It’s midnight Friday night and I just returned from Columbus where St. Edward won the state rugby championship, beating Cincinnati Moeller, 10-7, in the most dramatic way imaginable.
The Eagles trailed Moeller, 7-0, until two minutes of regulation time remained when Matt Sanfillipo scored a try to bring the Eagles to within two points, 7-5. But St. Ed’s still had to kick the two-point conversion to tie and it was a daunting task. Sanfillipo’s try was scored near the left sideline, which meant the conversion had to be kicked from near the sideline. In high school a kick from such a severe angle is made one out of ten times, maybe one out of 20.
Most high schools do not have a kicker like St. Edward’s Ian Hildebrandt, however, not to mention a huge slice of luck. Hildebrandt’s booming kick hit the distant right upright and dropped through for the critical conversion which tied the game, 7-7, and led to overtime.
High school rugby rules mandate two 5-minute overtimes. On the final play of the first overtime Hildebrandt struck again. His 35-yard penalty kick gave St. Ed’s its first lead of the night, 10-7.
The Eagles, however, still had to hold off Moeller for another five minutes and their prayers were answered. On the final play of the second overtime Moeller was awarded a penalty kick which would have tied the game again and forced another overtime. But the Moeller kicker missed from 30 yards, shorter than Hildebrandt’s kick, and the crowd of 2,000 at Mifflin High Stadium erupted in a roar.
Old time St. Ed fans tend to harken back to the 1975 football season when Moeller beat the Eagles in the state championship football game, 14-12, on a frigid night at the Rubber Bowl. This win didn’t exactly even the score, but it was a step in the right direction. The crowd, which paid $5 a head, is proof of rugby’s growing popularity. They seemed to understand the rules and strategy and cheered at all appropriate times, except for a woman in the front row of the Moeller section who held a cowbell in her left hand and an air horn in her right hand and used them both indiscriminately to the great annoyance of everyone.
The Ohio High School Athletic Association, which governs high school sports, does not officially recognise rugby as a varsity sport, but eventually that will change. When the OHSAA notices the $10,000 gate for the championship game it will become interested.
Actually, there were two championship games. In Division II, a Cincinnati team made up of five school districts (Princeton, Lakota, Mason, Cincinnati Christian and Cincinnati Christian Academy) scored a 5-3 victory over a Columbus team which combines players from Upper Arlington, Hilliard and Granville school districts. I had a special interest in this game because my son, Mike, who began his rugby career at St. Ed’s, coaches the backs for the Columbus team.
We’ll find out today (Saturday) if St. Ed’s can also win the state track championship. I’m signing off now. Good night.