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One of the marquee matches of the ACRC Bowl Series weekend at the Rugby Athletic Center in Charlotte, N.C. was the battle between the champions of the ECRC and ACRL. American International College’s speed, counterattack, and structure led them to victory once again as the Yellowjackets blasted Clemson 54-21. AIC’s Jihad Khabir capped a magnificent fall season with four tries and their fantastic freshman Lui Sitama only missed one conversion on eight attempts.
“We saw in the lead up that they defended really narrowly and they competed at the ruck a lot,” AIC head coach Josh Macy said. “We felt if we kept our shape and kept the ball moving around, we could exploit some gaps and we did. Once our forwards were getting the ball wide, we started to get some line breaks and, of course, the midnight assassin, Jihad Khabir, scored four tries. Once we started to get a hold of the ball with that narrow defense that they were playing, it was lights out once it got out into that space.”
The game started out promising for Clemson as they drove down the field and Alex Wohlers dotted down the match’s first try. “It started off early with them committing a couple of penalties against us and we got into their end pounding it with our forwards,” Clemson captain Ryan Gilroy stated. “We were pretty confident in the beginning of the game in the first five minutes. They then started to pin us deeper in our own half, so we were struggling to get it out. It became more of a territory game and they started to beat us with their speed and counterattack ability.”
After Clemson’s initial try, AIC stormed to four unanswered tries to close the half. In his first start with the Yellowjackets, No. 8 Anthony Cutler got AIC on the board. Adrian Ray and Christian Adams scored tries and after a Clemson yellow card for slowing the game, Khabir broke off his first try for a 28-7 lead at the half.
“At the beginning of the game, we struggled in the scrums,” Macy stated. “Clemson was larger than we thought they would be and they are really well drilled in the forwards. We struggled there for the first time this semester, but the guys made it a point to stay patient. We tend to move around the field well as a group of forwards and we believe that we can outlast them, which late in the first half and into the second half proved true.”
The start of the second saw an exchange of tries beginning with a Tigers’ Stuart Harr try followed by a charge down kick recovery by Khabir. Clemson’s powerful eightman Jason Damm scored the Tigers’ third try and Aaron Keers connected on his third conversion.
As the game drew on, AIC’s potent offense picked up the pace and overpowered Clemson with three more scores. Cutler picked up his second try and Khabir ended the game with two tries. “In the second half, their structure and speed started to break down our defense and they started to run away,” Gilroy remarked. “We gave a fight with a couple of forward tries to get back into the game, but a couple of mistakes in our own end and not being able to clear the ball led to AIC being able to capitalize and run up the score.”
“We matched up well with Clemson,” Macy added. “Clemson played really hard, but they struggled to defend the width and pace of our game. Despite Clemson scoring first, our guys had the right mentality to say this is an 80-minute match and we are going to be fine.”
Stellar performances were put in all over the field. “Jihad Khabir, obviously, had a huge match,” Macy said. “He scored from all over the place and was a threat every time he touched the ball. The leadership we got from two of our seniors, captain/wing Deshae Edwards and tight-head prop Jamal Hadley, you didn’t see on the scoresheet, but they played that perfect game you are looking for.”
On the Clemson side, Gilroy explained that “the back row of Josh Dyson, James Rogers, and Jason Damm were the workhorses and strength for Clemson in the game. They were really putting the work and left everything on the field.”
Coach Macy’s main takeaway from the season is how the team has molded into something extraordinary on and off the field. “The guys, as a group, figured it out as a team off the field. How they give each other feedback, how they coach each other at practice, and how they carry themselves amongst each other. The work we’ve done off the field in meetings has proved fruitful. I think that’s what they will remember most... This group of guys is really special in that they realize their attitudes and their mentalities really shape the way things look on the field.”