Wisconsin-Whitewater, Minnesota Duluth on collision course for epic Finals repeat
The Men's DII Fall College Finals are being played at Furman University with matches being aired LIVE on USA Rugby TV. Read more on today's semi-final matchups:
Men's DII Final Four: University of Wisconsin-Whitewater v. Towson
Perennial DII contenders Whitewater took on Towson in the first of today's men's semi-finals and they made a major statement, dominating whenever they had ball-in-hand and making big hits on defense. Towson have the look of a team that is very nearly ready to take to the next level, but they will need another year before their next chance.
Whitewater controlled possession early, but solid tackling from Towson kept them behind the gainline for consecutive phases. Crisp passing from Whitewater got the ball into the hands of their hooker, Garrett Shibilski, who showed great pace to run around his opponent and score in the corner. The conversion was good from No. 10 Timothy Grams, making the score 7-0.
Towson had a lot of trouble containing the dynamic Whitewater pack. Within three minutes of their opening try, Whitewater had scored again as Zack Preyes burned his defender to score. Down 14-0 Towson rallied, increasing their physicality on defense but still could not win the breakdown.
Whitewater played with great pace, aided by very good cleanouts at the ruck. Towson simply could not gain any possession until the 10th minute of the match. When they did have the ball, the Tigers looked dangerous, with their outside center picking great lines and getting his hands free to offload.
A penalty for hands in the ruck was punished to the tune of three points by Whitewater fly half Timothy Grams. The intense physicality was prominent in all phases of play, and the play was not indicative of the 17-0 scoreline.
Now awake and fully in the match, Towson dominated possession, working their way deep into the Whitewater 22, but the Hawks ferocious defense kept them out time and time again. Finally, after being held out of the end zone for 20 minutes, Towson elected to go for posts, and scrumhalf Eric Sweeney made no mistake; finally getting Towson on the board. Towson failed to catch the ensuing kickoff and Whitewater immediately attacked with a promising move called back for a forward pass.
The back-and-forth battle continued for much of the half, with neither team really able to gain a major advantage. Finally, with only one minute left in the half, Whitewater broke the gridlock thanks to Robert Sindic smashing his way through the defense and dotting down under the posts. Towson had knocked a pass to their fly half in an attempted clearance and the Hawks never looked back. The conversion was good, making the score 24-3 to conclude the first half.
With the wind at their backs to start the second, Towson looked to play more territory with a well placed kick pinning the Hawks deep. Whitewater responded by running out of their half and Towson's ill discipline gifted the Hawks three points.
Towson responded quickly, scoring a try off of a lineout 11 minutes into the half. A dynamic carry from Jason Laraia allowed Towson to score, and the conversion from scrumhalf Eric Sweeney was straight through the posts making the score 27-10 Whitewater. Two minutes later, Towson attacked off a scrum. After several phases, and a great sniping run from their scrumhalf featuring three good offloads, Towson were held up over the line.
Towson went through phase after phase and finally after five minutes off possession on the Whitewater line, Greg Dreibelbis crashed over the line for the Tigers, cutting the score to 27-15.
Moments later, Towson wing Tim Shields was carded for a high tackle and Whitewater made them pay, scoring a great try off a chip and chase to bring the score to 27-20. Garrett Shibilski scored his second, but the conversion could not be completed.
In the 65th minute, Towson's openside flanker Will Ngonga had a lapse in focus and entered a ruck from the side, off his feet, and the ref made him pay with another yellow. The two-man advantage was impossible for Towson to overcome, and Whitewater outside center Robbie Sindic ran clean through the defense for a second score. Towson now found themselves down 39-15, and within minutes Whitewater had scored again, with Sindic giving a beautiful offload to put his teammate away down the touchline. The score was 46-15 with only 12 minutes left.
With 10 minutes to go, Whitewater received a yellow card for a head-to-head hit, But Towson gave away penalties at the scrum, and Whitewater was able to clear their half.
Buoyed by their ardent supporters, Whitewater's Conor Bell found his way to the try line after a great break from No. 10 Jack Healy, bringing the Hawks past the half-century mark with a scoreline of 53-22. The game may have been over, but the Hawks continued to play like it was 0-0.
The final score was 53-22 to Whitewater, with some brilliant play from both sides. In the end, Whitewater appeared to be the better drilled, better prepared side, and their intense physicality was more than enough to match that of Towson. Towson will battle for third place tomorrow, and Whitewater will be playing in the DII men's National Title game.
Men's DII Final Four: University of Minnesota-Duluth v. Salisbury
Salisbury took on UM-Duluth in the second DII men's semi-final. Salisbury brought in a large pack, and looked to beat their opponents with aggression, while Duluth looked to use their quicker passing game to bring their devastating outside backs to bear.
Salisbury went to work immediately, with their fly half making a searing break into the Duluth 22 on his first touch, however a penalty negated his progress. Both sides quickly moved into a kicking battle, but then it was the turn of Duluth to break away.
Salisbury had a clear size advantage, but the agility of the Duluth backs saw them breaking tackles time and time again, and within 5 minutes the Fighting Penguins had scored through their hooker Sam Freeman. The conversion fell short and the score was 5-0 to UM-Duluth.
Salisbury soon fought back however, and after some powerful carries made inroads, Salisbury won a penalty and elected to go for posts, slotting the uprights and making it a 5-3 game. The Sharks forwards were a major nuisance for Duluth, who struggled to control the gainline. However, an ill-advised offload by Salisbury 10, Michael Mullins was picked off by outside center Logan Hansen, who was more than happy to run it back for a try. The conversion was good, and the score was now Duluth 12, Salisbury 3.
The back and forth contest continued for much of the half, with Salisbury winning the physicality battle, exemplified by a 30 yard rolling maul. Duluth were pinged for entering from the side, but Salisbury were not able to make the ensuing kick. They were more successful off the ensuing 22, with their outside center breaking tackles and carrying the ball inside the Duluth 5-meter mark. After repeated phases on the goal line, Duluth committed a penalty, and Salisbury elected to go for posts. Blake Carroll made no mistake this time, putting the ball over the bar.
Duluth looked very comfortable with ball in hand, but handling errors consistently plagued the Fighting Penguins, and this allowed Salisbury deep inside their half. Finally, after a maul and extended phases on the Duluth goal line, Prince Eyo smashed his way over for Salisbury to bring the score within one point. That, however, was as close as Salisbury ever got to taking a lead.
The Sharks confidence surged and they played at a high pace, however, they could not break the Duluth defensive line. Duluth had no such trouble and broke away yet again, crossing the line through No.8 Luc Desroches soon afterwards to make the score 19-11.
Duluth continued to apply pressure, but were unable to score again before the half, leaving the score at 19-11.
Duluth looked dangerous at the start of the second half, with Trace Bolstad Logan Hanson making incisive runs. A penalty allowed Salisbury to clear their lines, and they were all too happy to take the kick to touch.
Basic errors continued to be problematic for both sides, with knock ons, silly penalties, and lineout errors halting momentum time and time again.
After a scrum penalty, UM-Duluth scored in the corner with a deft attacking move. Trace Bolstad came around the corner at pace, before releasing Randall Tanaka to score. The conversion was missed, meaning that Duluth now held a 24-11 lead.
Salisbury's backs struggled to cope with the explosive Duluth backline, and more ill-discipline allowed the Fighting Penguins an easy kick at goal, which they converted to make the score 27-11 in their favor.
Duluth failed to make another penalty with 10 minutes to go, but they consistently held possession in the Salisbury half. Salisbury remained as physical as ever, but the class of the Duluth outside backs was really starting to show. Duluth received another penalty with just 5 minutes to play, and it was put straight through the uprights to make the score 30-11.
The Sharks refused to give in, and with 2 minutes left to play they were rewarded with a try to make the score 30-18. They then charged back down the field off the kickoff, but a knock brought the game to an end, with a final score of 30-18.
Salisbury's size was impressive, however, their one dimensional style of play kept them from being able to capitalize on that. Duluth are a very well drilled side, and if they can control the ball against Whitewater, they have every chance of winning the final.
Duluth will take on UW-Whitewater tomorrow in the final, in what should be an outstanding matchup. Both sides played very well today, and their confidence will be high heading into this encounter.