With an impressive 50-17 win over the University of Mary Washington (UMW), James Madison University (JMU) won the first ever Cardinals Collegiate Rugby Conference (CCRC) championship to advance to USA Rugby's DII college playoffs.
From the opening whistle, JMU applied pressure on UMW and this resulted in the UMW team giving away several penalties. By seven minutes, JMU had a 12-0 lead on tries by Jake Saintcross and Parker Helbie, and a conversion by Schuyler Whelan. The lead increased to 22-0 on a try Nick Butterworth and a Whelan conversion and penalty kick.
JMU continued to attack with penetrating runs by their forwards, drawing in UMW tacklers and allowing them to move the ball wide. Casey Wojciechowski dotted a try that Whelan converted (29-0, JMU). In the last ten minutes of the half, UMW begin to win breakdowns and their backs started to make the gain line. The pressure led to a penalty in front of the posts and Christophe Perdu made the kick to break the shutout and make the score 29-3.
In the last minutes of the first half, yet another UMW penalty gave JMU the ball and they worked the ball to center Zach Mosley, who scored under the posts. Whelan's conversion gave JMU a comfortable lead of 36-3 at halftime.
UMW regrouped during the halftime break and came out with aggressive play scoring two tries in the first seven minutes of the second half. First Mike Ramos and then Nick Ryan scored off quick taps that were converted by Perdu, and UMW appeared to be mounting an unlikely comeback with the score now 36-17.
Over next 20 minutes UMW threw attack after attack at JMU and forced a number of penalties. However, each time UMW neared the goal line, JMU's defense stood tall and forced crucial turnovers. In the final ten minutes, the toll of trying to erase the big halftime deficit showed, and UMW broke down on defense, allowing two final tries for JMU, first by Mo Katz and then by Alex Federenko. Both were converted by Whelan sealed the JMU win at 50-17.
In the first match on Sunday, VMI outlasted Longwood to take 3rd place by a score of 45-22. The CCRC board recognized the final four teams for their exceptional display of rugby and the University of Richmond for the great facilities and top notch support. Thanks are also owed to the Referee Society of Virginia who supplied the match officials with Matt Robinette doing a fine job as the referee in the final.
On Saturday, UMW beat a large and physical VMI team, 28-18 in the semis. VMI led 8-0 early but a try from Perdu, which he converted, put JMU back in it. VMI took a 13-7 lead into hafltime when Sean Noll intercepted a try and raced 90 meters to end the first 40.
Playing with the wind in the second half, UMW put pressure on VMI’s back three. When a VMI kick went on a low line drive to UMW wing, Todd Lancaster, he stepped one defender and out ran the cover defense to score in the corner. Perdu made the conversion and UMW led for the first time, 14-13. Down a man due to a yellow card, VMI had to work that much harder and UMW capitalized. Outside center Pat Byrne, ran a perfect cutback line to score under the posts - 21-13 with Perdu's conversion.
VMI mounted a comeback and scored through the forwards. but the final minutes belonged to UMC, with wing, Matt Bursley picking up a loose ball and running in for the score that woudl seal it.
In the second semifinal, JMU battled Longwood. It took 15 minutes for anyone to breach the defense, and that was when No. 8 Alex Federenko found some space, dished to Casey Wojokowski, who in turn offloaded to scrumhalf Joe Ailio for the try. Chris Kunkel made the conversion. One minute later, Wojokowski scored a try of his own on a bruising run to make it 12-0. Kunkel added one ten minutes later to make it 17-0, and then Mike Creighton touched down. Kunkel converted to give JMU a comfortable 24-0 lead at halftime.
Longwood, however, refused to quit and scored a try off a long run by Colin McKee that he converted. Ten minutes later JMU, upped their lead when Donnie Carroll outran the cover defense and scored in the corner. Kunkel missed the conversion but JMU was ahead 29-7. Shortly thereafter, Wojokowski, who had a tremendous game at flanker, scored his second try and Kunkel converted to push the lead to 36-7. At the 30-minute mark, maybe the most beautiful try of the day was scored by Longwood. Flyhalf Ben Smith noticed the JMU backs were packed in tight to the ruck. He launched a perfect cross kick that wing Ryan Goodman took in the air to score. McKee converted (36-14, JMU). JMU closed out the match with one more try by Gabe Harrison and they had their semifinal win 41-14.