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American International College stymied several Bowling Green comeback bids to win a wacky American Collegiate Rugby Championship bowl game, 46-40, Saturday at the Rugby Athletic Center in Charlotte, N.C. The Yellowjackets never trailed, but every time they thought they’d put the Falcons to bed, Bowling Green would charge back.
AIC took a huge lead at the start, 24-0, with tries from Bryce Neff, Matt Jones, Connor Gleason and Gavan D’Amore-Morrison. Then Bowling Green ran in a couple, with Griffen Palmer and Frank Viancourt doing the scoring, to pull within 10, 24-14, going into halftime.
The Yellowjackets and Falcons swapped tries to open the second half, making it 29-21 to AIC. Then the East Coast champs went on a run, extending the lead to 41-21, with a pair of tries from Hyde Rugby alums Christian Adams and Jihad Khabir.
“He was a terror because he was so fast and so quick,” BGSU’s Roger Mazzarella said of Khabir.
“Freshman flyhalf at this level, we were a little nervous about him at first, and he’s just gained confidence every single game, and he was just in charge today,” added AIC coach Josh Macy on Khabir. “It was really cool to see. He was more of an attacking flyhalf. Everyone expects that of him. He just really put on a show today.”
AIC rested on its laurels up 20, and Bowling Green didn’t.
“I think part of us was just kind of ready to be done, so we were just trying to do enough,” said Macy. “But we would do some more and realize maybe it wasn’t good enough, so we’d do a little more.”
The Falcons scored three consecutive tries to pull within one at 41-40. Mitch Sora, Steve Fritsch and Alex Garnaut dotted down this time. Captain and lock Garnaut was a menace for AIC all day, proving too big a unit to bring down easily. Sora was threatening from the scrumhalf position, attacking weakside with No. 8 Sean McFarland after the Falcons stabilized their scrum in the second half.
With three minutes to play, though, AIC got one big play to secure the win. Outside center Seth Halliman, who tore up the BG midfield most of the match, made a break on the outside. D’Amore-Morrison, a flanker with winger instincts, chased in support and was rewarded with the game winner. Bowling Green had the chance to get one back, but a knock on ended the Falcons chances.
For AIC, the win was a nice one for the program. The Yellowjackets have been on the periphery of being considered a top team in the country, and taking down a strong opponent like Bowling Green sits well.
“They’re a good, marquee rugby program. It’s not like they’ve won a bunch of national championships, but they’re one of those teams that is always good,” said Macy. “We would have liked to have played better, had a more consistent performance, but it was definitely good to get the win.”