Fresh off a trip across the world to play two of best high school rugby teams in South Africa, if not the world, the Saint Ignatius rugby program returned home to play the No. 1 team in the United States.
Having practiced just once as a full team since March 27, the Rugby Cats had a tall task ahead.
Unfortunately, the A-side could not overcome the adversity of a difficult match in Lakewood, falling to St. Edward, 21-14.
The Wildcats, now 5-3 overall, did many things well, but certainly have plenty to learn from this game before a potential rematch in the RugbyOhio State Championship in June.
The first half was not kind to the Wildcats. Penalties hurt the visitors on a number of occasions, including in the first ten minutes. A Saint Ignatius penalty allowed the Eagles to kick for points and take an early 3-0 lead.
St. Edward scored the first try of the game at 12:51 of the first half, but missed the conversion, making the score 8-0. The Wildcats then controlled possession for much of the remainder of the half, but a turnover allowed an Eagle to gallop nearly 50 yards for a score. Following the Eagles' conversion, the hosts led, 15-0.
The score stood through halftime. During the break, Arbeznik spoke to his team, reassuring them that it was not over. The team huddle focused on the mistakes and correcting them in the second half.
"We turned it over, we got in our way a lot in the first half, they took advantage of it," Arbeznik said after the game. "I thought we were unlucky in a lot different areas, certainly we were the most penalized team tonight."
The Wildcats did cut down on the mistakes in the second half, but penalties still dogged the team. The Eagles scored on another kick for points after a Saint Ignatius penalty, increasing the lead to 18-0.
But then the Rugby Cats made their move.
After knocking on the door for 42 minutes, the Wildcats finally broke down the door with an Alex Chura try from in close. Declan Boldy hit the conversion, bringing the score to 18-7.
The Rugby Cats continued to dominate much of the possession, pushing into the try zone again with 17 minutes left. Jivan Meguerditchian did the job among a vast pile of humanity at the line. The Wildcats' grit and a Boldy conversion narrowed the deficit to 18-14.
The teams then traded jabs before the Eagles took advantage again of a Wildcats' penalty, using it for three more points. With five minutes left, the Cats trailed by seven, a try and a conversion.
The Wildcats nearly got the try they needed. With 1:30 left, it appeared as if the Cats had touched down a try. But when the dust settled, the referees ruled that the Wildcats had not correctly restarted play by making contact between foot and ball. The mistake nullified the Wildcats' potential try, and the Eagles ran out the clock for the win.
Following the game, the teams formed a circle and exchanged gifts for the men of the match on either side in a show of sportsmanship. These are certainly two of the best teams in the country.
In the week ahead, Arbeznik hopes to return his team to full health and establish consistency. The team will take a few days off before returning to practice next week.
"Continuity was an issue tonight, with the injuries and not having some bodies the last two weeks on tour," Arbeznik said. "The continuity of the attack, missing some players and only having one practice to prep for them, showed today. There were a lot of small decisions that did not go our way, a few kicks that we did not execute. The small things add up in big games."
The Rugby Cats have plenty to be proud of and nothing to be ashamed of. This is but one game of a lengthy season that may end in a rematch with this same team.
"Moving forward, we'll focus on the small things," said Arbeznik. "I thought we did a lot right. We dominated large segments of the game, but we got unlucky sometimes. Our guys have to understand that we're just a bit too aggressive at the breakdown and those penalties hurt. That's shame on us."
Up next for the Wildcats is a match at home against St. Xavier on April 21 at noon.
B-side success: The Wildcats' B-side squad earned a win on Thursday, 31-19, with two impressive tries in the final five minutes.