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It's tough to identify the top matchup at this weekend's Liberty Conference Challenge, but American International College vs. Fordham seems to have that kind of cache.
Fordham finished second behind Iona in the Liberty Conference I-95 Division. Meanwhile, AIC is 4-2 as an independent and looking for a chance to take down another top team when the Yellow Jackets and Rams kick off at 6:40 PM ET on Saturday in Fairfield, CT.
While Fordham has been building its program with additional support on campus and attracting more talented young rugby players, AIC is a varsity program that has made it deep into the D1AA playoffs before.
“We’re excited,” AIC's Nic Franklyn said. “It’s another chance to get a 'W.' We want to go out, play well, play crisp, and show ‘em what we’ve got.”
These types of Challenge matches — which are sometimes called bowl games but really could be called anything — have become a fixture for AIC, which has won three straight fall challenge matches.
“We want to get that fourth win,” Yellow Jackets lock Tommy Clark said.
AIC head coach Rob Guiry described his team's upcoming opponent as a "tough, battle-tested" squad and said the Yellow Jackets will not be taking the Rams lightly despite their recent success.
“We're not sleeping on them," Guiry said. "[Fordham coach Andrew Gheraldi] and I also went to rival high schools back in New Jersey, so we're going to have some fun with that as well.
“I’m really excited to see some of our younger players give a preview of what we can expect in future fall seasons and for seniors like Matty Jones to have one last run as a member of AIC's 15s squad. The venue looks fantastic and we're hoping the rain holds out to have a wonderful event.”
Rams captain Logan McIntyre said this season was supposed to be a bit of a rebuilding year, but an influx of solid freshmen, led by Charlie White at No. 8, has helped the program get ahead of schedule.
But AIC will be tough.
“We’re not treating them any differently than anyone else,” he said. “They’re a good program — they’re proven. We’re still trying to build the program, and they’ve been established for a while.”
Fordham flyhalf Fermin Moraiz said his team's blowout loss to Iona back in September was a turning point in the Rams' season. Following that setback, Fordham reeled off four straight wins before dropping their regular-season finale at Rhode Island last weekend.
“It made us focus on the rest of the season and practice harder," Moraiz said. "AIC is definitely not a team to take lightly.”