Duluth, three other DII powers advance to National Championship Semifinals

BOULDER, Colo. - Reigning National Champion Minnesota-Duluth and three other highly-regarded programs have secured a place in the 2015 Men's Division II National Championship after each team obtained two wins over the Regional Playoff weekend.

The Fighting Penguins will take part in a rematch of the 2013 DII title game when they tangle with Salisbury in the Dec. 5 Semifinals. The other Semifinal will see Towson contend with Wisconsin-Whitewater for a place in the National Championship Final.

Pittsburgh's Founders Field saw the most rugby over the weekend as both the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast Regionals battled for two of the four Semifinal spots. In the Mid-Atlantic bracket, Rowan scored the first 17 points in its day one match against UMass-Lowell and fly half Michael Ehrlich tallied 22 points on the way to a 52-10 Rowan victory.

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Towson earned a shot at Rowan after six different Tigers scored tries on their way to a 36-12 win over Coast Guard. In day two's quarterfinal, Towson and Rowan produced one of the most thrilling matches of the weekend. After Towson stormed out to a 27-0 lead, Rowan needed the first 20 minutes of the second frame to take its own lead, 29-27. Then, it was the Tigers who got back on the front foot and scored three consecutive tries for a 44-29 advantage.

Rowan refused to go quietly, as winger Matt Bettin scored two tries in the game's closing minutes. However, the relentless effort was not enough, and Towson escaped, 44-41, to reach the Semifinals after missing out on the National Championship event in 2014.

Last fall's National Championship runner-up, Wisconsin-Whitewater, playing in the Northeast field, was the other school to win both of its games in Pittsburgh. First, the Warhawks easily took care of Springfield, 85-12. Rhode Island, after dispatching SUNY Oswego, 58-17, gave Whitewater a much tougher game in its Nov. 22 Quarterfinal. Tries from Alec Treuthardt and Robert Sindic helped push the Warhawks to a 19-6 advantage at intermission. Unconverted tries by Darryl Brooks and Will Coris opened the second half and pulled Rhode Island within three.

The two determined sides traded tries between the 64th and 75th minutes to keep the scoring margin at three points, but Treuthardt would bag his third try of the day, and seventh of the weekend, to seal Whitewater's 31-21 Quarterfinal win.

In Des Moines, Iowa, Duluth battled a talented Mid-West bracket and frigid temperatures to win two matches and advance to its third National Semifinal in as many years. A 24-3 win over Grand Valley State was less of a hurdle than Lindenwood-Belleville's 11-10 defeat of Colorado School of Mines. In the Quarterfinals, the Fighting Penguins' experience prevailed. Outside center Logan Hanson claimed Duluth's first two tries, and the two-time reigning champions never looked back on the way to a 46-3 win.

After being surprisingly bounced from last year's playoffs in the Quarterfinals, four-time National Champion Salisbury got the job done at East Carolina University's South Regional. Two tries and successful Blake Carroll conversions jumpstarted Salisbury's Round of 16 game against the Virginia Military Institute. However, VMI closed the opening half with three penalties from the boot of fly half Eric Maudhuit to close the Sharks' lead to 14-9 at intermission.

The Keydets, again, settled for penalty kicks in the second half, while Salisbury was able to bag itself two more tries for a 27-18 victory.

On the other side of the South field, UNC-Wilmington advanced to its first Quarterfinal since 2013 with a 32-8 defeat of Rensselaer Polytechnic. On day two, Wilmington struck first against Salisbury when lock Cole Schanilec went over the line in the eighth minute. The Sharks answered with tries of their own from Thomas Demetriou and Nicholas Rodriguez.

Wilmington was shown two yellow cards, making it difficult for the Seahawks to get back into the match, while Salisbury received tries from Nick Caffrey, Scott Wheeler, and Robert Rapine to see the team to a 32-14 and a place at Nationals.

The Dec. 5 Men's DII Semifinals and Dec. 6 National Championship Final will be played at Furman University in Greenville, S.C. which also hosts the Women's DI and DII Fall Championships. USA Rugby TV will broadcast the Dec. 5 Semifinals, as well as the Dec. 6 National Championship Final.