COLUMBIA — Charlie van Vliet let a few blades of grass fall to gauge the wind before deciding he needed a better angle.
“I can’t tell you how impossible that kick is,” Wando head coach Tod Shepherd said. “Under the circumstances, a one-in-ten chance.”
van Vliet hooked in the conversion with a perfect boot as the final whistle blew to deliver Wando a 25-24 win over South Greenville in the South Carolina High School Rugby League state championship Saturday at Irmo High School.
It’s the second state championship in three years for the Warriors and even sweeter when considering it was South Greenville who sank Wando with a bitter overtime win in last year’s state title game.
“He’s the only person in the state that could’ve made that kick. No one else. Not a single person,” Shepherd said. “It’s unbelievable. You can’t write a movie as good as the way that game ended.”
With Wando trailing 24-18 in the final minutes, van Vliet appeared to score but officials ruled it a knock-on and waved off the try. Wando managed one final push in stoppage time with a scrum just outside of the South Greenville goal line. van Vliet tossed a pass out of the scrum to Kane Waterbury who let off a risky double-miss pass that Chris Baltimore snagged before diving into the try zone with a defender wrapped around his neck. The Warriors had pulled within a point on the final play and their fate now rested on the foot of van Vliet.
“If we drop that ball, if we get tackled, if we make any mistake the game is over and we lose,” Shepherd said. “A lot of kids would have given up. You wonder what kind of makeup do they have. Sure enough, they kept fighting and proved what they were made of.”
Josh Cummins was named man of the match with a dozen solo tackles, four forced turnovers and a 50-meter try that opened scoring five minutes into the game. Wando found success with its three-man lineout, giving the ball to Arthur Doyle who crashed through the midfield to make the gain line on nearly every attempt.
It was just two weeks ago that Wando self-destructed at South Greenville, blowing a 20-point lead in its only loss of the regular season. Wando’s only two losses of the past three years were both delivered by South Greenville. Wando had chances to win both of them.
South Greenville entered the postseason ranked No. 11 in the national club polls, while Wando was positioned No. 23 in the national single-school rankings. South Greenville had the size and was lined with veterans. Wando, an underdog for the first time, was fueled by the opportunity to overcome a nemesis, the only truly worthy opponent in the state. In the early rounds of the playoffs, Wando didn’t use its practice time to prepare its current opponents but rather focused on readying itself for an inevitable championship matchup with South Greenville.
“Maybe it was the desperation of being an underdog that helped us this time,” Shepherd said. “To be the best you have to beat the best. That’s what South Greenville was so, yes, we were happy it came down to us or them.”
Shepherd walked off the field after the postgame celebration with van Vliet in tow.
“If I gave you 10 chances to try that kick again, how many do you think you could make?” he asked.
“Probably three or four,” van Vliet responded.
“You’re kidding me,” said Shepherd. “No way you’re making three or four.”
van Vliet cracked a grin back at his coach.
“Yeah, my heart was pumping a little but, Coach, I knew I was going to make it.”
Bishop England won the Division 2 rugby state championship with a 12-10 win over Lexington on Saturday. The Bishops finished the season 10-0.