wheeling began to expose the Iowa Central defense, breaking some key tackles down the stretch. They got two more tries before the half, courtesy of Stanley GianiandJoe Howley, but the conversion kicks failed. Even so, Wheeling went into the half up 24-5 and looking poised to keep the run going.
However, in the second half, it was Iowa Central that got their offense going and began the comeback trail. They opened the second half scoring with a try and conversion that brought the score to 24-12, making it a two-score game. However, Wheeling would respond as Stanley Gianitook the ball across his goal line for the second time on the day and increased the Wheeling lead to 29-14. The Titrons would not go down without a fight, scoring on two more tries before the game was over, and came within one score of Wheeling. However, they would never get that score, and Wheeling held on to win the game and the NCR Rhino Rugby Bowl trophy.
It was a big day for the Wheeling offense, as they scored on five different tries throughout the afternoon. Giani led the group with two tries while Chipfumbu, Howley, and Brunner each added one in the day. Jalli converted two of his five conversion kicks on the day to complete the offense for the Cardinals. As he continues to grow the program back to prominence, head coach Mike Geibel is proud of the way his team competed throughout the night against a tough opponent. Some of Wheeling's stars will remain in Houston as they compete in All-Star Weekend this January.
It was a big win for the Wheeling program and ends an impressive 15s season for the team. They now look ahead to their spring season as they continue to grow on the pitch day in and day out.