The Wharthogs men’s rugby team played valiantly this past weekend, beating teams from around the country to earn 2nd place in the UT Fall Brawl in a satisfying and yet frustrating end to the fall season. The team showed great resilience in bouncing back from an early loss to Stanford to then defeat them in the semifinal, but fell short against perennial rival HBS in the final.
Activities began Thursday evening, as team members put down their problem sets to invade Austin. Patrons of 6th street didn’t know what hit them. More than thirty Hogs, outfitted in silly hats and a fair amount of Philly bravado, brought a new level of partying to the otherwise raucous town. After the festivities, however, the focus shifted to playing rugby.
Saturday started with an early game against Stanford. Stanford fielded an older, more experienced team, and it showed quickly. The Hogs were down a try early and headed into the 2nd half facing a 14-0 deficit. Despite a valiant effort, the team ultimately lost 26-0. It was an educational defeat, the first of the season for the Hogs. Many lessons were learned, and the team vowed to avenge the loss.
A short 60 minutes later, the team geared up again to play SMU. The men of SMU were big, but the Hogs were tough. Hog forwards dominated the first half. Jeff “Man Child” Galletly and Greg “Hogfest” Doyle were ferocious at the point of attack, repeatedly driving back SMU advances. Davian “Terp” Bryan punished the boys of SMU, laying down crushing hits and ensuring that the SMU forwards more quickly moved the ball out to the backs. Scoring was led by Captain Juan “Matador” Gonzalez and Bobby “I’m actually still at Haaaarvard” Grajewski. Up 12-5 at the half, Gonzalez and Joe Rosen tacked on two more tries to defeat the boys of Cox 22-5.
The Hogs had one more game remaining and thought they were to play the Longhorns of UT. However, the idiosyncrasies of the tournament scheduling matched the Hogs up against SMU again in the quarterfinals. More devastation was unavoidable. The Hogs slashed and cut through the SMU defenses, defeating SMU by more than six tries and building momentum for a strong semifinal push.
After a strong showing on the Saturday evening pub crawl, the team showed up in force on Sunday, ready for the semifinals. Once again, scheduling mechanics left the Hogs with a rematch…against Stanford. Leaders Gonzalez and Dom “Thunder down Under” Skerritt did an incredible job of focusing and motivating the Hogs, and the team came out of the gates like wild animals. Encouraged to play like lions, the team mauled Stanford from the start. Ferocious hits by Casey “Date Auction” Dougan and Adam “Hooker” Blatchford set the tone. Strong runs by Mike “Models and Bottles” Meng and Dan “Shiner” Oppedisano established the offense. Within five minutes, Stanford knew they had rattled the wrong cage.
The 100+ spectators knew it was going to be a low-scoring slugfest, and a first try was crucial. Ryan “Wings” Walsh delivered. With blazing speed that likely surprised even himself, Walsh caught a beautiful pass from Ben “Annapolis” Pittard and absolutely thrashed the Stanford back line. The Hogs entered the half up 5-0, ready for a bloody 2nd half.
The 2nd half was more of the same: punishing runs, jarring tackles and opportunistic kicking from the Hogs maintained the advantage. Matador Gonzalez decided to convert a penalty mid-way through the 2nd half, choosing to kick for a three point score instead of keeping the ball. He converted, and the 8-0 advantage proved to be enough. A late try by Stanford was certainly nerve-wracking, but in the end, the Hogs prevailed, 8-5.
The avenged win against Stanford set-up an epic final with HBS. The rivalry is a storied one, as alums from both sides love discussing the glory days of wins and brawls in years past. The recent years had been all Wharton, as the Hogs had not lost in 2+ years. Unfortunately for the brave men of Wharton, that streak would end in Austin.
An early try from Dougan after a long, punishing march down the field attempted to set the first half’s tone. Gonzalez followed with another penalty kick to put the Hogs up 8-0. The HBS game was far more technical than the Stanford semifinal, with a heavy focus on the kicking game and field positioning. A turnover on a deep HBS kick late in the 2nd half proved painful, as the boys of HBS converted a last-minute try. The Hogs headed into the half up 8-7.
The Hogs continued to fight throughout the 2nd half, but a quick reversal of fortune on an HBS kick left the Hogs down 12-8. Pittard made a strong run for the kick, and had he been able to grab it, the Hogs would have scored easily…unfortunately the game is one of inches, and HBS grabbed the lead. A late penalty kick left the Hogs down by a converted try, and the final ended with HBS winning 15-8. Much was learned from this game, and every Hog is ready for a rematch this spring.
Side games were aplenty during the weekend, and more 1st year Hogs earned their Zulu status: Carter Leggett, Jeremy Cook and Artur Khrimyan – plan on joining Walsh and Galletly sometime soon. Leadership of the 1st years is emerging, and all should be excited about the future of the Hogs.
Finally,a huge thanks to Davian Bryan, who organized the entire tournament. The team would still be waiting in the Philadelphia airport without your leadership.