By John Crittenden
The Oberlin College Men’s Rugby Team (otherwise known as the Gruffs) concluded another successful season last Saturday, May 5, with a win over the visiting Black Swamp Mercenaries, a men’s club team from south of Toledo. The emotional season finale was the last chance for the team’s many senior players to don the Gruff black and blue in front of the largest crowd the team has attracted to North Fields this year. The many spectators were treated to a splendid showing of rugby, as the home team’s victory was never really in doubt en route to a dominant 29-5 win.
Senior James Blankenship got the scoring started early with a pair of impressive first half tries. His blazing speed and shifty moves left opposing players grasping at grass as he broke ankles up and down the rugby pitch. Black Swamp managed to answer back with their lone try of the game in the first half off a breakaway, but could muster little pressure otherwise. Oberlin maintained possession effectively and typically kept the ball in favorable field position. The Mercenaries were only able to generate sustained pressure near the Oberlin goal line on a couple of occasions, and were repulsed each time by a physical defensive stand from the Gruffs.
The start of the second half saw more of the same as the Gruffs superior conditioning and better numbers began to shine through. This time it was second year superstar Shonari Edwards who scored two incredible tries and very nearly managed a hat trick, but was stopped at the last minute near the try line by a timely Mercenary tackle that could not prevent the inevitable. Wending his way through half the Black Swamp team, Edwards made it look easy as he cruised to his pair of tries with spectacular individual efforts.
As the second half wore on, it became clear that the Mercenaries were gassed, and after a few of their players were injured they ran out of subs. With the game in little doubt and playful banter having demonstrated the establishment of a good rapport between the teams, Oberlin graduate and veteran Gruff Keith Yoder suited up for the Black Swamp side so they wouldn’t have to play a man down. Team captain Jackson Meredith capped off the scoring and added an exclamation point to the Gruffs’ win when he scored a sneaky try in the game’s closing minutes. The Mercenaries having just committed a penalty, Meredith took advantage of Black Swamp’s laxity and did a quick tap-and-go penalty kick before the other team had gotten set. He quickly broke free and none of the surprised Mercenary players were able to catch him as he scored the long distance try. Victory secured, another Gruffs’ season went on the books with a 3 and 1 record.
Though the win was especially important for the team’s large senior contingent that get to graduate as winners, it also marks a great launch-off point for next year. The team will have much to prove going into next fall’s season, as a lot of new faces will undoubtedly emerge and players will have to step up for departed seniors, but the many contributions on the day from underclassmen players leave room for plenty of optimism going forward.