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St. Ignatius Wins Muddy, Contentious Boys Ohio 7s Finals

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St. Ignatius Wins Muddy, Contentious Boys Ohio 7s Finals

Christian Balassey with Mark French in support. Alex Goff photo.

St. Ignatius won the Rugby Ohio Boys fall 7s championships in a difficult and contentious final Sunday, battling (as did everyone) rain and mud as well as a talented St. Xavier HS outfit to get there.

Eight boys teams competed on the day in a tournament that had to be moved at the last minute due to rain making it impossible to line the original fields. The tournament was held on a grass pitch at a middle school in Dublin, Ohio and while the playing surface was good, the wet weather made for a muddy day all around.

The teams played a straight bracket format, with the opening games being the quarterfinals, and then everyone splintering off into placement semis and finals after that.

In the first round St. Xavier shut out a tough Dublin side 21-0 in a game where St. X had three tries called back. The Bombers unleashed a multi-skilled side that had power to spare, meaning even dropped balls worked out in their favor as they could usually win the scrums regardless of whose put-in it was. 

With Oliver Weidner pulling the strings and kicking almost flawlessly for points regardless of how the ball bounced, Alexander Samson was a dangerous to burn defenders and Phil Bottomley was a massive threat to run over or through you. Players like Mason Moor were difficult, too, and they controlled the game nicely.

Medina’s hard-nosed approach saw them past Highland 12-0 in a game that was, unfortunately, marred by a nasty ankle injury to one Highland player—Highland’s day was slammed with injuries and they would finish 8th in part because of them.

Michael Gabriel and Zach Greene scored tries for a Medina team that kept the ball alive nicely and played good defense.

St. Ignatius was put under some significant pressure by the Dayton Nothern Force in their opener and only barely escaped giving up an opening try. Eventually, though, a smart fly-hack down the sideline set up a try for Joe Deinhart and that seemed to get them going as they won 21-0.

St. Edward had all sorts of trouble getting their mojo working against a Moeller side that had designs on a semifinal spot. Moeller had big, hard runners, and so did St. Ed’s. With neither backing down, and there not being a lot of room out wide, this was a slugfest that ended in St. Edward’s favor 5-0.

Consolation Semis

In the consolation semis, Dublin beat Highland 12-7 in overtime when Solomon Harris, who had not scored a try for the team all season, intercepted a Highland pass and took it to the house to win the game.

Moeller power running saw them through over Dayton 10-0.

Cup Semis

The Cup Semifinals pitted rivals St. Ignatius and St. Edward against each other. These teams had already played during the regular season, with Ignatius getting the win. But St. Ed’s, led by the excellent game management and field vision of Conor McGuirk and with Jayden Williams and Owen Schultz taking on defenders and busting through the line they put Ignatius on their heels. 

Ignatius wanted to use their elusiveness, but struggled to get that going partly because of the St. Ed’s defense, and partly because of the muddy field. Even so it came down to one of the smaller players on the field as Mark French held strong to score one in the corner and then sold a dummy to open up a hole for another.

With Jimmy Collins making key tackles and being the leader, Davey Kotnik coming on the set the pysical tone, and Christian Balassey finding all kinds of things to do, Ignatius survived 19-5.

The other semifinal put St. X in mind of last year, when a talent Bombers side perhaps looked too far ahead and were upset by Dayton. No such issue here. St. Xavier put Medina under constant pressure, swarming in to throttle their ability to get out of their 22, forcing turnovers, and powering over the line.

Lesson learned from 2022. Bottomley, shifty Sebastien Nies, support-running Landon Smoot, and the entire roster rolled as St. X won 56-0.


Placement Games

Dayton took 7th over Highland as injuries made Highland shorthanded. In the 5th-6th game Moeller defeated Dublin 19-5 and really were just too strong in contact. 

For 3rd, St. Edward unleashed one of their better performances, with McGuirk once again in the center of it all as the Eagles flew away 31-10.

So that set up the final. The field was not in the best of shape for a scintillating exhibit but in some ways it still was. There weren’t breakaways, there were intense battles for every possession and every meter of ground. 

Ignatius halfback Teagan Frain understood that well and tried to work Ignatius into a chance to find a gap. But St. Xavier was defensively equal to the task and found an opportunity for Bottomley out wide. Out of nowhere Collins raced in to take him down, and Ignatius regathered. Eventually it was Balassey who powered his way over for the opening try and a 5-0 lead for Ignatius.

In the second half, Ignatius were stuck in their own end and remembered they had been encouraged to kick when pinned down. Balassey did just that and took off after the ball, toed it ahead nicely, and fell on it. It was a brilliant moment in a game that needed it and Ignatius led 10-0.

(When Balassey originally picked up the ball he almost fell over in the mud. He must have understood that he couldn’t really run with the ball, but also figured no one else could either. His decision to kick was perfect, as was the execution.)

Back came St. Xavier. Despite Weidner being yellow-carded for a deliberate knock-on, they found a way, sucking in defenders and sending Moore around the edge for a long-range score. Here’s where that yellow card really hurt. Weidner’s conversion kicking had been perfect so far—11-for-11—and somehow he had mastered the horrible bounce on the wet ground. But he was on the sidelines in the sin-bin. The conversion attempt hit the crossbar. 10-5.

Back at full strength St. Xavier came back at Ignatius. A penalty, and a yellow card, put Ignatius on the back foot. The rucks were a mess with the ball sliding out all kinds of directions and players doing the same. Both teams would have done well to add another player to the breakdown to secure possession. 

Regardless, St. Xavier came on and here’s where things got weird. The Bombers had a penalty inside the Ignatius 22. Did Ignatius retreat 10 meters? From GRR’s vantage point … no. They were told to get back by the AR, and certainly the St. Xavier coaches thought there would be a penalty. Ignatius stopped the next attack, forced a knock-on, and the game was whistled.

GRR did not talk to the officials after the game, so the end in some ways remains as muddied as the entire day was. What was clear was that there are several high school teams in Ohio that know how to play 7s and play it well, and who tossed excuses aside and just got on with it. Ignatius takes home the title, while St. Xavier hosts a tournament next week with some teams from Indiana to settle a bit of an all-Midwest argument. And quiet Christian Balassey, who didn’t want to be a hero, was one anyway.