Wheeling, W. Virginia – Five years ago, Wheeling University broke ground to begin its football program. After years of trials and tribulations, including an exhibition season in 2018 and a full COVID year in 2020, the program has emerged stronger than ever. 2022 was their best season yet for the program as they set a new record for single-season wins and were in talks for the Mountain East Conference (MEC) championship up until the final two weeks of the regular season.
It was a year that saw the program finish 7-4 overall and 6-4 in the MEC game, including a big win in season-ending overtime. The year began with the release of the annual MEC Preseason Poll, which ranked the Cardinals 8th out of 12 teams. Fifth year head coach Zac Bruney and his team were out to prove everyone wrong, with a roster that featured a good mix of strong experienced talent and fresh new faces looking to make their mark. Bruney and his team continued to rely on their game-by-game mentality as their goal was to go 1-0 every week and see where they ended up. Featuring talented characters on both sides of the ball including Sy Alli and Lowell Patron on offense and Jason Simon and Brandon Muñoz on defense, the Cardinals had the lead to take them to the next level.
The year began with an out-of-conference fight against Seton Hill to open Bishop Schmitt Field. The stalwart Cardinals came out strong and Wheeling Football started 1-0 for the first time in program history. They then opened the MEC game against eventual MEC champion Notre Dame College where they fell 0-1 in conference play. After that, the team buckled up and put on a three-game winning streak that took them 3-1 in conference play, their best start in program history. During that run, the Cardinals had several big moments, including breaking the single-game scoring record in a 56-41 win over Alderson Broaddus. Add to that the team’s second shutout in program history against West Virginia Wesleyan, and the Cardinals were flying high toward a big matchup with UNC Pembroke.
The Cardinals fought hard in the game but we are unable to overtake the Braves by falling down to 3-2 at 17-16 in the MEC game. The very next week they were assigned to play Frostburg State and it was another game that hit the spot. The Bobcats drove the Cardinals 28-yard line with just 1:38 to play and Fabian McNichols sealed the game with an interception. Two road games would be played for the Cardinals in late October, beginning with “The Battle for Wheeling” up in West Liberty. The Cardinals’ offense hit it big with 42 points and Wheeling picked up her second straight win on the mound. It led to a fight with Concord that impacted the NCAA DII playoffs, but the Cardinals would fall 62-31 to the Mountain Lions to drop Wheeling to 6-3 later in the year.
Wheeling finishes the regular season with two home games against Charleston and Fairmont State to end the year, noting great successes in both games. Against the Golden Eagles, running back Sy Alli became the first running back in program history to reach the 3,000-yard mark of his career. He rushed for 65 yards in the game and was able to hit the milestone on the first run of the second quarter when he rushed for 30 yards and a first down. Wheeling had the lead in the game until the end of the sixth minute and ended with 22:19. In the final game of the year against Fairmont State, Wheeling took the time to honor her seniors on Seniors’ Day. A total of 21 young men were honored for their service to the program and were rewarded with a thrilling 31-28 overtime win that saw Matt Greenwood score the game-winning field goal to end the season.
The Cardinals ended the year with nine All-MEC honors, including eight of those players being named either first-team or second-team players. Sy Alli, Jason Simonand Cade Raudebaugh Each received All-MEC First Team honors for their work on the field. Alli finished the season with just under 1,000 rushing yards, Raudebaugh led a strong wheeling rushing attack down the offensive line and Jason Simon was the team’s second-best tackler. On the second team, the Cardinals saw Lowell Patron, Brandon Muñoz, Chris Canadayand Rich White III called second team and linebacker Jayvon Johnson awarded the honorary name. It was the most first and second team awards for the team in the history of the program as they continue to garner attention throughout the conference.
The Wheeling University football team is now entering the off-season to further expand the program and enters its fifth year of varsity action.