The Slippery Rock Men’s Rugby Club started their season at home Saturday with a 21-19 win against Case Western University.
Before the game, the teams came together to honor military members and first responders in remembrance of the events of Sept. 11, 2001. Among those honored was the late Mark Campbell, former Slippery Rock professor and 20-year rugby advisor, and Tommy McClain, a student and rugby player at SRU who suffered a stroke at a tournament in June.
The first responders and military members were invited to the middle of the field for greetings from the captains. Slippery Rock Alum and Rock Rugby’s head coach Matt Heasley recognized the significance of the date and, 20 years later, found himself coaching the rugby team.
“All of us of a certain age remember exactly where we were on that Tuesday morning, 20 years ago today,” Heasley said.
Neshannock High School senior Sam Bessell played Taps on his trumpet and Will Wiechelt, a senior Rock Rugby player, sang the National Anthem. Mayor Jondavid Longo served as an honorary captain for Slippery Rock and flipped the coin before the game.
“I just loved the simple fact that the rugby team decided it was worth recognizing the importance of the day,” Longo said. “It’s gestures like those that keep the memory of those we lost in the attacks and in the war alive.”
Shortly after the ceremony, both teams got to work on the field. Rock Rugby had a home-team advantage and a crowd of nearly 100 people who cheered them on. With morale on their side, they scored early on in the game.
Senior and captain Anthony Houston scored the first try 12 minutes in followed by a conversion kick by graduate student Gunner Coleman which put The Rock up 7-0.
Case Western made a push toward recovery when they scored a try on a penalty. A missed conversion kick left them still behind Slippery Rock 7-5.
Houston scored his second try of the game on a penalty play from five meters out. Shortly after, sophomore Ian Frost followed with a try after a line out that tallied the score to 17-5.
The Spartans fell behind in the fight, but they scored two tries, one of which was a 90 meter-run to score and one conversion. Case Western came back and took the lead 19-17 with 12 minutes left in the game.
Rock Rugby, down by two points with eight minutes left in the game, refused defeat. Freshman Aiden O’Shea broke three tackles on his way to carry out a 30-meter try. O’Shea finished his first rugby game with his team behind him and a victory over Case Western 22-19.
“I really believed we had the athletes and [the] great team bond to get the W, and we did,” O’Shea said.
Rock Rugby 1-0 (0-0) will continue their season Saturday at 1 p.m. as they travel to IUP 1-1 (0-0) for non-conference gameplay.