GRR on X  GRR on Facebook GRR in Instagram GRR Vimeo Library GRR on YouTube RuggaMatrix America Podcasts Support GRR on Patreon

St. Thomas and Air Force Produce Classic Bowl Game

irish rugby tours

St. Thomas and Air Force Produce Classic Bowl Game

Welton Charumbira was game MVP. Photo Calder Cahill.

CRAA's spring bowl games produced plenty of drama and a nice way for St. Thomas to cap off their season.

A relatively new varsity program, St. Thomas held off Air Force in a clash between the Florida D1AA champion and a talented but non-playoff D1A team. Both teams came to play rugby and both teams had talent on their rosters.

Every single player on the Air Force Academy team had picked up rugby as a first-year at the Academy; not one of them had played rugby in high school. And Air Force rugby does not have the on-campus status of West Point or the US Naval Academy—it's a club team. But they know how to play rugby. With No. 8 Jack Brown making meters and outside center Jackson Macias an elusive runner with a good boot, they were a dangerous team.

St. Thomas, for their part, had come from D2 into D1AA this year and run the table in Florida. With a coaching setup headed by Gavin McLeavy and institutional support, the Bobcats brought impressive players from overseas and also from Florida. Flyhalf Welton Charumbira is fast, elusive, and smart. Captain Jehron McGee is a workhorse and emotional leader at flanker. The second row pairing of Noah Araujo and Max Testero were hard carriers and defenders.

The game began very evenly and in fact remained close throughout. Air Force got close to threatening, but silly penalties undercut their chances. The two teams kind of circled each other for a while until St. Thomas was able to stop the Zoomies through a penalty, and then another penalty. Finally they tapped quickly and put Araujo over for the opening try.

The Zoomies unleashed their open-field running with flyhalf Kyle Hulme working the pattern nicely and flanker Colton Stoub making inroads. Thye got a penalty, kicked to the corner, missed, but then St. Thomas knocked the ball on right in front of their tryline. So instead of a lineout five meters out, Air Force had a scrum five meters out. Brown picked up from the base of the scrum, got close, and quick ball allowed Macias to take an angle and score. Griffin Anderson's conversion it was 7-5. Anderson was a key ingredient for Air Force at fullback as he handled kicks well and was also a dangerous attacking threat.

He helped Air Force put St. Thomas under more pressure as the Zoomies worked their open-field attack. A massive run from lock Trevor Kauer and a follow-up charge from center and captain Jeremiah Palaita ended when Palaita offloaded to wing Will Taylor, who raced in to score a really picturesque try. Anderson would converted and it was 14-5 Air Force.

Smart ball movement in close and center Pablo Villareal was over for St. Thomas to close the scoreline to 14-12, giving Air Force a slim halftime lead. Air Force were helped by a series of silly handling errors by St. Thomas, including a knock-on deep in their 22 that led to a try. Meanwhile Charumbira was the magician for the Bobcats with his passing, finding both Araujo and especially Villareal when they were open to get tries. Meanwhile Air Force took an additional hit when Taylor was yellow-carded for a no-wrap tackle.


St. Thomas came out in the second half perhaps a little more conservative, but determined not to make as many errors. Charumbira slotted an early penalty goal to nudge his side into the lead only for Anderson to put a big kick over himself. Air Force seemed to take control and used the power and work rate of their forwards.

Hooker Eli Williams punished a series of penalties, scoring in a splintered but tenacious maul, and with Anderson's extras it was now 24-15 and St. Thomas was in trouble on the scoreboard. Meanwhile, Air Force was in card trouble. They had been hit with two yellow cards, and when Will Taylor got his second yellow, this time for an intentional knock-on. Suddenly  he was out for the game.

That second card occured after the Bobcats had worked their way into the AFA territory thanks to the hard carries of reserve forward Gozi Mosi, flanker Keaton McLeavy, No. 8 Owen Phillips, and Testero. Air Force seemed to have survived the attack despite Taylor's red, but a wonky kick led to a bit of a clash of bodies and a Zoomie knock-on. St. Thomas got a free kick from the scrum and scrumhalf Adrian Suarez tapped quickly before getting the ball to Phillips, who took it down to the line. Air Force spread to guard the many threats, and Mosi just picked up and crashed ahead. Try St. Thomas, and it was now 24-20 with time winding down.

With the game in the balance, shorthanded Air Force looked to secure the game. Scrumhalf Simon Bollinger rescured a loose ball and fed Palaita, who sent a long pass to wing Cole Norris. Ho took off to the corner, fended away a tackler, evaded another, but was slammed into touch just before the corner flag by Villareal. St. Thomas took the lineout somewhat quickly, and charged ahead. It looked like Charumbira would either run it or kick to touch, but instead he saw that there was of course space out wide due to Taylor being red-carded and launched a wide kick-pass to Gyani Mosi.

The wing caught the ball on the fly, evaded two tacklers, and raced 75 meters down the field. He almost scored a brilliant try, but Norris had crossed from the opposite sideline to haul him down three meters from the line. Air Force was scrambling, but McGee and Toanaishe Mapani were there to win possession and the ball was quickly sent out to Charumbira, who sold a dummy and was over. He added the extras, and St. Thomas had a dramatic, come-from-behind victory.

"I looked the first time we got the ball out and the space was there," Charumbira, who ended up game MVP, said. ""And the second time around I was hoping it was still there, and we got the space now, and Gyani was exceptional and he just kept running."

For Air Force, this was a chance to travel together and play and compete, and they did that. A little bad luck on the cards hurt them, but they welcomed the competition. For St. Thomas, this was a huge step for them as they consider their next competitive options. This is a team on the rise.

Both scrumhalves, Suarez and Bollinger, were enormous for their teams. This was a brilliantly-scheduled bowl game as it was in doubt throughout and very evenly-matched.

St. Thomas 27
Tries: Araujo, Villareal, Mosi, Charumbira
Convs: Charumbira 2
Pens: Charumbira

Air Force 24
Tries: Macias, Taylor, Williams
Convs: Anderson 3
Pens: Anderson