Little Giants finish runner-up in home tournament, beat DePauw 29-0
The Wabash rugby team may not have emerged victorious from their home tournament, but there were smiles all around and plenty to be proud of. The Little Giants hosted five other teams on Saturday, March 25, at Little Giant Stadium for the annual running of the Wabash Invitational, finishing second overall in the standings. And along the way, Wabash picked up a 29-0 victory over rivals DePauw to keep hold of the coveted Monon Keg.
It truly was a blisteringly cold and ferociously windy day in Crawfordsville—the perfect conditions for an entertaining rugby tournament. But the format was not the most intuitive. The tournament began with pool play, each team playing two other teams to set the seeding. Then onto a championship round where first played second, third played forth and so on to decide the final standings.
Wabash played in Pool A alongside Purdue A and DePauw, opening the tournament with a game against the Boilermakers. It was in this first game that the Little Giants got off to a rocky start. Brayden Goodnight ’23 gave the ball away in his own half, allowing Purdue to break away for the opening try of the game. The conversion was no good, making the score 5-0.
But it didn’t take long for Wabash to fire back. Purdue made a complete mess of a scrum deep in their own half that jeopardized their position. As the Boilermakers tried to carry the ball back through their own try zone to safety, Lucas Budler ’24 made a strong tackle and bagged Wabash their first try of the game to tie the scores. Budler had the opportunity to put the Little Giants into the lead with a kick, but the wind carried it away and it was no good.
The second half was a frantic affair, and it wasn’t immediately clear who would come out on top. The breakthrough moment came a few minutes into the second period when Fil DeFrenza ’23 stripped the ball and carried it all the way to the 2-yard line. A bit of pushing and shoving later, and Isaac Salinas ’23 finally got the ball over the line for what would be the winning try. To further seal matters, Goodnight’s conversion kick was good, making the final score 12-5 to Wabash.
Three other games took place in the time between Wabash’s two group games, including a dominating performance by Purdue A over DePauw, the Boilermakers running out 27-0 winners. And in Pool B, IUPUI set the tone for the afternoon by beating Cedarville 30-0.
At 12:30 p.m., the Little Giants once again took to the field, this time for the much-coveted Monon Keg game against rivals DePauw. The Tigers, fresh off their embarrassing defeat to Purdue A, were eager to get some revenge. Unfortunately for the Tigers, there was no such revenge to be had.
It was a scrappy opening few moments, but Wabash soon found their footing. On the DePauw 9-yard line, Thomas Gastineau ’23 committed a knock-on foul, giving DePauw the ball in the scrum. But Wabash’s forwards were no match for the Tigers’. As the Little Giants pushed, Goodnight was able to scoop the ball up and run in for the opening try of the match. Adan Villeda’s ’23 kick was good, giving Wabash a 7-0 lead.
The remainder of the first half was something of a bloodbath. Moments later, DePauw committed a knock-on foul, giving Wabash the ball in a dangerous position. Goodnight worked the ball out to Gastineau and the winger promptly scored his first try of the afternoon.
But it wouldn’t be his last. Immediately from the kickoff, Salinas regained possession for Wabash and found Gastineau, who charged forward for his second try to make the score 17-0 to the Little Giants at half time.
“It was a great moment, and one that I will remember for a long time,” said Gastineau about scoring two tries against DePauw. “Playing wing, I am always excited when the ball makes it all the way down the line to me. I couldn’t be more thankful for my teammates and their trust to swing the ball out to me.”
In the second half, Wabash switched out many of its key players. But even with the starters benched, the Little Giants’ standards didn’t slip. Budler added to the scoring when, early in the second period, he picked up the ball on the halfway line and ran the entire distance to the try zone.
The last player on the scoresheet was Isaac Reilly ’26, who scored a try in the dying embers of the game. The final conversion was good, and the match finished 29-0. The Monon Keg stayed in Crawfordsville.
“It was a little sloppy at first, but we cleared it up at the end and got a nice little victory,” said team captain Matthew Brooks ’24. “We were able to get some second-string guys in who are going to start next year, so it was good getting them some practice against a fairly young team. We’ll take that win all the way to the championship game!”
For the players on the team who are not yet regular starters, the DePauw victory was a taste of more to come.
“It’s always a good win when it’s against DePauw,” said Hunter Wray ’25, who came off the bench to play the second half. “I honestly think we could have played a little bit better and not let them break through as much, but we’ll take it.”
This Monon Keg victory comes just a few months after the last. In November 2022, the rival teams met at Little Giant Stadium for the resurrection of the Keg competition after a decade-long hiatus. Wabash ran out 29-5 winners in that game, but DePauw’s improvement since then has been notable.
“In the fall, we played DePauw’s B team, and we just ended up killing them,” explained Villeda, Wabash’s center. “But this time, we played their full squad, and it was definitely harder than before. They were very physical, but we’re Wabash men—we play physical too.”
Wabash’s win over the Tigers guaranteed them a spot in the championship game. All that was left to decide was their opponent. The final game in Pool B was between IUPUI and Purdue B, the outcome of which was never really in doubt. IUPUI stormed to a 17-0 victory, setting up a Little Giants-Jaguars final.
The championship game couldn’t have gotten off to a worse start. Goodnight, in an attempt to confuse the IUPUI front line, skewed the kickoff and gave the Jaguars the ball in good field position. One of the IUPUI backs picked it up and ran all the way to the try zone. The conversion kick was good, and Wabash found themselves 7-0 down with just 20 seconds gone.
“My kick probably wasn’t the best,” said Goodnight. “I wanted to push more toward the right sideline, and we just had a missed tackle from the inside. We tried to chase him down, but it didn’t go the way we wanted.”
IUPUI, a Division I program with players recruited especially for rugby, were big and physical. It was certainly a shock for the Little Giants, who are accustomed to themselves being the more physical team. Nevertheless, Wabash dug in deep and slowly found a rhythm to their play. Good interplay between Budler and DeFrenza helped Wabash work their way down to the IUPUI 15-yard line, but the attack fell apart when Brooks let the ball fall loose. Luckily for the Little Giants, the Jaguars committed a foul that allowed Villeda in for a try and game-tying conversion.
IUPUI were resilient and got another try and conversion before half time. With the scores at 7-14, Wabash came out firing on all cylinders in the second. From a Wabash scrum, Goodnight and Villeda created a nice passing maneuver that resulted in another Wabash try and game-tying conversion, making the score 14-14.
But it was heartbreak at the very end for Wabash. Pinned back deep in their own half, the Little Giants just could not advance the ball up the field. IUPUI kept knocking on the door, and with just seconds to go found their way into the try zone. The conversion was no good, but it didn’t matter; Wabash had no time to recover, and the championship game finished 14-19 to IUPUI.
“It means a lot to play so well against a recruited program,” said Goodnight. “We showed what Wabash is all about. We didn’t give up, we got down the field quick and we tried to take advantage of what we could. It didn’t go our way, but we played well. It’s just the little things now that separate us from being a good team to being a great team.”
“They were very physical, but we’re Wabash men—we play physical too.”– Adan Villeda ’23
The area in which IUPUI’s experience shone through the most was in their physicality. Despite all of Wabash’s best efforts, playing against a team that was, on average, four or five inches taller proved too big an obstacle to overcome.
“I’m pretty beat up to be honest,” said Gastineau. “It was a good time, but they were pretty big. They were strong and hard to take to the ground. You’d think you had tackled them, but then they would just keep running.” Other players echoed a similar sentiment.
“Goodness, I am so tired,” said Brooks immediately after the game, still visibly exhausted. “That game definitely put my cardio to the test. But look, they are two divisions higher than us, they have a stellar program and it was tough. It’s never nice to lose, but I think we played well.”
As tough as the loss may have been, the team remained in high spirits after the game.
“They are D1 and we are D3; they may not have come expecting much from us, but that was definitely one of the toughest games of the season for both of us,” said Budler. “We’re just a bunch of guys that choose to play rugby and put on a Wabash jersey. So, even though we lost in the end, we’re all pretty proud.”
Rugby now looks forward to its next event, the Allegheny Rugby Union Conference Championships on April 1 in Pittsburg. In last year’s ARU event, Wabash went 2-1, losing in the semifinal to John Carroll University. The Little Giants will hope to improve on their performance from last season, and if the events of this weekend are anything to go by, Wabash has every chance of clinching the conference title.