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CRC Men's Finals: Wheeling Dominates, and More

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CRC Men's Finals: Wheeling Dominates, and More

Trophy time for Wheeling. Photo NCR.

Wheeling University sped their way to the CRC Men's Premier title Saturday night, racing past Kutztown, 29-10.

Kutztown had made the final with a snappy combination of ball movement, physical defense, and power running. They beat Southern Nazarene 30-7, Dartmouth 28-12, and Michigan to make the semis. They had a bit more trouble with Iowa Central CC but overcame an early Triton score to win 24-14. Leading the way was scrumhalf Chris Cleland, who was crucial as a playmaker, and the Georgian pair of Giorgi Kuparadze and Mate Kvirikashvili.

Wheeling, for their part, unleashed overall team speed. They had skill, and they hit hard, but it was mostly the fact that any turnovers were punished with interest thanks to the power running of Aaron Juma, and speed of Shadrek Mandaza. There were strong players throughout, but ultimately, they knew to do their jobs, and get out of the way of those two, who logged 19 tries between them.

Wheeling beat Fordham 36-0, Mount St. Mary's 31-12, Indiana 29-5, and Babson 24-0 to make the final. As you can see, the games really weren't close.

In the final Kvirikashvili opened the game with a massive run up the middle. But he needed better support and Wheeling was able to slow them down. Eventually, however, Kutztown had a good scoring chance and an overlap, only for a poor pass to kill hopes for a try. Those chances were too valuable to miss, and when Kutztown took a yellow card for an intentional knock-on, they were in big trouble.

Juma broke through for his eighth try of the tournament, going through a huge hole. Kutztown tried to come back but a speculative pass from Cleland in contact wasn't held and Manadaza instead took it 75 meters to make it 14-0 Wheeling.

The second half started with Mandaza getting a nice offoad and unleashing a bit of a shake-and-bake move that beat three tacklers as he went over.

Kutztown responded with Kuparadze setting up Kvirikashvili, making it 19-5 and time running out for the Bears.

From the restart Wheeling forced a turnover. Mike Muleya thundered upfield, drew some attention, and set the ruck. The ball was sent quickly to Mandaza for his 10th try of the tournament. KU got one back but Juma added his 9th as time expired and Wheeling had a dominant victory.

Mandaza and Jume scored more than 75% of their team's tries, but it was certainly a team effort, and no one could afford to give up on any play. In 7s, if you score more than three tries a game, you're probably going to win. The fewest Wheeling scored in any game was four, and that was a shutout. They averaged exactly five tries a game and averaged exactly one allowed per game. It was a truly impressive showing.

Babson, sparked by a huge game from Brice Muller, Babson took 3rd. In the Plate final, for 5th, Notre Dame College looked to finish the college's rugby history with a win. It wasn't to be. Needing overtime to get there, the Falcons went to OT for a second time. This final was a weird one, with Belmont Abbey and NDC ending the game 0-0. Dealing with a red card for a head-high challenge, NDC was gassed by the end. Belmont Abbey thought they had scored the sudden death try, only for it to be brought back for forward pass (it was close). They got over again, only to be held up. Finally they did the deed and the Crusaders won 5-0.

Other Brackets

Louisville shut out NC State 29-0 in the final to win the D1 Club. The Cardinals' defense was superb all through the tournament, allowing one try in their opener and none in their next three games. Tennessee took third.

Led by a top-notch performance by Shea Wagner, Maine came back from 15-7 down to beat Georgetown in the final 19-15. Brett Benham scored a key try for the Black Bears as they took the DII final. Unlike in the title runs above, Maine's run was fraught with tension. Every game was a challenge and they just barely got by a tenacious Scranton team to make the final.

Two-time winners IUP took third. 

Slippery Rock played a very game form of 7s to win the Small College title. They were quick to the ruck, they hit hard, and they ran low. Not blessed with overwhelming pace, they instead made the ball do the work, didn't flinch when it started to rain, and just didn't let up. The result was an MVP performance from Zach Herrington, and some solid work at halfback from Christian Bosch, and a 19-12 win over a very good St. Thomas team out of Minnesota.

Endicott, last year's winner, took third. Both semis and the final were all decided by a try or less.