Wheeling, W. Va. – Five years ago, the foundation was laid for the Wheeling University Football program to begin. After years of trials and tribulations, including an exhibition season in 2018 and a full COVID year in 2020, the program has come out stronger than ever. 2022 was the best season yet for the program, as they set a new record for wins in a season, and were in the Mountain East Conference (MEC) Championship conversation 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 MEC play, including a big overtime win to end the season. The year began with the release of the annual MEC Preseason Poll, in which the Cardinals were picked 8th out of 12 teams. Fifth year Head Coach Zac Bruney and his team were out to prove everyone wrong with a roster that was featuring a good mix of strong veteran talent and fresh new faces who were looking to make their mark. Bruney and his team continued to use their one game at a time mentality as it was their goal to go 1-0 every week and see where they ended up. With talented pieces on both sides of the ball, including Sy Alli and Lowell Patron on offense and Jason Simon and Brandon Muñoz on defenses the Cardinals had the leaders to take them to the next level.
The year began with a non-conference battle against Seton Hill to open Bishop Schmitt Field. The Cardinals faithful came out strong and Wheeling Football started 1-0 for the first time in program history. They then opened MEC play against the eventual MEC Champions Notre Dame College where they dropped to 0-1 in conference play. After that, the team buckled down and went on a three-game win streak that moved them to 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 points 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 heading into a big matchup with UNC Pembroke.
The Cardinals fought hard in the game, but we’re unable to overtake the Braves, falling 17-16 to drop to 3-2 in MEC play. The very next week, they were tasked with taking on Frostburg State and it was another game that came down to the wire. The Bobcats were driving on the Cardinals 28-yard line with just 1:38 to play, and Fabian McNichols sealed the game with an interception. The end of October would feature a pair of road games for the Cardinals, beginning with “The Battle for Wheeling” up at West Liberty. The Cardinals offense came through big time, putting up 42 points and Wheeling got their second straight win on the hilltop. It set up a battle with Concord that had NCAA DII playoff implications, but the Cardinals would fall to the Mountain Lions 62-31 to drop Wheeling to 6-3 on the year.
Wheeling finishes off the regular season with a pair of home games against Charleston and Fairmont State to end the year, with big honors happening in both games. Against the Golden Eagles, running back Sy Alli became the first running back in program history to hit the 3,000 yard mark for his career. He rushed for 65 yards in the game and was able to reach 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 six minutes remained, and they ended up falling 22-19. In the final game of the year against Fairmont State, Wheeling took the time to honor their seniors on senior day. In total, 21 young men were honored for their dedication to the program and they rewarded themselves with a thrilling 31-28 overtime win where Matt Greenwood kicked the game winning field goal to end the season.
The Cardinals finished the year with nine All-MEC Honors, including eight of those players being named either First or Second team players. Sy Alli, Jason Simon, and Cade Raudebaugh each earned All-MEC First Team honors for their work on the field. Alli finished just under 1,000 rushing yards for the season, Raudebaugh led a strong Wheeling Rushing attack on the offensive line, and Jason Simon was the team’s second leading tackler. On the second team, the Cardinals saw Lowell Patron, Brandon Muñoz, Chris Canaday, and Rich White III named Second Team and Linebacker Jayvon Johnson named Honorable Mention. It was the most first and second team honors for the team in program history as they continue to garner attention across the conference.
The Wheeling University Football team now heads into the off-season as they look to continue to grow the program, heading into year five of varsity action.