By John Nalls
The No. 3 Gonzaga Purple Side bested #14 St. Ignatius of Cleveland by a score of 31-10 in a well-played match to secure their fifth consecutive Jesuit Rugby Classic Championship on a sun-drenched day in Alexandria on Sunday, April 13.
It was a chalk final as both clubs handily won their two matches on Saturday to win their respective brackets and set up this first ever meeting between these two venerable Jesuit institutions. Gonzaga defeated McQuaid Jesuit 52-0 and Loyola Blakefield 50-0 to advance while St. Ignatius beat Georgetown Prep 25-12 and Fordham Prep 15-3 securing a spot in the final.
Against McQuaid Jesuit from New York in the quarterfinals, the Eagles dominated play throughout beginning with a try by junior Wing Cam Bohlander followed by a conversion by senior scrum half Jimmy Ronan for a 7-0 lead. Senior Flanker Jonny “Energizer Bunny” Murphy then got into the act with a nice try and a 14-0 lead after the Ronan conversion. It was then scrum and classmate and prop Tristan Seton’s turn to touch one down, which was again converted by Ronan for a 21-0 lead.
A Ronan penalty kick made the score 24-0 and the rout was on. The forwards and the seniors continued to dominate play and captain and flanker Charlie Depont got across for a try and a 31-0 lead. The juniors again got involved when full back Jacob Powers burst through and scrum half Patrick Newkumet nailed the conversion for a 38-0 advantage. This was followed by a try by senior Outside Center Michael Barry for a 45-0 margin after another Newkumet conversion and then a final try by sophomore wing Thomas Olmstead followed by a Newkumet conversion to make it 52-0.
Against the Dons of Loyola Blakefield in the semi-final, the Eagles got off to a quick start and never looked back when senior Outside Center Michael Barry scored early and often. Barry's scored first after a nice run and offload by junior flanker Sean Fitzgerald to senior captain and fellow flanker Charlie Depont who in turn fed Barry for the score and a 5-0 lead after an unsuccessful conversion. Barry had his second try after several nice phases and this time senior captain and scrum half Jimmy Ronan split the uprights for a 12-0 advantage. Barry completed the hat trick after some “magical feet” from junior wing Cam Bohlander got the ball free to make the score 19-0 at the half after another Ronan conversion.
Early in the second half, junior 8-Man Deandre Easterling broke out of the scrum and split the defense for a try and a 26-0 lead after another Ronan conversion. Junior Center Nick Skalka then had a powerful run after a nice hands out and touched it down to make it 33-0 with the Ronan kick. Trying his best to catch Barry, junior fullback Jacob Powers then put down two trys of his own to make the score 38-0 and 43-0, respectively. Finally, Junior Wing Connor McAuliffe closed out the scoring with a nice burst followed by a conversion from Junior scrum half Patrick Newkumet for the final 50-0 margin
The championship match did not disappoint as both squads came out determined to set the tone early. With a strong wind at their backs and some solid forward play, the Wildcats from Cleveland were able to control the ball early on and finally drew first blood with a try to take a 5-0 lead 13 minutes into the match. That lone score held up for the remainder of the half much to the chagrin of the increasingly uneasy Gonzaga crowd and the delight of the visitors who were becoming excited over the possibility of an upset over their more highly ranked opponent on their home pitch.
The second half brought the wind to the Purple Eagles and they took immediate advantage when a long kick by senior scrumhalf Jimmy Ronan pinned the Wildcats deep in their own territory. Gonzaga senior Lock Kevin Beins was able to steal the lineout and after several nice phases senior Hooker Tommy Rippert was able to knot the score at 5-5. Ronan's conversion then gave Gonzaga their first lead of the afternoon at 7-5.
St. Ignatius quickly answered on a breakaway to wrestle the lead back at 10-7. After several minutes of play in the St. Ignatius side of the field, Ronan connected on a 38-meter penalty kick to again knot the contest at 10. The wind and some timely kicking allowed an increasingly aggressive Gonzaga 15 to slowly begin to assert their will in the contest. An Ignatius effort to stem the tide with a kick that was thwarted when senior fullback Stephen Beckerly counterattacked and offloaded to junior wing Cam Bohlander, who then chip-kicked and chased the ball down for a try and a 17-0 lead following a Ronan conversion. Ronan then proved he is a threat to run as well as he touched one down following several series of well executed rucks by the Gonzaga pack, and then made the conversion for good measure and a 24-10 lead.
Finally Beins, who had a stellar afternoon as a jumper both gaining possession and disrupting the Wildcats, got into the try zone after a maul and push on the final play of the contest. Ronan's conversion provided the final margin and a well earned championship victory. The Eagles will get a boost going forward with the return of Senior U19 All American and captain Ben Cima and Junior U17 All American Jack Iscaro as well as junior wing Reggie Corbin.
Gonzaga won the JV division and Wimbledon College UK won the freshman bracket. The entire weekend, the proceeds of which benefitted the Washington Jesuit Academy, was a celebration of all that is good in our sport both on and off of the pitch.