< St. Augustine Prep Wins 3rd Straight State Rugby Title >
MIDDLETOWN — Andrew Whiteman received the traditional sledgehammer Saturday afternoon.
The St. Augustine Prep rugby coaching staff awards it after each match to the player most deserving, dubbed the “Man of the Match.”
Whiteman scored the eventual game-winning try in the second half to lead the Hermits to their third consecutive single-team state championship with a 17-12 victory over Delbarton at Middletown South High School.
Also Saturday, the Jersey Shore Sharks, another team consisting of local high school players, lost in the final of its club team division.
In the single-school team division, the Hermits played the Green Wave in the title game for the fifth consecutive year.
St. Augustine trailed 12-7 at halftime this time.
“It’s the first time all year we went down early, and we fought back,” said Whiteman, 17, of Voorhees, Camden County.
“I’m so proud of the boys. We stuck together. We just had to step up and play rugby like we know how. We just persevered.
“I didn’t know we had that in us to do that, but we did. I can’t be more proud.”
Whiteman only started playing rugby last season. The junior said it was a great decision.
“We knew they were going to be tough, and they pressured us right out of the gate,” St. Augustine coach Brendan Towell said. “We came out on top, but this game could’ve gone either way.
“I was happy to see the boys rally. We came in with a plan, and we stuck to it as best as we could. I think the boys picked up for it.”
Giovanni Sabelli scored with 7 minutes, 26 seconds left in the first half. Mario Licciardello made the conversion to give the Hermits a 7-5 lead.
But Delbarton answered back before halftime to make it 12-7. The Hermits’ defense shut out the Green Wave for the rest of the match
“We told them to relax,” Towell said. “At halftime, clearly the gravity of the game was getting to them. We are used to being up early, and when that didn’t happen, they were taken aback. But they quickly regrouped.”
Jared Lawson scored midway through the second half. With 10:32 remaining, Whiteman’s try capped the scoring.
Towell said the team, especially the senior class, is a strong, deep group, unlike other seasons in which the Hermits featured just a few standout players.
“It’s a credit to the program as well as the team,” he said. “And the support that we get from our athletic department is tremendous.”
Shore Sharks fall in the club final
Prior to the Hermits’ match, the Jersey Shore Sharks lost 38-24 to the Union Mudturtles in the Division I club team championship.
The Sharks finished their season 5-2, both defeats against the Mudturtles. Last season, Union also beat Jersey Shore in the title game.
“We are proud of our club,” Jersey Shore coach Mike Burton said. “We’ve been learning, developing and trying to compete with the best. It’s obvious that the Union is the best. They are the benchmark. That’s our goal, to beat them, every year.”
Jersey Shore features players from Absegami, Mainland Regional, Cedar Creek, Pinelands Regional, ACIT, and Ocean City high schools.
The Shore Sharks kept it close. Quinn McLaughlin scored the first try of the match, and Evan Burton kicked the conversion. Burton also scored later in the first half.
But the Sharks trailed 19-12 at halftime.
Spencer O’Brien scored early in the second half to make it 19-17. The Absegami senior scored another try with 6:10 left in regulation to make it 31-24.
However, the Sharks couldn’t add to their score.
“Sometimes you have to give it to the better team and give them props because they earned it,” said O’Brien, 17, of Galloway. “There are some great, great players on that team.”
O’Brien will play rugby next spring at Life University in Marietta, Georgia.
“I think we did a great job,” he said. “I’m really proud of all of us out here. We all busted our butts, and really just performed to our best.”
The Jersey Shore Rugby Club is based in Galloway Township. Besides the club’s high school team, there are also two men’s teams — 18-and-older and a 35-and-older — and a youth tag team.
“We will come back next year and try to do it again,” Mike Burton said.